We are not going to mince words about this. Mrs. Tese Onokala is a beautiful woman. No, a very, very beautiful woman. A mother of three and lawyer by training, the front woman of Needlekraft Couture shed some light on her entanglement with the fashion business and more. Enjoy…
Needlekraft Couture has clearly established itself as a leading couture, what would you say has been your staying power?
I will say quality and creativity. We are so conscious of quality and finishing that we set up a dedicated quality control unit to ensure that no outfit goes out to customers without compliance to set quality standards. And we are so confident about the quality and creativity in our designs that we make a bait to say if our design does not bring out smile from the face of the customer upon wearing it, we will refund any money paid; more like a money back guarantee. So, this has been our main staying power and has made Needlekraft so addictive that once the customer discovers us, she never stops coming back.
Needkraft is synonymous with the Afrocentric look and style, how did that part of you evolve?
We are Afrocentric and most of our designs are Afrocentric because we believe Africa has a huge cultural and fashion heritage for our relish and even export to the rest of the world. African fabrics and materials are so beautiful and colourful to behold and when adorned brings out the real beauty in the African woman. Little wonder then, the western world is now embracing African fabrics and designs. Let me use this opportunity to call upon my colleagues in the fashion industry and fashion lovers, let us all join hands to promote our local fabrics, let us be Afrocentric in our designs and collections. Our textile industries are dying due to lack of patronage. I make bold to say there is no kind of design we cannot create with our indigenous materials. Be it dinner gowns, casuals, bikinis, name it. So, why spend our fortune on foreign wears thereby promoting another person’s culture and economy at the detriment of ours. In fact, this is the key objective of our fashion shows – to show the world how beautiful local fabrics can be on creations and designs.
When you first set up your outfit, did you have a clear blue-print of how you wanted to take it to this level and beyond?
Yes! By virtue of my training as a lawyer and my education in Business Management, I got early exposure to the business side of fashion management. So, where we are today is not by happenstance. It was pre-meditated, it was planned out and all captured on our road map. From short term to long term strategic goals, I think we are on course. But above all, all we do ties into our Mission Statement – ‘To lead the industry in fashion innovation and creativity and continually deliver high quality products and services to our customers’.
Personally, what do you think of the fashion industry today?
I think the Nigerian fashion industry has evolved and is fast becoming the next big thing. We are gradually moving away from the copy-copy and follow-follow of Western fashion to creating our own stories, making our own fashion statements, creating our own designs and even exporting to the international market. Today, you will see designs and collections of Nigerian origin in major fashion shops in the international market. But it could be better with government support, especially in the area of stable electricity to enable us become more competitive with our counterparts in the West.
Share with us the inspiration behind Needlekraft’s most celebrated signature, the Basket Trend.
You are right; the Basket Design is our most celebrated signature collection. We are the first fashion house to create this pattern in the whole wide world. It is in keeping with our strategic mission of leading in innovation and creativity. As a youthful and dynamic brand, we set out ab initio to be different, to appeal to a niche market – the segment of the market that is easily bored by conventional and monotonous designs. We set out to create bespoke designs that give them liberty to express their individuality and personality. Our pay off line is ‘Fashion Redefined’ and true to that statement, we will redefine fashion in Africa and beyond. The second point that inspired the Basket Design is to promote our culture and heritage through fashion. The Western designers often times use their designs to depict some of the things they have in their eco-system and rather than imitate them, we chose to be original, to promote our own heritage. The basket, as you know, is a traditional tool that is of great importance to the African woman and the creativity involved in putting it together is amazing and it is a lovely sight to behold. This is what we strive to achieve with our Basket Collection.
Which category of people would you say form the clientele target of the Needlekraft Signature?
I will say every stylish fashion lover. But we don’t make clothes meant to just cover the body. We do not mass produce. For us, it is ‘one size fits one’. Our designs are vocal and expressive, but not necessarily expensive. Our designs are bespoke and customised to the exact requirement and statistics of the customer. This is what makes us unique. Although we are widely regarded as celebrity clothiers, our clientele base also cuts across average income earners.
Candidly, how would you describe your style statement?
My personal style is predicated upon comfort and convenience. Is it comfortable? Does it fit? But above all, is it appropriate for the occasion.
On a personal level, you’re an extremely beautiful woman, it’s almost unbelievable to know that you’re a mother of three kids, share with us your beauty regimen.
Well, there is nothing special or extraordinary that I do other than being disciplined with what I eat or drink and then regular exercise. That is the open secret.
Tell us about the Needlekraft Fashion School.
NFS is a child borne out of necessity, out of need. Need to promote fashion training and professionalism, need to give back to the society, need to empower the less privileged with fashion skills. I had the opportunity of learning under the tutelage of some of the best designers in France and Italy and this experience has helped me in many ways as a fashion entrepreneur. Many aspiring and upcoming designers may not have this kind of opportunity, hence the need to set up a world-class fashion school with capacity to provide answers to the modern day fashion requirements. The school is equipped with world class facilities that enhance rapid learning and development, practical-oriented professional tutors, hostel accommodation, amongst others. I also use the fashion school as a platform to give back to the society and empower the less privileged by providing free fashion training and free sewing machines that will enable them stand on their own and in turn contribute positively to the society.
The competition in the industry today is unprecedented, what would you say has kept Needlekraft heads and shoulders above competing brands?
I think what has helped us stay ahead of competition is the fact that we do not operate in the open market, producing generic designs and collections. Our designs are bespoke and made to the specific need of the individual customer. Our mindset is that no two individuals are the same, hence we do not repeat designs unless as requested by the customer. We profile our customers to know more than just their statistics; we are interested to know what occasion the outfit is meant for, does the customer want to look loud or reserved at the occasion? All these will inform our pattern drafting, colour combination, etc. You see, we are not the regular, everyday fashion designers. We are more of fashion consultants and beauty enhancers. This is what sets us ahead of competition.
We are aware that Needlekraft Couture has put structures in place to give back to society through its foundation. Please, throw more light on the Needlekraft Foundation and what it’s doing to put smiles on the faces of the needy?
Thank you. This is an aspect of my endeavour that I am most passionate about as I believe that the true worth of a man is not in the amount of wealth he accumulates, but in the number of lives he is able to touch in his lifetime. This has been my motivation over the years as I embarked upon life-touching ventures and activities. As I said earlier, the school has been a potent platform we use for empowerment through the provision of free training and free sewing machines. The foundation has also been involved in funding free cancer screening exercises, provision of free clothing to orphanages and scholarships to the less privileged.
Finally, your annual fashion show is fast becoming a reference point and trademark of the Needlekraft Signature. What will be the focal point of this year’s event?
In view of the overwhelming acceptance and commendations we have received on our fashion shows over the years, we have decided to make it bigger and louder by introducing more content. Apart from the regular features of models and celebrities’ runway appearances, musical and comedy performances, we will also use the opportunity to present free sewing machines to some less privileged women and honour some individuals who have contributed to the growth and development of the fashion industry with ‘Fashion Icon Awards’. Celebrities expected on the runway are Monalisa Chinda, Ini Edo, Kate Henshaw, Omotola Jolade, Clarion Chukwura, Uti Nwachukwu, Chidi Mokeme, Fredrick Leonard, Alex Ekubo, Zack Orji and a host of others. This event will have the First Lady of Lagos State, Her Excellency, Dame Abimbola Fashola and the Iyaloja General of Nigeria, Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo as Special Guests of Honour, among others. Also worthy of mention is the list of some corporate organisations that have come together to support this initiative, namely: Zenith Bank Plc, Arik Air, Mikano International, Intercontinental Distillers (Valetta), Slot, Shalom Court, Godrej, etc.
NB: First published June 2014