By Enyeribe Ejiogu
When Nigeria, during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of US$550 billion, following the rebasing of the economy, Nollywood and the other aspects of the creativity industry contributed a major part the gross domestic product. Even today with Nigerians in Diaspora remitting more than US$20 billion back home, a reasonable part of that goes into the local fashion industry as such Nigerians order African clothes by the tons and e-commerce platforms and a myriad of logistics companies.
That is why Joy Meribe, who in September 2021 became the first African fashion designer to feature at the Milan Fashion Week, Italy, wants Guaranty Trust Bank (GTCO) and Zenith Bank, which are already sponsoring annual fashion exhibitions to go a step further to create collaborations with institutional buyers of fashion designs that will enable operators in the Nigeria fashion design standardise and ramp up production of creative designs to meet timelines of orders from such institutional buyers.
In 2021, you featured prominently at the Milan Fashion Week as the first African designer to grace the globally respected fashion event. Paint a picture of the beautiful things that have happened for you since that outing.
My fashion show happened on 22nd September 2021. That’s a date I will never forget. Since then, I have had more visibility, more press requests and above all, more buyers interested in my brand. It feels good to be taken more seriously.
Has your excellent performance in the Milan Fashion Week opened the door for other Africans in THE fashion design circle?
It’s too early to tell but according to the other African-born fashion designers I have had the opportunity to speak with, they feel more hopeful and encouraged to push on.
The Western fashion world is beginning to reckon with the African Fashion and Design Industry. What would you say is the principal driver of this rapidly deepening interest in the continent’s creative industry?
It’s as if the world has become a fusion of different cultures with the increase in the use of the internet and social media. People outside of Africa have stopped seeing Africa only by what the mainstream media portrays Africa to be. Even without travelling to Africa, they see on social media what we are capable of with the limited resources available. The Nollywood Film Industry has also been a major ‘exporter’ of our fashion.
We know that President Joe Biden has appointed a number of Nigerians to significant positions in his administration. Imagine that an aide to the US First Lady called to invite you to the White House, to pitch your designs to Dr. Jill Biden in preparation for an upcoming State Visit to some African countries, what would guide your creative direction?
My style is a fusion of mainstream and Afro fashion with a modern touch to it. I would have this in mind while creating the designs for the United States First Lady. Imagine the global of her being seen wearing an African-focused design that communicates the concerns of her husband over the impact of climate change in Africa and how the United States would want African leaders to pursue policies that mitigate the effect of climate change. As you probably know, a major item in the policy agenda of President Joe Biden is focused on reversing or retarding the menace of climate change around the world. The world is really an integrated ecosystem whereby a climatic crisis in one part has impact in other parts of the globe.
Similarly, if Michelle Obama were to decide to visit Africa, to meet and encourage African women in business, what wardrobe advice would you give and also “package” her for the trip?
I like that you asked about Michelle Obama. I’ve always dreamt of styling her. I would keep it simple, elegant, and colourful. She has the type of carriage and gait that makes every woman desire to buy what she has on. Who knows…one day I could get the opportunity to see her wear my designs.
Looking into your fashion crystal ball, what fashion predictions can you make for 2022? In other words, where will fashion design go in 2022? Which colours or colour schemes and fabrics will rule in 2022?
That would depend on the season. For winter I would go for darker shades of red, blue, green, and burnt orange. For spring and summer, I would go for pastels.
In Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, Zenith and First Bank have all created platforms for home-based fashion designers to showcase their creativity. Given your international experience and exposure, what would you say they are not doing right and what advice can you offer in this regard?
The fact that GTB and Zenith Bank created these platforms is a thing to admire. I would suggest that apart from creating a platform to showcase creativity, it would also be nice to enter collaborations on behalf of the designers with leading international stores to give these designers a chance to sell their designs in their stores. Most fashion buyers want to be sure that the designers have a solid production structure and financial backing that would enable them to produce and deliver orders within specific time frames. If the institutions are not doing this already, it would be important to start backing the designers with interest-free finance.
The current President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, has shown interest in actively supporting socio-economic growth initiatives in Africa. If you were to meet him one-on-one at an international forum, what would you tell him to do for the African Creative Industry through banking institutions in various nations, for emerging fashion labels, to enable them get on major platforms for international exposure?
Just as I said earlier, the general struggle of emerging labels is mostly finance. It would be a great sign of confidence if these institutions could act as guarantors for these emerging creatives to get loans. It takes a lot financially to create a full runway collection and it also takes so much to have professional models plus all the event preparations that go into a fashion show. A little bit of push and sponsorships, here and there, would go a long way, to assist Africans in the creativity industry.
Tell me a bit about the person behind the beautiful face and warm smile? Where are you from and how did you begin your journey in the fashion world?
I’m from Ihitte Uboma in Imo State, Nigeria. I have always loved fashion right from a young age but like most Nigerian parents, my parents wanted their children to get higher formal education. I also have older cousins who are good examples of academic excellence so opting otherwise would be like ‘lowering the standards’ that were expected of me so I went ahead to the university. I studied Foreign Languages and Literature in Nigeria before relocating to Italy. In Italy I studied for Master’s in International Business. One thing led to another and decided eventually to pursue my real love which is fashion by enrolling in a fashion school also in Italy. Here I am today as the founder and CEO of my fashion brand, Joy Meribe, (which is called just like my name, Joy Meribe).
What major lessons have you learnt in the course of the journey? Beyond fashion and design, what life lessons have you learnt?
I have learnt to do it afraid, resilience, unwavering faith, and perseverance. This journey has reaffirmed my belief in studying and improving myself even when there seems to be no need for it. Opportunity doesn’t wait for preparation, only those who are prepared are ready enough to grab the opportunities that present themselves.
Can we look forward to the day you would feature in Fashion Weekend Lagos (FWKD Lagos) organised by GTBank, and perhaps hold a Master Class session for young, aspiring designers?
That would be my greatest pleasure!
Paint a picture of the friends and family support structure that enables you push on in the face of challenges that come with your chosen career.
I’m blessed to have a close-knit nuclear and extended family. You could always drop unfriendly friends but with family, you are stuck for life so I’m blessed to have my kind of family. Going back to study once in a while comes with some financial and other difficulties but my family has stood by me in a way that makes it possible for me to keep doing what I’m doing. My husband and kids are the main ones who feel the deprivations that come with my job but they have always stood in and covered every vacuum like real troopers.
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