Know Your Labels: Maki Oh

In the second installment of “Know Your Labels,” we highlight new fashion brands that deserve the megaphone treatment


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.

Click through the slideshow above for looks from Maki Oh’s recently shown Spring 2014 collection and also her Fall 2013 line. Available for pre-order upon request at Maryam Nassir Zadeh.

Images courtesy of Mode PR

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  • Wow … unbelievable! Stunning!

    (A month or so ago I read in a German newspaper African fashion is the next Big Thing and the photos I saw convinced me immediately that it must be true – tradition paired with new insights in such stunning ways … unbelievable. Thank you – that was a feast for my eyes.)

  • Hudson Berry


  • She fucking rocks. When sustainability, feminism, and “clothes worn to pass messages” are involved, I am so in. Wonderful work, Maki!

  • Whitley

    Proud to be Nigerian, absolutely love it! Manrepeller, I’m so glad you did this!

  • CharlotteC

    layers, calf length dresses, ruffles, mix of prints… FUCK YEAH!

  • I love this! I wish more fashion designers cared about where and how their clothing is made. Sustainable can be beautiful, and I love the idea of staying true to your roots without worrying about what is “in fashion”.

  • pinkschmink

    These pieces are amazing! So, the important question: where can I buy them in the UK?!

    • Amelia Diamond

      Hi Pinkschmink! You should be able to pre-order them upon request via this site: and it appears that they ship to the UK . Good luck and let me know what you end up doing!

  • Seriously Cool. The clothes, the woman, the ethos. Love it all.

  • Thamsa

    This was a great article and it was especially heartening as an African female to hear a success story coming out of Africa! The content on this site becomes more interesting and diverse each week. Please keep providing content that makes us happy, sad, proud, curious, nostalgic, inspired etc. <3

    • Leandra Medine

      Thamsa, I want to buy you a drink.

  • c’est moi

    Brava ! Inspiring ….

  • Savannah

    Yeah that number 11 crop top will definitely be making its way to my closet next season.

  • Julie A. Sergel

    Werd. UP. Feelin It.

  • Brilliant interview and amazing looks!

  • emilyannestyle

    The idea of wearing clothing as a secret conversation with oneself……. SO POWERFUL! The days you know you’ve got it, you’ve GOT it. And all day, your self-talk is positive and powerful.

    Her pieces are unique and beautiful. This was awesome to read.



  • Monica

    I LOVE THIS. Spotlight on Nigerian designers!! I’m going to look into her more because the structured looks and designs were giving me alllll the life

  • Yes, yes, yes, and yes!!

    Micah xx

  • Hayley Mitchell-Gardner

    wow some amazing pieces of clothes there! Will deffo keep my eye out for her 🙂

    Hayley xx

  • Amelie

    These are so unbelievably stunningly gorgeous! Can’t take it…

    The Neon Guava

  • Chi Chi

    oh thanks a bunch MR! I’m so glad you guys are looking beyond the west for more fashion gems. I’m also Nigerian, and Maki Oh is definitely a force here and i’m so excited that the brand is getting this spotlight. This site is just too cool. Great job guys!

  • Oh my god… Love this designer! So original and innovative, can wait to see how they progress