Married to the Chairman of Skye Bank, Tunde Ayeni, Abiola is a Lawyer by profession and is a Principal Partner of her husband’s Law Firm where she oversees the legal resources alliance from time to time. But she has also made her own strides in the Fashion Industry and is the CEO of Divine Endownments. They are a power couple that truly, compliment each other. Abiola and her husband had initially jointly decided that for her to have enough time to spend with her growing family, she needed a job that will accommodate that. But as the years went by with more time in her hands, he advised her to face her primary career full-time but her passion for Fashion led her to focus more on her business. In embracing this creative side of her, she has excelled even beyond her wildest dreams and is still soaring to greater heights. This woman who gives God the credit for her inborn talent is more than happy to share her thoughts on the Industry’s highs and lows with RUTH OSIME and also what has driven her to come this far in her pursuit of success, happiness and contentment.
What inspired you to venture into fashion designing?
We cannot talk about Divine Endowments without quoting a few scriptures because the name itself has its origin from God. Fashion Designing to me, is more of an inborn gift than something that happened based on inspiration. From a very tender age, I used to make clothes for my doll. By the age of 13, I could sew my school uniforms. My mother bought a sewing machine simply for purpose of mending torn clothes. The machine afforded me the opportunity to try my hands on things I had imagined. Sometimes it worked and most of the time it did not. The more difficult it got, the more determined I became to get it right. So through the help of the Holy Spirit, which is my source of inspiration, I found myself doing things that make people wonder if truly I haven’t had any formal training until I stumbled on the word of God in Ex. 31:2-6 “See I have called Bezal’eel.. (v2) and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom in understanding, in knowledge, in all manner of workmanship to design artistic works.. (v6) and I have put wisdom in the heart of gifted artisans that they may make all that I have commanded you”. From then, I was able to boldly convince people that God has the ability to call a person into a profession and give you unmatched wisdom that leaves people wondering where you got it from.
I studied Law because I loved the profession and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991. I had every intention of practising Law, but when I got married, my husband told me point blank that we cannot both be rushing to leave home before 9am and as such, I will just have to stay home and look after our child.
I could not imagine myself sitting down idle doing nothing all day, so I engaged in the only hobby I enjoyed which is Fashion Designing.
How did you come up with the name Divine Endowments?
Divine Endowments has two interrelated meanings. In the first dimension, Divine Endowments simply means talent that is God-given. For instance, some people learn a trade, but some people just find themselves doing without formal training what other people pay a fortune to learn. It means such a person has special talent or gift from God in that field. In the second dimension, Divine Endowments means the natural body physique that you are blessed with by God. So, merged together, Divine Endowments means using our God-given talent to design styles for your God-given figure in a way that brings out or celebrates the beauty that God has naturally endowed you with, whether fat or slim, shapely or no hip curves, tall or short.
Why have you chosen to focus only on African inspired fabrics.
There is something about our fabric and cultural way of dressing that makes me tick. I believe strongly that I am not an accident of creation, God did not create me as a Nigerian for the fun of it. He has a purpose for sending me to this side of the planet, so if He has deposited in me so much knowledge in the fashion field, then He must want me to use it to promote the beauty of our local fabric and cultural way of dressing. We do not know how attractive our way of dressing is to the Western world. Apart from Indian people, or few other nations, Nigerians are the only people that have styles that depict their tribe. Every tribe has its unique way of dressing. We must
understand that some people in our past generations took time to originate all these! And are we all going to fold our hands and let all that go extinct in the face of civilisation and Westernised dressing? Certainly not! Even the bible says in Prov. 22:28 “Do not remove
the Ancient landmark which your fathers have set”. Our mission is to promote the beauty of our local fabrics by designing them into modern styles acceptable in the Western world as the general trend of fashion for people of all shapes and sizes. And also to reveal the beauty of creation by designing styles that celebrates and enhances our God-given peculiarity. We are not asking you to dress in our native attire if you don’t want to, but we will compel you to dress in our local fabric, because you won’t find anything in my store that is not made in local fabric.
Most African women are full bodied. Do you have this in mind when you design?
Certainly. Our highest selling point is our ability to identify two categories of the full and regular figure. Whatever category of the two variations a person falls into, it is our job as a gifted designer to hide your excesses and accentuate your natural beauty.
What do you think of the fashion industry so far and what else do you feel needs to be done to make them soar even higher globally?
I must admit that some Nigerian Fashion Designers are very creative. Fashion Designing in Nigeria has really advanced from what it used to be. But I can see lack of originality and lack of direction in a lot of the work. Nigerian Designers are still at the ‘follower’ stage in terms of creativity. Where just because the English design is nice and trending, they repeat it in Ankara or copy a part of some top Designer’s idea. This to me, is not creativity because there is no originality in it. In fact, 50% of people in the fashion industry now, are not doing it out of passion, they are doing it out of, ‘Everybody is creating a fashion line, let me also create a brand’. Such people establish it alongside their full time work just to make ends meet without any idea of how to sew or any vision. All they do is employ tailors, and they are in business. So tell me how such people can have originality and sense of direction? Whereas, if you are in this field out of passion for the job, you would not care about what people are buying. All that should matter to you is creating a new trend. I am a Fashion Innovator, I create my own style, so it’s up to you to take it or leave it. We are not even ready for global competition at all, let alone soaring higher than the set standards abroad because we are still busy engaged in Made-to-Measure when foreign designers have left that realm long ago to concentrated on Ready-to-Wear.
The percentage of Fashion Designers engaged in Made-to-Measure in Nigeria is almost 85% and more than 70% of that figure lack originality, they are mere Fashion Followers. The remaining 15% are engaged in Ready-to-Wear. Now, globally, Ready-to-Wear is the norm and every Designer has their own line which other Designers can either adopt as fashion followers i.e you may see a design by top Designers like Donna Karen New York (DKNY), Betsey Johnson, Alexander Mcqueen, Paul Smith e.t.c being copied by shops like New Look, Top Shop, Zara, H&M, Macy’s, Anne Klein. The top Designers are those who drive the fashion trend and the others are Early Adopters or Fashion Followers. So there is a sense of direction to move the fashion line together either as Innovator or Adopter. But in Nigeria the reverse is the case. We are more into Made-to-Measure than Ready-to-Wear. So, we are not ready for global competition at all. Besides, our garment finishing leaves so much to be desired. What we practice in fashion designing is only operational in Nigeria and cannot reach far. However, I must admit that Ready-to-Wear is very capital intensive and labour intensive.
Where do you get your inspirations for your design?
My main inspirations are purely by the help of the Holy Spirit. I can close my eyes and see flashes of style and I sometimes have to stay still so that I don’t forget what I just saw because by the time I jump up to sketch it, I may not be able to convey it properly in a sketch, especially when I see many at the same time. So I keep pencil and sketch pad beside me everywhere even in my bathroom. It just comes. And I really can’t force
I believe strongly that I am not an accident of creation, God did not create me a Nigerian for the fun of it, He has a purpose for sending me to this side of the planet, so if He has deposited in me so much knowledge in the fashion field, then He must want me to use it to promote the beauty of our local fabric and cultural way of dressing.