Aisha Kabir Barau, fashion entrepreneur and CEO of Aisha. K. Barau Empire, a brand that deals with everything fashion – from consultation, styling, advising and designing. She speaks with TMG about her work, ambitions and hopes for the future of her business.
TMG>Tell us about yourself and your fashion company:
Aisha> I am in my mid 20’s. I’m a Muslim and Hausa from the royal families of Suleja and Bida in Niger State. I graduated from Radford University College Accra, where I acquired a degree in Fashion Design. As the creative director of my company, I believe I have more to offer as a brand than just designing and retailing my designs which I would definitely go into eventually. As for now, I am ready to cater to fashion brands and individuals.
TMG> How long did you nurse the ambition of becoming a Fashion Entrepreneur?
Aisha> Wanting to become a fashion entrepreneur started from around 2010 when I realized I wanted to do more than just sketching for clients and fashion houses. I decided to go further and dedicate my future to being a fashion entrepreneur by going to look for schools where I could get a degree in what I loved to do. I mean, if I love it so much, why not get a degree in it? So I got the admission and here I am today.
TMG> What is your area of interest: designing, tailoring or marketing?
Aisha> In school, I was taught everything in order for you to shine wherever you go. I’m very grateful to the university I graduated from; I can sew, design, style, sell, market, predict and set trends, teach courses and advise on fashion. But I prefer to be the frontier even though I can do all of it. Fashion is large but most people don’t know that. Luckily for me, I can fit in any place.
TMG> Did you go to a professional school to learn the skills and what credentials did you earn through the program?
Aisha> I went to Radford University College Accra Ghana. As I mentioned earlier, where I acquired a BA in FASHION DESIGN. My school only graduated the very best. There were about 18 of us that graduated from my department amongst other departments and mine was one of the most celebrated in my university because it has made the school well recognized around the world. All fashion designers from my school happen to be very different in their own way every year which makes the department always stand out. I’d like to say a big Thank you to Mrs Yvonne Ntiamoah (HOD FASHION DESIGN DEPARTMENT) for believing and helping me get through. It was very tough but I made it.
TMG> Are you encouraging and creating job opportunities for other youths?
Aisha> Yes, I am encouraging the younger ones or anyone interested in the fashion industry to get the proper qualifications. I love to speak to interested individuals to go for it, don’t wait or think too much about it. I will also love to have a firm where I can help people to achieve their dreams. All you need is determination, constant prayers and never let yourself down. Happiness surely helps achieve your dreams.
TMG> What type of clothes do you find easier to market, i.e which ones are high in demand from your observation?
Aisha> I can market any kind of clothes with my qualification. I am not restricting myself to a certain section of fashion or clothing. As long as you’re comfortable in what you wear and it is environment friendly, you can choose to wear them anywhere and anyhow, regardless of your kind of person.
TMG> Tell us how you get your materials and how you create designs that your customers would like?
Aisha> I get my fabric from the market. It depends on what I am working with i.e my inspiration for the design. Actually, I always have an inspiration before going for fabric search and know what I want to achieve while searching for fabrics. As for my deigns, I work with what the clients want at all times. I treat you like the designer – I’ll just work with your mind.
TMG> Tell us about the very first dress you designed/sewed: Was it for you? What were people’s comments about it and how did it make you feel?
Aisha> The very first dress I designed and sewed was a child’s dress for a class project. It was sketched, drafted to patterns and sewn for marks. I know I did that dress with all my heart. I made a party dress for a 12 year old with Ankara, I also added hard net underneath to make it stand. It was 3/4 length, I also added large pearl-like beads to the neckline to make it serve as a neck piece. It was beautiful and I got an A in that course. Funny enough, I’m almost like a perfectionist with sewing- even if I hate sewing so much, I still take my time and that’s why I don’t like sitting behind the machine.
TMG> Have you handled a fashion show before? What was the experience like and people’s acceptance of your products?
Aisha> The best experience I had from university was to be a part of the graduate fashion show held in Kempinski Hotel Accra in July 2016. It was amazing. My family came from Nigeria to support me and I made my 1st ever collection of 10 garments with so much tears. When you have to make clothes for final year marks, a fashion show with high quality standard requirement and to be highly recognized, it is tough. The crowd was amazed to see fully covered outfits because I was the only designer who made an Islamic collection. The runway was so long, I was very excited and I even cried. It was like one half done because the next half was to wait for your fate (to graduate or not) after 4 years.
TMG>What inspires your designs?
Aisha> Anything at all. It could be a story, a fruit, a colour tone, a texture, an art, it depends on where I choose to draw inspiration from. But there are four major sources of inspiration which are •history, •colour, •texture and •nature and I choose from any of them to start up.
TMG>What do you do when you run out of ideas?
Aisha> Relax, breathe, watch fashion TV, news, surf the internet, take my mind off for a while, listen to music; mix what I like to wear or feel comfortable in with what is existing/ trending; mix necklines, sleeves, silhouettes to achieve something new.
TMG> How fast do your products move from production to the end user?
Aisha> I have not started retailing but as soon as I start, I intend to cater to what I know will be sold fast. That is, by knowing what clients take an interest in and producing a few so it can be sold fast.
TMG> In case of problems, how do you manage? Do you seek for help from another professional?
Aisha> When I’m working with something I am not too familiar with, yes, I ask my colleagues who I know have handled similar things better and faster before.
TMG> What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
Aisha> I go to the internet! In the university, the internet was my best friend. I had a wifi that I took everywhere. It helped me top assignments sometimes. Everything is there (even the wrong ones) for you to fill your brain with. I also read, watch videos and fashion shows relating to what I want to do and keep up with designers from all over the world, not just because they are well known but because they make things I am interested in.
TMG> What challenges do you encounter and how do you handle them?
Aisha> Poor electricity supply. Nigeria is blessed but that is our major problem. I love details and stoning, beading, pearl work and I work best with hot-fix appliques. The best bet is to use a generating set but it gets very expensive sometimes just to do a few jobs. But it’s all good, I still try to get the work done and I always find a way round the other challenges that may crop up.
TMG> Give us an example of someone you have trained or mentored. Where did they start and where are they now?
Aisha > I have not trained or mentored anyone yet. I have a few people who contact me to say I inspire them or they learn from me on social media. I have given some advice to a few friends that are already in the business and I encourage them to always do more research. I am always ready to help and assist and give guidelines. I also try my best to show tailors what to do in order to achieve some certain styles which is why I have chosen to be a consultant now. So you pay for the services and I deliver.
TMG> Tell us about your management style and how you handle your customers?
Aisha> I am a very free spirited person and very easy to contact and work with. I just flow with any individual and their attitude as long as they are ready to work. They also say I’m a nice person so maybe I am a very fun person to work with but I also have my strict moments.
TMG> Tell us 3 things that you consider to be your strengths in this business?
Aisha> Happiness, Prayers and Satisfaction. I’m always happy. Trust me, if I’m not happy, I can never get anything done. I have a very strong belief in God and always ask for God’s intervention in whatever I do and whoever I work with. Also, as long as I’m satisfied, I will stop, sit back and watch my work. It’s like a feeling one gets after successfully completing a job- “that is my handiwork” or “I also contributed to that”.
TMG> How do you manage risks in terms of damages or losses?
Aisha> I am a risk taker. I am not afraid of what happens if it doesn’t work. I will work better or choose another way to channel what will bring profit. In business you lose some, win some. That’s what makes you successful. I am also still learning; you cannot know it all but can only learn from your mistakes.
TMG> How would you encourage others to be self-dependent?
Aisha> Do what you are comfortable with, what makes you happy. Try not to ask too much. Know your standards and limits. Know what you can and what you cannot do. No one is perfect but try to be good at what you do. In university, I always stood up for myself and also for others as long as you were honest. Be humble, honest and package yourself well because branding is very important. Be true to yourself and your goals will be achieved gradually.
TMG> Do you socialise and when?
Aisha> I am Miss Social! I feel it’s good to be outspoken if you are an entrepreneur and I love meeting new people from whom I can learn. I like to hang out when I have time or when my circle of friends decide to pull me out. It would depend on my mood because I also cherish resting at home and being with family. So home is a happy place for me.