Mr Price x Anisa Mpugwe: Is this a blueprint for successful brand scaling?

For nearly three months now, Mr. Price, a South African high street clothing brand has teased relentlessly across social media platforms and on all the big blogs that it was sitting on a surprise. Like many fashion followers, I watched with bated breath and a little bit of skepticism. Mr. Price is popular for its amazing prices but infamous for it’s lack of quality control. Mr. Price had done enough business to know it was time to grow up and rebrand.

Last week, the secret was finally revealed. Mr. Price had decided to take the leap from stocking other brands to creating its own line. This Mr. Price found Tanzanian designer Anisa Mpugwe,  The winner of the first Elle South Africa New Talent competition (the first of her collaborations with Mr. Price) and the brain power behind the South African High street brand, Loincloth and Ashes to serve as guest creative director for its new female only (for now) designer line. Ms. Mpugwe, already a brand name in Pretoria with her own flagship store in the Maboteng district, brings her unique brand of shift dresses and unique quirk of plays on mixed fabric to the Mr. Price family.

There are many things great about this collaboration.

– The clothes are beautiful. Like really beautiful. Anisa Mpugwe outdid herself.

– Mr. Price has a presence in at least six countries across across Africa, so Anisa is being introduced simultaneously to new markets. Anything that improves the marketability of indigenous designers across Africa is welcome by me.

– From what I’ve seen, neither Mr. Price or Anisa crimp on quality. The collection uses durable fabric and Anisa doesn’t patronize the final consumer by not pushing the boundaries.

– Four and most importantly, the clothes are decently priced.

Sometime in June this year, Lisa Folawiyo (whom I love) created a diffusion line called J.Label in collaboration with Nigerian online fashion portal Fashpa.com. I liked the clothes and thought they were urban enough for young people to want to gather up their coins and save up for a J.Label blouse or skirt. That was until I started to hear from my friends about pricing horror stories; for example shorts that cost upwards of N20,000 (minimum wage is about 18,000). I have no idea why the items were so expensive, especially when they were high street. I don’t doubt that the clothes were of great quality but in a country with an economy like ours, I didn’t see that as very fiscally responsible or expressing a proper understanding of your high street market. I didn’t want to quote prices based on hearsay, so at the time of writing this article I scoured the Fashpa online website for a definitive price list since the collaboration was their premier collaboration with a Nigerian luxury brand. Apart from a link to the collaboration’s look book which turned out to be a dud link, there is literally no evidence to show such a collaboration ever existed. That as well I cannot claim to understand so I will leave it.

The whole point of this article is this; Nigeria is a country with 160 million people, half of whom are under 25 and cannot afford to spend over five thousand on a single item of clothing but still want something that is instantly recognizable as name brand quality. Mr. Price seems to have put that in context when they created this collaborative collection with Anisa Mpugwe of Loincloths and Ashes, and found a way to marry price and quality. If our Nigerian brands who are no doubt doing very well selling to limited clientele want to truly break into the market and move from being appreciated from afar, they must find partners who understand the precarious business of selling high street fashion and partner with them. The target demographic is too big to be ignored and it is literally starving to be catered to.

I didn’t want this article to stand only on high-faluting rhetoric, so I did some math. If the publicity campaign Mr. Price has undertaken using social media is successful and Mr. Price manages to move 10,000 units each of the cheapest units in the collection, a blouse with bow detailing and a printed tee both worth N1,900, that would total to 28 million Naira. Let’s say our collaborating designer gets 20% of whatever is made at the end of the fiscal year, they make a cool 5.6 million Naira. 10,000 is less than 1% of the total population of Nigerians under 25. This shows just how much money our Nigerian designers could make from these kinds of collaborations. With adequate endorsement and support from the collaborating designer and publicity across platforms added to affordable but moderate quality clothes (I wont even ask for high quality, all we need is to wear it until the next collaborative collection is announced, so six months max), pushing 10,000 units of each piece of a six piece collection should be a breeze. After all, illegally branded Wizkid and Davido branded t-shirts already move units in those numbers. If we used this current Mr. Price collection as a benchmark, 10,000 units of each piece in the collection sold would come to a cumulative total of 186 million Naira in six months, 20% of which is 37.2 million Naira going directly to the designer.

I wouldn’t profess to know the intricacies of collaborations like these, but I do know that it has taken a Tanzanian designer and a South African retailer to prove that it is possible to find a balance between access and profitability. I really hope that the next collaboration Mr. Price does is with a Nigerian designer. I think it’s time young Nigerians with a limited budget get a taste of this fabulous fashion we only get to appreciate from afar.

I want the Anisa Mpugwe collection to do well financially in Nigeria. If it does well, the odds of Mr. Price collaborating with a Nigerian designer to whom loyalty among Nigerian youth is higher becomes less of a pipe dream and more of an eventuality. If they do well here, more brands will try to break the Nigerian market using the designer/retailer collaboration format. Our designers make bank and we get affordable, well tailored clothing. A win for Anisa is a win for all of us.

To shop the Mr Price x Anisa Mpugwe collection, go here.

Support African Fashion.

– Ed.

Making a case for dichotomous design labels in Nigeria

It takes a lot of guts to decide to become an entrepreneur in Nigeria, especially so if you decide to  become a Nigerian designer. There are so many challenges against stacked against upstarts: a glaring lack of the most basic amenities (electricity and deficient transportation), lack of trained manpower (seamstress and pattern cutters), absence of industry, an unstable economy, lack of support for government and absence of a sales framework. The list of obstacles go on and on. But everyday, a new designer pops up in spite of the unfavorable climate to join the ranks. Most of them manage only meager success, and only a handful manage to translate their drive to create clothes into a thriving multinational business. Late last year I had the opportunity to interact with a number of successful Nigerian designers, all showing at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2014 and all my conversations about how they grew (and are growing their brands) into international success coalesced into one concept, Dichotomous Nigerian Brands.

What is a Dichotomous Nigerian brand?

In the simplest of terms, it’s a brand that has managed to maintain two interrelated but clearly distinct presences in the Nigerian and International Market.

Is it enough to be a Nigerian based brand?

Is it enough to be foreign based Nigerian owned brand?

In today’s fashion climate, it is not enough to be either, brands have to be both, simultaneously. The Nigerian designer has to embrace a dichotomy, in principle and action. It is a little like being multi-racial, one must find a way to embrace both sides of that duality without losing any part of one’s individuality.

Why is this important?

Two reasons, for a Nigerian based brand where business is crippled by the unending list of obstacles that hinder hitch-free business, foreign clientele is a serious financial boost and usually spells the difference between fiscal success and barely breaking even. For the foreign based brand in an industry that is already saturated with designers with more access to capital and a better understanding of the underlying business framework, infusing indigenous heritage (in this case Nigeria) as part of one’s brand can be a big incentive for customers looking to embrace new fashion influences. The best brands marry both, by maintaining a presence both in Nigeria and their foreign country of business

A good example of a dichotomous brand is Virgo’s Lounge, owned by British Nigerians Fioye Akinsola, Oyeyemi Akinsola and Adenike Ajanaku and started in 2008. Virgos Lounge is particularly great success story, rising from a vintage blog to a vintage online store, to the renowned brand it has become to today. They are stocked by British retail giants ASOS and have had high profile collaborations that resulted in capsule collections for British retail darling TopShop. Virgos Lounge began to stock at premier Nigerian fashion Boutique L’Espace in 2011, a coup at the time for the brand which was just starting out. Ade Bakare, the renowned Nigerian born British couturier is another brand who only recently began to stock at Lagos based concept boutique Miliki. Republic of Foreigner, the Nigerian high street brand started by sisters Selina and Carmen Sutherland stock in New York and Lagos, to mention a few.

The Women of Virgo's Lounge.
The Women of Virgo’s Lounge.

All three brands mentioned have achieved various levels of success, with Virgo’s Lounge attaining the highest visibility. What separates these brands from other Nigerian brands, indigenous and foreign based is their dualized approach to business.

Dichotomy comes with many perks. The first is direct access to two very different markets. The Nigerian market is bothered with world class quality and name brand status at affordable prices. The international market is interested in ‘niche fashion’; owning exclusive pieces of clothing that herald new trends not already overworked by the perpetual motion engine that is the foreign high street markets. Over the last half decade, ‘genuine’ ‘African’ (a generalization still sadly in use) aesthetic has been the new focus of the global market with Ankara, formerly ignored becoming the darling of international brands. For a dichotomous Nigerian fashion brand, this new attention gives two very different narratives to the same brand/in fact the same collection. For their international clients, they become an African brand with a base in ‘Lagos’ bringing their unique Nigerian fashion to a wider global market. For their Nigerian clientele, they are an international brand returning home to cater to Nigeria’s stylish and criminally under-served glitterati. It’s a win-win both ways.

There is also access to the west’s advanced manufacturing factories that greatly reduce cost as well as Nigeria’s labour intensive but cheap workforce. Also having an international presence makes it far easier to source funding from international banks while still accessing the local financial opportunities offered by private and government SME initiatives. The opportunities available to a dichotomous fashion brand are overwhelming.

Dichotomy’s biggest perk is also it’s biggest problem; catering to two distinct markets can become the illusive grail that will send a business drowning, finding a middle ground between the needs and the aesthetics of both climates is undeniably tasking but it’s the safest way to stay afloat.

I’m a strong advocate for Dichotomous branding in Nigeria, it is time to use this global attention that we now finally have to good use.

NB: Thanks to Selina Sutherland for making really start to consider dichotomous branding as something serious. Bissoux

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: PAPA OPPONG INFO BOX INTERVIEW.

As far as Fashion Illustrators go, Papa Oppong Bediako is easily my favorite African illustrator. His work is stellar and innovative and he is quite the designer, garnering collaborative collaborations with global giants Vlisco and Swarovski Ghana. For someone so young, he has done so much, it’s mind boggling. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I found out that Papa has an interview on Youtube. I am all for creatives speaking up about their inspirations and Papa represents himself quite well.

The host of the show he was interviewed on left a lot to be desired but Papa was a delight.


LFDW2014: Marrying art and personal aesthetic at ReBahia

Orire Omatsola’s ReBahia has had a great year.

First of all, the brand put out a Fall collection in April, ‘Minimal Dreams’. It was a collection that played on the contrast between White and electric Blues and Pinks, marrying louche sheer pantsuits with sleek spaghetti strap dresses, deconstructed jackets and flowy tunics. The brand also launched it’s diffusion line Wild Magnolias; an answer to social accountability and locally sustainable industry as well as a need to reach ALL Nigerian customers. Wild Magnolias came out with a strong first collection that featured Linen jumpsuits and pants with hems dyed in pastel blues and reds, an inversion of the strong colour scheme of the ‘Minimal Dreams’ collection but remaining true to the ReBahia aesthetic.  Launched in 2009 while Omatsola was still an art history major in England, ReBahia has grown  into a household name, dressing many major players in the local entertainment industry.

ReBahia came strong for Spring/Summer 2015, continuing the themes that had ruled it’s aesthetic this year, shown on day three of the Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2014 and aptly titled ‘Coup D’Etat’. With a fifteen look collection that built on the linen and white trends that has defined ReBahia for the last few seasons, the new collection went on a tangent, truly incorporating Nigerian influences.

The big wow factor of the collection for me was the appliqued print of a stylized african female portrait. Done in different colors and sizes and appliqued to the front of blouses, used as a motif on one of the dresses and used to decorate pockets and sleeves. It’s an ingenious move, a unique detail that will set apart ReBahia’s individual pieces for the rest of the year. I have always been for unique detailing in clothing, detailing that is easily recognizable and hard to replicate. This Motif was it for me.

There was a celebration of jackets, there were all sorts of jackets on the ReBahia runway this year. First, the deconstructed jacket; using a technique of gashing and stitching Omatsola managed to make a jacket that is visually interesting while totally unique. I couldn’t stop reveling in the quality of the seams used to hem the random tears worked into the fabric of the jackets and how much time it must have taken to complete it. This is not the first time Omatsola has played with this kind of deconstruction; there were jackets and dresses in the Minimal Dreams collection that were built on the same idea, but Omatsola took it up a notch this collection, hemming the gashes in bright colours to emphasize the work done.

Then there were the other jackets; one done in the most malleable of chiffon with pleated sleeves and a pleated peplum hem, a gorgeous purple jacket with a loose, almost playful peplum, a glamorous cropped jacket and pencil skirt combo with a pleated tail done in contrasting fabric and a sleeveless, circle cut jacket appliqued with the print portrait and a playful sheer blue jacket. The jackets were the mainstay of the collection and I loved every single one of them.

These are the looks i absolutely loved.

There are first looks and there is this. Where do I even start? The peplum is tailored to perfection, every pleat hangs perfectly and it flows ethereally with every movement. The pleated hems of the crop top and the high waisted pants lend flirtyness to an otherwise reserved ensemble. I harp heavily on tailoring and it’s obvious Omatsola knows her stuff. The best part is that this look is shown with sporty slipons, following through the casual look.

This is the true star of the collection. High-waisted pants are notorious to cut but Omatsola manages to check mark all three hallmarks of a great high-waisted pant; fit at the waist, pant legs that flatter thigh and calf but still flow beautifully when the wearer is in motion; fit at the crotch and buttocks without camel toes or wedgies. Lets not forget the little portraits appliqued on the pant pockets. It was a delight to watch these pants in motion. And the blouse emblazoned with the portrait motif wrests your attention and holds it. The sleeves are the right kind of loose and the open back is incredibly sensual. This is an ensemble that should only be split and worn as separates in the direst of situations. Wear it straight off the runway people, resist the temptation to split it. Please.

This skirt suit combo is so slick. Another ensemble I’d recommend to be worn straight off the runway. The crop jacket has the straight lines  and the close fit of a matador’s uniform, with loose sleeves to give movement. Structure and movement in the same piece, what more can I ask for?

I didn’t love the crop blouse in this look. Something about how it sat on the model looked ill-thought. But that jacket is forward thinking; androgynous, saturated with colour and detailing without being overwhelmed, and most importantly loose fitting, so it hangs off the model. It’s the kind of piece you guilt buy in three colours because you can’t stand to imagine it hanging there unworn. This jacket is Omatsola stunting for those who think she’s too reserved with silhouettes.

These were the pieces I didn’t understand.

I have seen this done dozens and dozens of times, I still don’t understand it. Why take a perfectly normal (if a little boring) silhouette/piece and tack on fabric that aesthetically does nothing for the final wearer’s figure. I personally abhor asymmetry if it does nothing to improve the finished product. That said, I don’t understand these three layers of ‘fluff’ on the left side of the dress. Is it for flouncy effect? What purpose does it serve? That’s a question I’d like answered.

ReBahia’s collection is mostly strong, the strength of the hits far outweighing the disappointing misses. Even when the pieces were hard to understand aesthetically, the tailoring and the finish of the clothes were undeniably superior. So I decidedly love this collection.

To see the entire collection go here

#LFW2014: Republic of Foreigner understands the Nigerian woman

Carmen and Selina Sutherland are easily the most opinionated and well-read young designers you will meet in Nigeria. I know this because I’ve met both and verbally sparred with Selina; she basically wiped the floor with me. I met them at a photoshoot after LFDW 2014 so I conveniently steered clear of the new collection and discussed other things. A perk of that was that I got to the see pieces from the ROF 2015 collection up close and personal. The Sutherland sisters are one of the few young Nigerian brands who are navigating a duality as people (they run the brand together), heritage and influences (they’re multi-ethnic) and business (Republic of Foreigner stocks in New York and Lagos). This duality has always come to play in their collections, particularly the two spring/summer collections they have debuted at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week.

Republic of Foreigner has created a reputation for crafting collections that lean heavily on thematic interpretations, as evinced by their Spring 2014 collection ‘Heartstrings’; an airy, voluminous catalog of tie-dyed chiffon and faux silk maxi-dresses and loose sleeveless blousons inspired by Japanese Silk Prints and Nigerian poetry. Their Spring 2015 collection is playfully themed ‘Candy Plantation’, inspired largely by the people and cultures of the Niger Delta; tapping into the idiosyncrasies that separate the region from the rest of Africa and also the childhood nostalgia for candy, a metaphor for sweetness and summer. These unrelated inspirations were superbly translated in the collection, evident in the colours; vibrant hues of saffron and bronze which bring to mind ripened palm fruit and orange flavored candy, a geometric print that reminded one of oil palm bunches and farm plots and motifs of flora emblazoned on fabric in monochrome and highlighted in fuschia. The colour palette also extended to Black, Cream and Olive sorbets, Coral and Bronze.

The sixteen piece collection continues the trend of voluminous silhouettes from the Heartstrings collection, albeit a little more conservatively; striving for fit as well as comfortability. Candy Plantations also largely abandons the maxi-dresses of the last collection. This collection is sexier as well; slinky black dresses, cut-outs and thigh high slits. The collection stays true to the ROF aesthetic but explores new frontiers. I felt a little disappointed by the dearth of accessories to go with the clothes but not every designer jumps on all the wagons. I disliked the first look of the collection; granted it is only green dress in a collection partly inspired by agriculture but compared what the rest of the collection comprised of, it felt a little like that dress was shown first to take it out of the equation. It could have been a bonus piece dressed up in future ROF editorials, it could have been comfortably left out of the runway show.

Enough grandstanding, let’s talk clothes.

Here’s what I loved from the collection.

The drape, the movement, its gorgeous.

This was hands down my favorite piece of the whole collection. This dress is a dichotomy of innocent and daring.The candy/palm fruit inspired fabric works best in motion and this mini dress plays up it’s strengths perfectly. The length reminds me of Giambattista Valli, short enough be one wrong move away from a malfunction but still miles away from trashy. Also the girls manage to cut the skirt in such a way that it remains voluminous without drowning the wearer’s silhouette. Not everytime gra-gra, sometimes short and wickedly sweet.

Ombre done excellently

I shouldn’t like this fabric, but I do. I like it a lot. I like how it’s a unique print, a print that I’d see in a crowd of clothes and instantly recognise it as ROF, and that it’s borderline psychedelic. The shirt is clean cut and well tailored, but this pairing, with this dip-dyed skirt is what truly elevates the look. This is how you mix and match colours, and this is how you create a skirt that has a classic silhouette but remains visually and aesthetically interesting.

This right here is how to update the halter dress. Slim down all the extra volume, use neoprene so it doesn’t crimp, add a keyhole cutout the front of the blouse for just a little more daring, and a front slit so the shrinking violets know to stay away. It’s a halter dress of course, so drop your bra at home and show off that gorgeous toned back and just for fun, make it a midi-dress. ROF needs to keep this dress in their retinue and play around with the features for future collections. This dress is could become the new cocktail standard.

This dress gets an honorable mention for it’s draping. I saw it on the runway and this dress moved like the sea. It was so flattering on the model that I couldn’t stop looking at her while she walked. The draping and movement of the dress added with the motif on the fabric gave the illusion of reeds moving in the wind. Plus added bonus, Its a dress that easily fits two or three dress sizes. A truly versatile dress, this one.

This is what I’ve dubbed the ‘Bond Girl’ dress. Made entirely out of silk chiffon with a smattering of inlaid organza panels, the dress literally slinks on the model, moulding itself to flatter her every movement. This is a dress that will flatter most body shapes, is sexy but conservative and is made of materials that subtly but firmly affirm luxury. I wish they’d made them in like seven colours, one for every day of the week.

Here’s what I didn’t like in the collection.

These ‘twin’ ensembles are jarring to me. I don’t understand them. I get the general idea behind the construction, a loose sleeveless blouse worn over ankle length skirts, the emphasis on the ease of the blouses, foregoing fit for comfort. It is probably the peplum but it doesn’t translate. It slims the model’s torso into an unflattering column, a silhouette the straight skirts further emphasize. The peplum flares mid-thigh giving the illusion of an overlong torso with sharply flaring, saggy hips. No part of the body is accentuated or emphasized, it just doesn’t follow through.

In all, ‘Candy Plantation’ is a strong thematic offering that throws out the big worded press release and ticks off every lofty idea. A huge yes from me.

To see the full collection go here