By Christy Anyanwu
Kolade Folarin is an international fashion designer and business administrator with interest in oil and gas.
He is the creative director and chief executive of BanKola Brand Limited, based in London, United Kingdom.
He holds a degree in oil and gas management from Coventry University, London, and runs his fashion brand, established to positively project the African culture to the world.
The UK-based seasoned entrepreneur recently he held a fashion show in Nigeria, during which he spoke with Sunday Sun about his life as a fashion designer, his growing up.
He also gave advice to upcoming designers and lots more.
Could you give us an insight into your background?
I am from Owo in Ondo State, Nigeria and I spent my early years as a child there, before moving to Ibadan and Lagos. Later, I migrated to the United Kingdom. I was raised by disciplinarian parents. Incidentally, both of them were earning a living as entrepreneurs. I studied Oil and Gas Management at Coventry University. When I saw the opportunity to invest in the fashion industry, I established my brand to make a difference and contribute my quota to its development.
What opportunity did you see in the industry?
Fashion is a way of life and it is an industry that keeps evolving. Living in the UK made me realize there is a lot of potential in creating African and cosmopolitan designs that appeal to people universally. This opportunity will continue to be explored because people can never be weary of getting attracted to fanciful wears. People want to look good on a daily basis and a designer who offers what they desire will continue to make a good living from his creations. The idea started developing as I remembered my childhood in Nigeria and how we used to find pleasure in adorning exotic African clothing. I did my research and realized that African designers are just scratching the surface in terms of what they could achieve in the industry and I decided to go for it, being optimistic of making a difference with my brand. Prior to establishing the brand, I was selling premium watches from an American and Turkish connection. That was about six years ago. The business took me to different parts of Europe as I had to do a lot of networking to establish a thriving business. I discovered I have great communication skills and a good customer service with people and I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. From then on, I started to think of ways I could expand by establishing my own brand and BanKola came into being.
Tell us about life working in the UK as a designer?
Life working in the UK as a designer has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages being that I have a great group of friends who live in the UK and readily support my passion in designing. I feel blessed in that aspect and always feel lucky to be surrounded by a true network of individuals. I find myself being invited to many functions which give my brand a boost as well as ideas. The disadvantages include being in a country where buying major designs is the in-thing. I find myself having to work extraordinarily in order to get my brand noticed. Nevertheless, I have my eyes set on getting to the top.
What advice do you have for young people who want to come into your sector?
They need to work hard at what they want to excel in. Having the desire to work as a designer and being the best is important, as long as it does not harm others. I advise them to do the best they can and prove that they can go from zero to heroes through hard work.
Who do you consider as the greatest influences in your life?
My mother is my greatest influence in life. She has always stood by me through thick and thin. She has a sense of dressing I admire and the love she has for her children is one to admire. Besides her, I find myself being influenced by the likes of Akon and Davido. These two gentlemen, in my opinion, have worked hard to put Africa on the map. I admire their hard work. I also love how they involve in charities to help the less privileged. That, to me, is what gives me the inspiration and drive to work even harder to get my brand more noticed. I also aspire to work towards being able to impact positively on the lives of the less privileged and give them the determination to be the best they want to be.
Tell us some of your memorable moments growing up?
While growing up, I used to assist my father in his business. He traded in cars. I was good in fixing malfunctioning televisions, faulty pressing irons and so on, and I used to assist him in fixing some of the faults in the imported vehicles he brought from Amsterdam. He used to travel in and out of Nigeria and ship hundreds of cars from Amsterdam. Our compound would be filled with lots of people who intended to negotiate with him on car prices. After school, I would rush home and without even taking off my white school uniform, helped to fix the faults on the cars and sell them off. The most interesting part for me was that at the end of the “business day,” my dad would call me to one side and give me some money. That used to put a big smile on my face.
As a fashion entrepreneur, what inspires you?
When I see how proud people are to put on our African clothing, I feel highly inspired to create more distinctive styles that would appeal to diverse class of people in different parts of the globe. I love exploring and I have learnt that the African culture and traditions are infinite; the materials for creativity in them are ceaseless.
Where do you see yourself in the world fashion competition?
I see myself as one of the top internationally known brand owners. Being an ambassador to our locally created and existing brands would enable me create an environment that encourages people to support their own. I also look forward to mirroring myself with the likes of Akon, who is leaving no stone unturned putting Africa on the map, due to his exceptional hard work. We also want to add value to humanity and create an enduring legacy. It is important to always support our youths as they are future leaders and we have resolved to contribute to their self-development by establishing a fashion, art and dance school. Nigeria is blessed, and the over 200 million population positions the country as a choice destination for investors desirous of exploring business opportunities, including fashion, in the African continent. Japan became a booming fashion market in the 1960s and 70s, and likewise China, in the late 1990s. Nigeria has the potential to replicate this feat in Africa. We plan to have a wide chain of BanKola stores in Nigeria to be a part of this projected development.
How would you describe your experience in organizing a fashion show in Nigeria?
The BanKola Brand Fashion Event Lagos was put in place to showcase the Nigerian culture and give Nigerians a chance to win the various prizes, including a new car, which was the grand prize. We had over 20 professional models on the stage wearing various traditional, cultural, elegant and urban wears created by us while over 700 guests attended the event. All these were made possible working alongside collaborators and event managers such as Allevents, Brendance and Crusaders Limited and DopeBoy Entertainment. The event was made colourful with the presence of DJ Xclusive, Brymo, Acapella, MC Smart, Denrele Edun and Kulh who engaged the audience in their different ways. So much activities and engagements took place to get the audience’s attention. The search for the Face of BanKola 2021 had a total of 1,400 registered contestants and the first prize winner got the brand new car and an ambassadorship deal for the year 2021. I had a very exhilarating experience. We intend to make The Face of BanKola an annual event.
What are the challenges faced in the industry?
One of the few challenges was having unforeseen situations. For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, it caused a lot of disruptions in the business. Everybody had to follow the government laid down protocol and regulations, due to the pandemic. We were in the process of organizing our first fashion event in Nigeria tagged The BanKola Brand Fashion Event Lagos, when the pandemic broke out. This had a slight impact on the progress towards the event. However, we abided with the government regulations on COVID-19 protocols in Lagos and eventually we held the event at the Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) were very supportive.
What is your driving force?
My optimum goal is to offer people the opportunity to have access to both casual and cultural wears, while giving them unique materials at affordable rates. We intend to accomplish this in different parts of the world, adding real value to the way fashion is perceived globally.