London-born, law graduate and founder of Africa Fashion Week London and Nigeria, Ronke Ademiluyi is an Ife Princess. Her mission in the fashion industry is helping fashion designers to convert their talents into enterprises that can sustain them and grow into big businesses; by giving them much needed visibility.
In August 2011, Ronke Ademiluyi decided to delve into uncharted territory by showcasing African fashion on an international runway of her own creation. This decision was born out of a sense of calling, to do the needful in bridging perceived gaps between Diaspora African fashion designers and contemporary trends in cosmopolitan fashion.
Ronke became a fashion consultant of sorts while still at university in England. She helped individuals decide what looked best on them for a fee, a trade that was inspired by those who coveted her ability to look fabulous in anything she wore! This penchant led to her compulsory introduction into the world of fashion business. She bought dresses from British designers and distributed them through a chain of boutiques in Lagos called Rukkies Boutiques, with branches in various parts of the metropolis such as Opebi Street, Bode Thomas, Surulere and on Lagos Island. She also bought dresses from some good Nigerian designers and sold them to both Africans and Europeans in London.
As a fashion entrepreneur, straddling two continents she was exposed to the tremendous talent amongst the obscure designers of African origin in the West. It also brought to light the potential within this group of people, which if harnessed, could go a long way in enabling them to turn their creativity into economic sustainability. This led to her conceiving and launching the Africa Fashion Week London. The aim was to create a platform that will expose these designers to high net worth clientele. Many of the designers still had to do menial jobs to survive, but these clients could pay good money for their services, thus enabling them to live off their talents and grow their fashion labels into strong brands that can compete with the best in contemporary Europe and the rest of the world.
Traditional fashion runways in London and the rest of Europe are too expensive for these undiscovered designers to showcase their work. In addition, fashion shows of world class standards are very expensive to organize. Ronke overcame these challenges by appealing to sympathetic organizations to sponsor her platform in providing highly subsidized showcase opportunities for these designers.
The first edition in August 2011 was held at Bishopsgate in London. A planned low-key event with an expected 500 guests ended up recording a whopping guest turn out of 4,500! The long awaited event, featured 50 African and non-African designers all inspired by African styles, fabrics and themes.
The 2012 edition of the event, which was held at Spitalfields Market London, coincided with the London Olympics tourism frenzy and recorded an all-time high audience of over 30,000 visitors. It was the turning point as it enabled the event to reach frontline media like CNN, BBC, ALJAZEERA, Chinese Cable Networks, as well as over 200 other media including blogs and websites. Africa Fashion Week London became firmly established on the European fashion calendar as the biggest African-inspired fashion festival in Europe.
On May 18, 2014, the first Nigerian edition of the event held at Eko Hotel, Lagos. It was necessitated by exactly the same reason for the London edition—to give visibility to unknown but highly skilled fashion designers in Nigeria. It showcased 60 new fashion designers with an inspiring show by the doyenne of Nigerian Fashion, Princess Abbah Folawiyo, of Labanella, as well as Zizi Cardow and several other celebrity designers.
The 2015 edition of Africa Fashion Week Nigeria was just concluded between 23 and 24, May at Eko Hotel. The opening at the Eko Marquee, formerly at the Ocean View Centre, was a special day for up-coming fashion brands. Although it started off with a heavy rains, it was an explosive success as 36 of the best new fashion talents in the country tried to outdo each other their with their stunning fashion pieces. The highlight of the show produced by Sola Oyebade of Mahogany Productions was the state-of-the-art stage. In addition, the models who came from all over the world to grace the runway, left the 7,000 crowd of spectators with a show to remember. Visitors were also free to shop at the African Fashion Market Place, which ran side by side with the fashion show.
On Sunday May 24, the Grand Finale was staged at the Eko Expo Auditorium with 25 designers, including Nigerian-born, world famous Adebayo Jones, Mozambique’s Chaivo Designs and Ghana’s Elikem Kumordzie. A fashion exhibition also ran simultaneously at the venue, for spectators to enjoy shopping, while the event was rounded up with a fashion icons award, at which the country’s fashion greats were honored with special recognitions. The show was streamed live on the Hip-Hop TV website.
Africa Fashion Week supports the Sickle Cell Foundation as a charity of choice. Among individuals whose support has helped the event is Ms. Abiola Okoya, who is the event’s good will ambassador. Notable brands that have also lent their support include Daviva, Glo, Bet9ja and Lebara.
Photos: Africa Fashion Week /Adebayo Rotilu
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