Growing up in Nigeria’s bustling port city of Lagos was, according to designer Maki Osakwe, a perfect setting to watch the 90s power-dressing movement live. Weekday mornings as her mom got ready for work, Maki witnessed style firsthand. Now, the young African designer is creating a type of modern power-dressing all her own.
“Nigerians are born with true grit and a competitive spirit,” she told me. “It’s in our DNA to want to be the best at everything we do. I guess it’s the time for fashion now.”
Melding traditional fabrics and techniques with modern silhouettes, Osakwe’s Maki Oh is next up on our roster of labels you need to know.
Tell me about where you grew up. How did that influence your style?
My mom is an artist and a designer. She made my siblings and I design all the clothes we wore as kids. So I started young. She would collect our sketches and on the weekend, we would go to the markets to pick out fabrics. [S]he’d have the garments made by the start of the next week. My mom is too cool.
Plus, this city called Lagos has to be one of the world’s liveliest cities. Lagosians are very fashionable and flamboyant people, across all sectors of society, whether rich or poor. We are born this way.
How does living in Nigeria now play a role in your current designs?
My cultural heritage is what influences my work the most. I’m very inspired by Nigeria and Africa in general. Lagos is a vibrant and ever-evolving city with a unique energy and I’m happy to have been brought up here. I live in Lagos because it is home, and because I’m right in the hub of my main source of inspiration. I hear, see, feel, breathe and taste Nigeria every day. I learn something new about my culture and environment every day.
We have such rich cultures in all of Africa that need to be celebrated. Quite a lot of our fabric at Maki Oh is organically dyed [using a process called Adire] on organic silks and cottons, as opposed to industrial printing/dyeing. We strongly believe in sustainability.
Our fabrics are locally dyed in southern Nigeria using methods that have been passed down, unchanged, from generation to generation. Adire is one of the few authentic Nigerian fabrics we have. Traditionally, everything from the growing of the cotton to the dyeing of the fabric was (and still is) done on Nigerian soil, and this authenticity appeals to me. The use of natural indigo and the Adire dyeing processes is our own small contribution to preserving a dying art.
What inspires you? Do you seek out inspiration or let it come to you?
I have always been inspired by my culture, couture, sustainability, process, women and the different notions of beauty. Some seasons I’m lucky to have the inspiration come to me, but the fashion calendar doesn’t permit this all of the time. So fortunately/unfortunately I go searching [for inspiration]. This actually helps though, because I’m constantly seeking information and learning.
I’m curious though, what other creative fields have a seasonal time bomb attached to them like fashion does?
At Man Repeller, we’re constantly stressing the idea that dressing is for one’s self (and not even for other women). We believe it’s for pure personal pleasure and self-expression. Does the idea of dressing for self/women/or men play a role in your designs?
Each Maki Oh piece has a hidden meaning. [T]his is taken from decades ago when traditional clothing in Nigeria was worn to pass messages. It’s a secret conversation sometimes within oneself, or other times between the wearer and the observer. I believe that the woman wearing Maki Oh thinks much further and deeper than the physical, because she is a multifaceted woman who projects her whole being in everything she does, and in the clothes she wears.
How does being a woman who designs for women affect your vision?
As each season goes by I gain more respect and fall even more in love with everything WOMAN. I love being a woman. Every Maki Oh collection has been inspired by women, from street-workers to nuns. If you love women, then I believe you can’t help but be a feminist too. Maki Oh collections all express feminist views in different doses.
On your website, it says “the design ethos of Maki Oh is to challenge prevailing notions of beauty.” I absolutely love that idea — could you expand on what that means?
What is Beauty? It’s a question we ask ourselves all the time here. We [at Maki Oh] don’t care much for how society defines beauty. Every season, we try to create and find our own ‘beauty’ in subjects that don’t fit within society’s definition of it.
Regardless of society’s definition of beauty, it’s undeniable that Maki Osakwe has captured the essence of all that is beautiful about being a woman. From deep-rooted culture to family ties; a secret, a story, a memory, a dress; Maki Oh is power dressing for the next generation of style.
Images courtesy of Mode PR