Grace Ibironke Ojo is the Creative Director of Grazee stitches, Principal partner at Gramatino Nigeria Limited and the founder of Face of Hope Foundation. She is an award winning fashion designer, model, media consultant and entrepreneur. In this interview with TMG, she bares her mind on what it takes to be a designer.
Tell us more about yourself and what you do>
I was born on 29th September, in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi state into the family of Engr. & Mrs. M.I Ojo of Isan-Ekiti , Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti state. I hold Master’s degrees, in Public Policy and Administration and another in Peace and Conflict Resolution, a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and an Advanced Diploma in Public Policy and Administration.
Grazee Stitches is a fashion House that produces simple but stylish bespoke and ready-to-wear for men, women and children. The blend of African/Western design remains our topmost concern. We also have an academic arm that teaches theoretical and practical techniques in projecting and making fashion creations.
TMG> How long did you nurse the dream of becoming a fashion designer before it became a reality?
Grace> Surprisingly, I never nursed the feelings, neither did I ever think I will end up being a designer. Everything you see now happened based on God’s purpose and for a purpose in my life. I learnt how to sew playfully and maybe because I love to explore. I accompanied some of my friends to their tailor during my undergraduate days and I picked up a conversation/gist with the tailor and jokingly told him I will like to learn how to sew. He encouraged me to come and that was how I registered with him as an apprentice. I went for my tailoring apprenticeship class whenever I was done with lectures for the day.
I have always loved seeing people looking well dressed and I also love dressing up people to look good, but never thought I will end up in the business of making clothes to make people look good.
TMG> What is your area of interest: designing or tailoring or both?
Grace> Both are my areas of interest but designing supersedes tailoring for me.
TMG> Did you go to a professional school to acquire the skills and what credentials did you earn through the program?
Grace> Yes. Apart from the training I had as an apprentice, I attended a standard fashion school. I have a certificate in fashion designing and garment construction.
TMG> Did your family raise any objections to your aspirations from the beginning?
Grace> No, they didn’t. They only wondered, knowing that my desires were to be a newscaster and most importantly a professor.
TMG> What type of clients do you cater for-men/women; old/young? Nigerians or Western?
Grace> We cater for the old, the young, men and women. Our designs are styled after African-western inspired designed for stylish and classy individuals who want to look good without much effort.
TMG> Which type of clothes do you find easier to market: ready-to-wear or bespoke/custom designed wears?
Grace> I’ll say for now that the bespoke designs are easier to market. Prior to now, it had been a herculean task to get Nigerians to embrace designed and made in Nigeria ready-to-wear clothing. However, things are changing. Now, I see better and high possibilities of marketing more of our ready-to-wear, which we are presently working on.
TMG> Tell us about the very first outfit you designed and sewed: Was it for you? What were people’s comments about it and how did it make you feel?
Grace> My first outfit was designed and sewed three weeks into my apprenticeship for my little niece. Though it was only my family members and few friends that saw it, they were very impressed and happy for me. I felt good too and it made me do more.
TMG>What inspires your designs?
Grace> My ideas often spring out fully formed in quiet and serene places, around nature, and most times during sermon in church.
When it comes to my designs, I get inspired by the pattern on the fabric which I want to work with. The designs or creative works of other people also inspire me a lot.
I’m also inspired by colors of the fabric, the environment of display of the finished design and also the body shape of the person wearing it.
TMG> What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
Grace> Google is there to always keep one updated. So, I always search for new trends on the internet, check out fashion shows where most of the new trends emerge and keep to date on fashion and fashion-related posts and fashion icons.
TMG> Have you participated in any fashion show and what other achievements have you had so far?
Grace> Yes, we have participated in several National and International fashion shows such as: Emirati Fashion show, Nigeria Fashion week, African Fashion Week Nigeria, African Fashion Week London, Abuja Writers Forum Fashion Show, and the Grazee Stitches fashion show. Our outfits were also featured on the runway in Miss Democracy pageantry (held in Abuja), Face of Fashion Africa, African Designers Concert’s Clash of Fashion and Beauty and Fashion for breast cancer Awareness.
We were recently hosted by the German Ambassador to Nigeria in a Fashion Show organized by the Embassy and I was also invited as celebrity designer to the 2016 Osun/Oshogbo festival to thrill the dignitaries.
TMG> What challenges do you encounter and how do you handle them?
Grace> The major challenges are; financial wherewithal to meet production demands e.g sourcing fabrics in bulk, accessories and production consumables, erratic power supply and insufficient skilled manpower from the labor market. Thus, we have to train and re-train our workers to make them efficient. In addition, there is a need for the average customer to have a basic understanding of the properties of fabrics used, and the various stages involved in the design and sewing process, the reason being that most customers want their dresses delivered to them immediately they place the order, without going through the process of fitting and re-fitting during sewing.
TMG> Tell us about your management style and how you handle your Customers?
Grace> It will be difficult to lay a finger on a particular management style, but I think in general, a good manager gives clear directions, keeps his hands off the work, stands back to watch, but is ready and available to offer guidance, expertise and help when needed.
I am very aware of my employees; as such I ensure I’m very flexible with decision making. I delegate responsibilities to them and I get them involved in the process of making decisions so they can have a sense of belonging. I practice the laissez-faire management style most times, where I provide guidance when needed. My employees are allowed to let their own ideas and creativity flourish in their specific areas.
However, I relate in same manner with my customers. I allow them have their way with their ideas but take a professional decision having their thoughts in mind.
TMG> What do you say to other youths to encourage them?
Grace> Get as much as you can for the journey, be it knowledge, information or expertise. Be sure it’s a passion that can be driven. Be determined, focused and ultimately, involve God.
TMG> Do you socialize and when?
Grace> I love meeting people and I love interacting especially when the environment permits, though I’m naturally a shy person but can be very free and playful in an accommodating area. I don’t go on outings much but I socialize in my own way and this can be anytime.