Grace Uredi is a talented fashion designer who manages a thriving fashion business in Nigeria. Despite being relatively new to the industry, her distinctive style has garnered the attention of clients from around the globe. Notably, she designed the cover outfit for Unaku Anyadike, the winner of Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) 2017, and also styled Ugochi Ihezue for the 2017 Miss World Top Model, which she went on to win.
Having graduated from Lagos State University with a degree in International Relations and Personnel Management, as well as completing a course at ISTITUTO DI MODA BURGO, an Italian fashion school, Uredi discusses her career, the challenges she faces in the Nigerian fashion industry, and the recipe for producing stunning dresses.
What skills are necessary for a fashion designer to be successful in business?
A fashion designer needs to be creative, artistic and have excellent drawing abilities.
As a fashion designer, how do you stay current with the trends?
In order to be current, you really need to follow the trends of things going on at a particular time, which means you need to be glued to social media and magazines; we do a lot of research actually. For you to be creative, you need to have some alone time to be able to create something meaningful outside of the everyday design you see around. Doing things differently than what every other person has done, so you need to be up to date via social media and fashion magazines. With that, you get the inspiration to create something different from what you see every day.
Let’s talk about ethics in the fashion industry in Nigeria. What can you say about the work ethics and what do you think can be done to improve it?
If everything is okay in this country, by this I mean necessities like logistics, production and raw materials, if all these are all in place, it will be much easier for fashion stakeholders to access them more easily. But with the current situation in the country, things are difficult to coordinate because of the lack of structure in the area of these important factors, especially the inability of designers to access raw materials, and also the high cost of advertising, so those are a few setbacks in the fashion industry.
Now about the work ethics in the Nigerian fashion industry, there is still some discipline needed on the part of designers. Most designers are now known to be associated with disappointment and delays, and this is not good for the profession. Clients do not appreciate this and it puts them off. It also discourages people from going into fashion. Half of the time you find out that fashion designers default based on one reason or another, they give appointments they cannot meet and are unable to deliver at the right time. There is also the factor of unprofessionalism on the part of staffs that work with some designers.
So if you had the power to change this, what, in your opinion would you do as an authority in the fashion industry?
Majority of fashion designers have similar issues. What I have come to realize over time is that disappointments come in different forms, like designers not scheduling the appropriate time, getting orders of about 10 clothes when they know that they have the capacity to handle only 5. They do this in a bid to make fast money but in the end, they can’t meet up.
Another thing is that the timeframe given to work is always very short on the part of clients, they always want things to be done fast. For example, someone wants to make a wedding dress and gives the designer a window of just one week or two weeks, it is not possible. But because I need the money, I just take the job, not putting the ethics of business into consideration. And also, some tailors take on additional jobs, when they know that they can’t even deliver the items they already have with them on the right date. These are ethics some of us don’t keep because we always want to cut corners. Details to finishing and attention to details is another problem we have, all these are setbacks for us because they make the client have less confidence in the designer.
On the part of the customer, some of them are also not patient. So the solution would be for designers to be more professional by being sincere about their timelines and clients to be more understanding by giving the designer adequate time to deliver a good job.
I have seen some of your pieces and I must admit that they are amazing. What is that one thing that stands you out from other designers?
I will say attention to details and creativity. In as much as I have challenges with my staff; they complain that my styles are too complex, or I am often changing my styles. What they fail to realize is that to get a particular outfit right, it is not at the initial stage you conclude what it will look like. For example, I can pick up a fabric and decide to make something out of it, later on; I come to realize that that particular fabric will not work for that style so I will need to go back to the drawing board to redesign all over again. When this happens, some of them feel that I just want to give them additional work, failing to realize that it is the attention to detail and finishing that makes an outfit stand out.
You have worked with a couple of models and have had different experiences. Who is your dream muse?
For now, I will say Ihezue Ugochi Mitchel (MBGN 2017), she is actually the face of Meena Allure and she has been with me for a while. She won the Most Beautiful Girl Nigeria beauty pageant in 2017 and also won Top Model at Miss World pageant. She is practically a family member because she understands me and also understands the brand. That is for models I have worked with.
And for models I haven’t worked with, I will say Naomi Campbell. I will like to see her wear our pieces.
What makes you as a person stand out? What is your personal style?
I am more of a couture person. I do a lot of wedding dresses, prom dresses, runway clothes and items for pageants. But I tend to go with couture more because they are trendy. For my personal style, I love being distinct, I love wearing things that stand me out. I love being me and interpreting who I am, so I basically chose what I am comfortable in.
Which is more important for you, comfort or fit?
For me, I will say it is the fitting.
What will you say about comfort? For example, if you are wearing something that fits perfectly, but is barely uncomfortable, how do you handle it?
Even when I am not too comfortable, I have ways of carrying myself. Before leaving the house, I look for a way to move around in it and get accustomed to it. I do not really wear things that are utterly uncomfortable, but sometimes, I make some sacrifices, it may look uncomfortable to the next person, but as for me, I look for ways to make it work.
What is the longest time you have worn a pair of heels?
Probably 12 hours. Sometimes I go for events and have to arrive early. I just keep on pushing. But with time, I have gotten to realize that some high heel shoes can be moderate, so I do not wear too high the way I used to before.
Which was the last fashion show you appeared in and what was the experience like?
I participated in African Fashion and Design Week which took place at the Oriental Hotel. I can call that my first major fashion show because as a newbie in the industry, I was discovered by the organizers of the show. It took them a while to convince me to be a part of the show. A beautiful thing about participating in that show was that I got to meet some big names in the industry, the likes of Ade Bakare and Ejiro Amos Tafiri.
How did you feel seeing your pieces on the runway?
I was excited and blown away. Seeing my work on the same stage with the big names in the industry was very amazing and I thought within me like this is a good start for us.
At your lowest moments on the job, what motivates you to bounce back?
Sometimes, I may be working on a project and then it does not turn out the way I want it. Or sometimes I pick up a pattern thinking it is going to be a walkthrough for me but end up struggling with it. Like early this year, we tried working on some things; they were not turning out well, so we just had to keep going until we get to perfection. Sometimes it may feel frustrating and look as if you are in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the day, I don’t have a choice than to pick myself up, go back to the drawing board and review, most of the time, what has helped me is going to the drawing board and starting from the beginning again. So most times, when people are sleeping, I am usually awake doing research, I do a lot of research.
For you to stand out from people, you need to create something different from what the regular person does. I don’t like to copy what everyone else is doing. For you to stand out, you need to work over and over, which is what I have been doing.
Could you tell us about the few challenges you have faced in your business as a fashion designer?
The few challenges I have faced are the regular challenges almost every fashion designer faces. In the area of getting workers to stay, making them pay attention to details. There are also some furious customers; sometimes it is difficult to satisfy some customers. They chose a style and when you are done, they tell you it is not the same thing.
Also, sourcing for materials could be challenging, sometimes, you just cannot get the right materials to work with. I remember when we were doing Miss World 2017; I had a bit of a tough time getting the right fabric and the right accessories.
If all those factors needed for the industry to thrive are in place in the country, where do you see the fashion industry in the next five years?
Nigerian fashion designers are quite very intelligent and creative, like when you go to social media, you see an array of wonderful designs. I think we are ready to compete with the international market. With what I am seeing today compared with where we are coming from, I can say we have come a long way. So in the next five to 10 years, it is going to be a different ball game, people are not going to be buying luxury clothing from abroad. Because, as at now, most of my clients are in the US, I also get orders from other parts of the world. Nigerian designers are now making wedding dresses, unlike before when brides used to strictly order their dresses from aboard. The rate of this has really reduced. I cannot remember when last I travelled to shop for outfits. I get a lot of compliments, even from outside the country. So yes, we are doing quite well now, and in another 10 years, there is going to be a huge market.
As an established brand, what advice do you have for the upcoming designers?
With the experience I have gotten so far, I realize that one major virtue that most people lack is patience. We are always in a hurry to achieve things. The future generation needs to be patient and do the right thing to succeed. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, especially in the area of education. If you want to go into fashion, nothing stops you from going to a fashion school and if you can’t afford a fashion school at the moment and you go to learn at the roadside, be patient enough to learn all you need to learn well. Like when I told people I wanted to go into fashion, they said, oh, you can just hire people to do the job for you. That is what everyone else does. They were asking what I was going to do at a school when I can just open a place and hire people, but I have come to realize that in business, you fail when you do not really put enough effort. Putting effort distinguishes you as a professional in your field. So the younger generation needs to put in their best in the area of practice and be patient enough to get the right skills and practice.