Oisetohanmen“Omon” Isinugben is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s most promising hands of the fashion industry. Omon is the Creative Director and Founder of Belois Couture in the heart of Abuja, Nigeria; she is also a woman whose work continues to steadily gain recognition in the Nigerian fashion space.
Whoot Africa’s Inspiration Africa Interviews met up with her at her Abuja studio to talk about her journey into fashion, her growing impact in the fashion industry, growing her brand and her entrepreneurial exploits.
A little about Omon and Belois couture?
“I think, therefore I am” – I think of myself as an original and passionate young lady. I work with my feelings and emotions, and how I feel about something determines if I am going to be involved or how seriously I will take it.
I am creatively controversial, and it is almost impossible to put me in a box. I am a predictable unpredictable person when it comes to my work; I always want to surprise with my work and I want to be that person that cannot be defined. At the end of the day, to describe myself in one word, I would say controversial.
Journey into fashion?
As a profession; it started in 2014 after winning the Multichoice Fashion Protégé competition, but going back, my journey into fashion really started during my undergraduate days at the University of Benin.
I was interested in photography, but was unable to afford it at the time. Now, through happenstance my sister’s fashion designer made an outfit for a friend and I thought, this is beautiful, what if I learnt how to make dresses instead? I took up the challenge while my university was on strike and I learnt a bit before the strike was called off. I promised myself not to waste my knowledge despite being busy with my academic pursuits, I took sewing classes on and off until I was good at it.
When I finally moved to Abuja for my National Youth Service, I realized things were different out here. The fashion scene was different, people were particular about the fittings and finishing, and I knew if I wanted to succeed out here, I needed to learn more. So, I went on to enrol for pattern making in fashion and learned to perfect my finishing’s.
But, I wouldn’t be the Belois Couture everyone knows today without the opportunity and PR that came with winning the Multichoice’s Fashion Protégé competition.
I fear being in the same place as I was yesterday; the fear of stagnancy motivates and inspires me. I started the Belois brand to have a voice, and to also be impactful in my own little way. My goal in life prior to Belois was to either be a teacher or researcher. And with my fashion right now, I am combining both, teaching fashion and constantly doing my research to improve my creativity and to just be the best in what my hands are creating right now.
My creative muse changes from time to time; but my all-time muse is being controversial and not fitting into the box. Belois Couture is about being the belle of the ball, exuding confidence, being zesty and full of life.
I grew up in Benin city and what inspires my creativity, is watching women who seem to have very little achieve great things. I think about that woman who has been overlooked in my clothes and being inspired by their strength in achieving greatness.
You have leveraged on the power of Social media and platforms like Multichoice, Bella Naija and Instagram, how has it been like with social media so far?
My focus is on consistency. I realized the potential of social media a long time ago. I also understand it is a platform I cannot control; I am there for the positivity of it and to also market my brand like I have done for the past few years. I try as much as possible to guard what I see; I stay away from anything that doesn’t impact my creativity in a good way.
Even though I did feel pressured with the use at some point, but I quickly snapped out of it and took my usage at my own pace. Social media is not the yardstick for great work, there is so much pressure for perfection and that is one trap I refuse to fall into as a business owner. I take social media at my pace and do what I need to do without losing sight of my journey.
On why she still handles the production process and teaching fashion?
I realized there are people who are afraid to share knowledge. When I came to Abuja I discovered a new way to fashion, it wasn’t just about sewing clothes together, it was about the end product and ensuring clothes were more than needles and threads. When I got here, I knew I needed to learn more, and that remains one of the reasons why I promised myself to share my knowledge with regards to everything I now know about being a fashion designer.
I felt the need to teach after people started reaching out to me with questions, and besides it is fulfilling knowing I am using my knowledge to impact and learning something new every day. The need to stop answering questions in bits and pieces led me to open up my fashion place to students who are willing to learn for a small fee. I was told by the woman who taught me as well, that paying to learn would help me take it seriously and that’s exactly what I do to my students as well. Teaching is also like watching a seed grow for me, nothing beats that feeling in the grand scheme of things and with my vision for Belois Couture, knowing someone came to me with zero skills in fashion and in weeks they are already producing something, is absolute joy.
High moments in fashion?
When I started, the aim was bespoke outfits and making an outfit that fit to perfection used to be the high moments for me. Now, with my focus on retail outfits being stock in Nigeria and abroad, the joy comes when people reach out to you to share their joy and how they felt walking into a store and being able to pick Nigerian made outfits off the rack. Returning customers keep the high moments in motion and that will always gladden my heart
The price of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship seems quite cheap from the outside, but it is in fact the most expensive journey you can ever embark on. The price of entrepreneurship for me, is my life. It takes all of you, it humbles you. The price is not looking to the side or at what everyone seems to have because you have a long-term dream and you cannot afford to lose focus.
Entrepreneurship promises you freedom, but one that comes at a price of involvement. You are involved in the big and little things that ensures your business succeeds, but at the end of the it all, the fulfilment is everything. Especially when you are doing the right thing and in the right way.
How affordable is Belois?
We are very affordable to our target market.
Beloise still sources fabrics locally; in your opinion, why are Nigeria fashion labels expensive?
The cost of production is extremely high, from power to labour to sourcing of fabrics, most of which are imported. Nigerian designers are providing value, we are trying to compete internationally and we have to keep our standards high, which means more work and input. Our clothes are perceived to be expensive, most designers have different ranges, but perception keeps people away. I would ask, how many people have genuinely reached out to a fashion label to ask for their prices?
We have something for everyone and the higher the quality the more the cost of production.
Your fashion inspirations?
My mentor, Lanre DaSilva. She stays true to her craft and that inspires me.
Ralph Lauren – I love the story behind the brand, and also my favorite New York based Ghanaian Blogger, Natasha Nyanin. All three of them inspire me in their unique ways.
Advice to upcoming designers and looking back, lessons to your younger self?
Be very detailed; there is no time to waste, life can end quicker than you know it. Don’t mess around with your work, don’t buy into the hype of working smart, it can never replace hardwork. They are two different things; you have to work hard to know how smart to work. You have to be focused, and you cannot do that if you are not meticulous or detailed. Embrace yourself, leverage on your opportunities, but don’t lose sight of what is important and never compare your work to that of others. Be inspired by their great vibes and energy, but be authentic to your journey.
To my younger self – Live your life jealously, you cannot change anything. I should have lived in the moments more.
After all is said and done, what would you want to be remembered for?
I want the world to mourn when I die. I want people to say she was true to herself, her work was always on ‘point’ and I hope to have created a movement of people who lived and understood that hardwork really pays. And also, a legacy of passion and determination that created something bigger than myself.