Sola Oyebade is a man who has certainly seen it all. From his days as a model he has now graduated to producing high calibre fashion shows as well as running model competitions. He is the face behind Mahogany Models, Mahogany Bridal Fashion Show, Top Model of Colour and Fashion's Finest and also produces fashion show around the world such as Lagos Fashion Week and Fashion Diversity. As well as the recipient of two BEFFTA Awards, Sola is totally passionate about the fashion industry which was demonstrated in his dynamic campaign to get the all Black Italian Vogue issue distributed in the UK a few years ago. Currently he is in the midst of activity regarding Top Model of Colour but he took five minutes out for me to discuss what it is like being a Naija Fashionista.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
From a very early age I have always had an avid interest in fashion but being a Nigerian child back in those days it was not seen as the right career path to follow. When I was in secondary school in Nigeria, I use to model and produce shows which we would do at various schools around Lagos. This passion for modelling and show production continued into university where I actually spent more time modelling than a I did in school. After I finished university I returned to the UK and within know time I was desperate and hungry to get back into the fashion industry but I quickly realised that being a person of colour in the 80’s it was going to be hard to break into mainstream fashion and that proved to be the case, so I decided to give up on modelling and instead decided to set up the Mahogany Bridal Fashion Show as there was no such shows in the UK. From there things have just snow balled and mahogany has grown and grown.
What made you decide that producing fashion shows was for you?
I was lucky enough to be involved in producing fashions shows from a very early age and that continued into adult hood. I always knew that once I finished modelling I would remain involved in the fashion industry and the natural progression was to move from modelling to show production. I have always been a great organiser and love seeing my vision come to fruition. In addition particularly in the UK and now in Nigeria and Africa generally I was always concerned at the lack of good high quality shows that were either being produced by black people or for black people.
Tell me what your job consists of.
When I am first contacted to produce a show or I am doing a show of my own I initially sit down with the team or organiser to ask them what their vision is for the show and they are trying to produce. Working with them I come up with ideas, a concept and a vision for how we would proceed. I work with the client on finding a venue ensuring it has adequate changing rooms that are in the right location to do a good show. I have to check all things that relate to health and safety. Arrange to bring in a production company to discuss and design the set, sound and lightning. I assist in getting artists to perform and do castings for models and I work very closely with the models on the ensuring they can walk properly and teach them the choreography for the show. A major part of my job is producing a show and a production plan which outlines everything that would take place step by step and minute by minute. As executive producer I recruit all of the key managers that would work with me and ensure they head their departments properly and produce what I require to the right standard. All of this is just the pre production work as on the day of the show I pull everything together and ensure that the show runs perfectly, is on time and at an extremely high standard. Ultimately I can make or break a show and as such I must always be on my game as I must be able to quickly resolve problems seamlessly so that nobody can see any problems we may be having. I am lucky in that I have produced some great shows across the world.
How does the fashion scene in Nigeria compare to London?
Fashion in Nigeria is taking off at an enormous rate and shows are taking place literally everyday from small and large and compared to the UK I think there is more money to spend on fashion shows but I do think that it is not always used in the best way and I speak generally here as this is not always the case. As with any new industry there are teething problems but as can expected Nigerians are learning quickly. I have done a few shows in Nigeria as well as attended a number of shows and I think where some shows fall down is the attention to detail, cutting corners and in particular the suppliers over extending themselves and promising to do more than they can actually do. Having recognised this Mahogany productions and events has set up in Nigeria and is working with a number of clients and fashion shows to come up with innovative, creative and high quality shows. Compared to the UK shows in Nigeria generally are much bigger, with bigger audiences and can be extremely generous events covered by TV and the press and everyone seems to want to be at all of the events. There are so many new designers and models being discovered everyday and that means that compared to the London there seems to be a greater variety in terms of keeping things fresh. When working in Nigeria you must have a lot of patience and be very pushy if you wish to do a great fashion show because people tend to take their time in terms of getting things done compared to London; where I tend to make one phone call and once I have paid the service is delivered and I tend not to have to worry whereas in Nigeria one tends to have check and triple check that what you want would be delivered so I guess it all adds to the excitement of doing a show. The Nigerian fashion industry has a lot to offer and is definitely going to be a place to reckon with over the next few years and I believe that as soon as we develop a top international fashion week then the whole fashion scene in Nigeria would change even more and we will make great strides and increase our reputation on the international scene.
What sort of changes have you seen in the Nigerian fashion industry over the last few years?
It is clearly recognised that as an industry to be involved in both from a creative, lucrative and from a career perspective the Nigerian fashion industry is one that a lot of people want to be involved in. It is amazing to see the number of professional people that have left their professions to become full time in the Nigerian fashion industry. Fashion plays a major role in the everyday life of the average Nigerian and as such it is not surprising that the industry has grown so quickly. It has become more professional with various associations and bodies being set up to regulate the industry, shows are more professional and not just thrown together without any thought and more professionals like myself are being used more and more to produce or event manage such events. I do believe that within the next 5 years we will be on par with south Africa as one of the top fashion countries within Africa.
Describe a day in the life of Sola Oyebade
I wake up in the morning to meet 100’s of email (and I mean 100’s of emails from across the world either asking us how we can work together or be involved in their show by producing it or asking me to be a judge or attend an event. The phone rings continuously throughout the day covering everything you can imagine. During the day I try and deal with the emails, calls as well as production and show plans which can be very tedious but necessary. I get to speak to a wide variety of people on a wide array of topics and issues so my job is enjoyable. I spend time updating the website or writing my blog or doing interviews. As standard this what I do three out of four days but alongside the above I also attend numerous shows and events, work on choreography, judge at shows and work on events. I tend to work a 16 to 18 hour day and I am not complaining as I say I will sleep when I die.
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