Aimas: Celebrating Individuality through Fashion
by Ladun Ogidan
Lagos-based Tayo Shonekan deviated from a career in engineering to establish herself as a leading fashion designer and stylist. In 2004, her first attempt at designing for her then newly-launched label Aimas was a hit with the entire batch selling out in the United Kingdom. Since then, she has gone on to style several advertorials, celebrities and fashion enthusiasts. Her brand Aimas was born out of a love for celebrating individuality through fashion. It produces hand-finished accessorised t-shirts, jumpsuits, dresses, beautifully handcrafted bags, belts, neck and hair accessories. The brand also prides itself on combining local African fabric with the finest modern fabrics and materials available, by the best craftsmen in Nigeria.
In what way has your background in engineering significantly impacted your work as a fashion designer?
My background in engineering has helped me not only in the precision that is required to accurately produce ready-to-wear pieces but also in thinking analytically with regards to my business.
Aimas boasts of an array of beautifully crafted vintage designs deeply resonating with Africa. Can you speak a bit on your early influences and mentors?
Aimas as a brand is predominantly inspired by the African continent, especially Nigeria. Birthing the brand in the UK made it even more significant for me to tell our African stories. The early influences of the brand, which still resonate with us today, is the African woman in her full traditional regalia. The beauty, the strength, the elegance and the heritage it speaks of have been a consistent thread with the brand. One of my early mentors is my mother. Not only is she a strong and beautiful African woman, but she has also been the wind beneath my wings from the conception of Aimas, which incidentally is from the name given to me from her region in Nigeria.
What challenges have you faced running a successful business in Nigeria and how have these experiences refined your identity as a fashion designer?
Running a business in Nigeria is certainly no easy feat. Some of the challenges I have faced have been with the quality of staff that one has had to work with. Unfortunately, the educational system is so weak that the staff come out half-baked and you are left wondering if you have hired a graduate or a school leaver. Then with regards to the artisans, they generally have poor work ethics and find it difficult to understand the protocol that is involved in being employed by a small business. I have had to set a clear vision for everyone that joins the brand, letting them know what is expected of them. I have also convinced them to buy into the brand ethos so that they feel they are part of the larger picture. I identify Aimas as a movement, and both the staff and customers are part of that movement.
What do you think of the designers collaborating with fast fashion brands? Would this sort of partnership interest you, and how would you negotiate between uniqueness and having commercial appeal?
I think designers collaborating with fast fashion brands is undoubtedly the way to go, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting everything and people being careful with their spending. I am open to collaboration because I believe we all need each other much more now than before. At Aimas, we have always been able to combine our uniqueness with a commercial appeal because of our signature style and images we use on our pieces. The image itself is unique as it is a collaboration between the brand and Nigeria’s top contemporary artist. We are then able to use that image to produce commercially while still maintaining the uniqueness the brand is known for.
Please tell us the inspiration for the ‘Malia Wrap Top with an adire Sash’, ‘Falaar Jumpsuit’ and the ‘Sisi Toke Shirtdress’.
The Malia Wrap Top is a combination of black/white stripe fabric and an adire sash. It is the marrying of two cultures to birth something beautiful. Adire is a local art form in Nigeria that spans for centuries, and it just adds that African aesthetic to an otherwise ordinary garment. By doing this, Aimas lends itself to a global audience as everyone can relate to an aspect of the Malia Wrap Top. The Falaar Jumpsuit is from our Empyrean Collection, which explores beauty in the heavenly realm. It is a combination of two different fabrics; the upper part a soft chiffon fabric while the lower part is locally sourced cotton. Both prints are also adire, which, as I mentioned earlier, is an art form indigenous to the Nigerian people. The Sisi Toke Shirtdress is particularly special to me. Not only is it one of our best sellers, but it is also inspired by my gorgeous sister Toke. It is an easy outfit that all women can wear whether you are 16 or 60, and it can either be dressed up or dressed down.
There are countless sustainable labels out there. What makes Aimas stand out?
You cannot miss an Aimas piece. Once you see our signature gele woman strategically positioned on any of our pieces, you know for sure that it is ours. We have also mastered the art of delivering African fashion and telling our beautiful stories through our brand. All items have background stories, which make great conversation starters.
Where do you think the African fashion industry is at the moment, and what changes would you like to see in the next 5 years post-COVID-19?
The African fashion industry has grown in leaps and bounds, and I see it making much more impact globally in the foreseeable future. I would certainly like to see African fashion become more mainstream in the next five years and not having to always be put in a ‘box’ as African fashion but just accepted as fashion period.
Ladun Ogidan is the Deputy Editor of Omenka Africa’s first art, business and luxury- lifestyle magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication from Covenant University, Nigeria. Ogidan is also Operations Manager at the Omenka Gallery, and Chief Operating Officer at Revilo Company Limited, a leading art publishing company in Lagos. She has co-ordinated several exhibitions at home and abroad.
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