Kate Nnoruka is a US-trained fashion designer and the brains behind Kiki Couture, a fashion outfit in Lagos. She tells Ada Onyema why she relocated from the US to establish a fashion outfit in Nigeria.
How did you come about fashion designing?
Everybody that knows me from my teenage years will attest to the fact that it is something that I learnt unconsciously, thanks to my former tailor who refused to make my clothes on time. Most times, I had to wait all day for her to make my clothes, learning unconsciously. Eventually, I started buying fabrics and cutting them. Then, I would take them to her to help me put together. By the time I left for the US, I used to cut, but I didn’t know how to sew. When I got to the States, with the help of my mum, who is also a tailor over there, she taught me how to use the machine and I started sewing. I decided to get trained as a fashion designer at the Sacramento City College, California.
What inspires your designs?
Everything around me inspires me. Nature inspires me a lot and what I see around me. Even other designers inspire me; though, most times we don’t accept it. We do inspire one another; that is why you see Gucci bringing out a particular design and other designers will copy with just a little difference. I get inspired mostly when I’m in a very quiet environment, especially at midnight.
Why did you leave California for Nigeria after many years there?
When I left Nigeria, I went over there to improve myself and come back here. Even while I was away, I was coming home from time to time. When I left, you couldn’t feed from being a fashion designer, though there were few people that could feed from it. It was not something from which you could make so much money like people are making now. I came back becasue it is hard to see an African or a Nigerian hitting it big in fashion over there. I wouldn’t have even been able to start renting a shop for $3,000 a month, but I knew there is no way I would have been able to make enough money to sustain the business. Apart from that, there were not so many Nigerians. Most of them make clothes from Nigeria when coming back. Even before I started making clothes, I didn’t make clothes in the US; I made them here whenever I was around. It is easier for you to achieve that dream here than abroad, but sometimes you have to forgo your comfort and dream for you to make it.
Are you saying it is easier here?
Not really, but if you are following your dream and passion and the money does not come immediately, you don’t get frustrated. You’re happy to go to work. It is different when you’re doing something for money. Of course, in any business, there are ups and downs. As I said, when you’re doing what you like, you don’t get frustrated easily.
Why is your unique selling point in the midst of the saturated Nigeria fashion market?
Yes, even in the US, we have many designers and most of them have been able to carve a niche for themselves. But inasmuch as I respect most of the big names in the Nigerian fashion industry, they all started one day and I’m sure they are all looking back at the time they started. There is nothing new but the only difference is how a designer is able to add a little touch to enable him stand out. I can boast of excellent service, good finishings, quality of the production and the facilities we use are up to date.
What is your definition of style?
Style is what you create out of it. You don’t have to break the bank for you to look stylish. Sometimes, you spend so much and you still look trashy and it does not have to be what everybody is wearing. Style has to be tested, classic; you don’t have to work so hard to achieve style.
What do you think is a fashion faux pas any woman could commit?
For me , I can’t imagine a woman with folds wearing clinging clothes; I can’t stand it. There are times others may complain about sleeveless dresses; I really don’t care because you can’t stop someone wearing a sleeveless dress because she has fat arms. There is a way you put it on, and you still look graceful. But when you wear a clinging dress, exposing all the folds, it is a fashion faux pas. Also, it is wrong for people to see your bra under what you are wearing. You should know your body structure and know what to wear to cover your problematic areas because we all have them. Nobody is created perfect even though we don’t want to accept it; we all have one thing we don’t like about ourselves but that does not mean that you should not be proud of how God has made you.
Looking around, you see so many designers. How do you cope with competition?
Everybody has their own style; believe me, I don’t compete with anybody. I try to be the best that I can be in the areas that I’m talented in. Different people have different strenghts in different areas. I might not be strong in some particular side, but will rather concentrate on my positive sides and competition is far from it.
How did you meet your husband?
Oh! We met at a party and after a while, from friendship, we decided to marry. We dated for long before delving into marriage.
What was the attraction?
I think his love, passion and generousity towards me. He is a strong man; he is just my rock. He supports me in everything that I do and he is always there for me. He has long years of experience in business and, as a result, any advice he gives tends to work out if applied.
You are a mother of three but you don’t look it. How do you keep fit?
Yes, I don’t look like a mother of three because I take good care of myself. Many women don’t take good care of their bodies, especially after childbirth, which contributes to their flabby shape after childbirth. I go to the gym and eat good food, mostly natural foods.
How was your growing up like?
Oh lovely. I miss my dad so much.
You have been married for over 15 years. How would you describe marriage?
Marriage is sweet and sour. It is not sweet all the time, but when the sour part is more than the sweet part, then there is a problem. No matter how bad the situation is, don’t allow it to linger till the next day; try and resolve it that same day. Open up to each other. For every woman in marriage, let’s not deceive ourselves, there had been times when you felt like packing your bags and calling it quits. If you say there has never been such times, then you are not telling yourselve the truth.
How have you been able to maintain your home all these years?
With love, understanding and trust; even though you know you’re not married to the best person in the world, since you have chosen him, you should be able to live with his shortcomings just as you have your own shortcomings. Also, another factor is laughter. Even when there is no reason to be happy, just create it. It is not like there will be happiness everyday but just create it. If you’re not getting it, just stand to your feet and enjoy it either way.
Have you been embarrassed before?
Of course, several times! Most times it has been by my kids. I spit a lot when pregnant and I remember a day we were coming down in an elevator and I couldn’t hold it, so I spat on the second floor. Two whitemen saw this and became angry. They were like, ‘Oh, who did that? This is nasty.’ My son said, ‘My mum.’ That was my worst moment; I didn’t know what to do and you knew I couldn’t hit my son there. I had to wait till we got to the car before scolding him.