Kolade Folarin is the CEO and Creative Director of BanKola Brand Limited. He tells TOFARATI IGE about his career and other problems
Whdid it spark your interest in the fashion world?
I graduated in Oil and Gas Management from Coventry University, London, UK. However, I later saw the opportunity to project African culture to the world and this contributed to my emergence as an entrepreneur.
Why did you get into fashion design?
After moving to the UK I had the opportunity to meet people of different races and cultures, and I started to realize that there was something missing in the UK. Various ideas came to me during this period. One day while doing research, I came across a culture video and started to delve into my childhood memories. I remembered how our culture was showcased in our clothes, and how proud we were to adorn them, especially during festive times. I thought about how to take these ideas and bring them to life in the UK. Incidentally, a few foreigners and celebrities had started to appreciate our cultural creations and this motivated me to develop a distinctive fashion brand.
How would you describe the experience so far?
It was great, although there were few challenges. Last year we decided to organize a hostel in Nigeria. But, in the process of preparing for the event, the COVID-19 pandemic has struck and it has caused a lot of disruption to our plans. We had to wait for the Lagos State government to give us the green light and we followed the established protocol and regulations, when they were finally given. The event was held at the Landmark Event Center, Oniru, Lagos, and I felt so much joy and pride to organize such an event in my homeland. One of the goals was to present Nigerian culture to the world through fashion. We had professional models who wore traditional, elegant and urban outfits created by us. The event was made colorful with the presence of DJ Xclusive, Brymo, Acapella, MC Smart, Denrele Edun and Kulh. We also crowned the “Face of BanKola” at the event. The grand prize was a brand new car and an Ambassador contract for 2021. The organization of this event in Lagos was very exciting.
What do you love most about being a fashion designer?
I like being able to offer a range of designs to people of diverse cultures in different parts of the world. I also like to meet people from different social strata and build good relationships with them. Before starting my business I was selling wristwatches and through that I was in contact with many people who supported me in the creation of my clothing line.
What inspires your creations?
This is the constant pride I see in individuals when they wear African clothing. I am also particularly attentive to classic silhouettes and contemporary sets.
What is your assessment of the current direction of African fashion?
It’s an eclectic combination of traditional and street styles. Traditional faux designs that appealed to older generations are brought back, with a new finishing touch, to appeal to young and urban alike. Combining the traditional and the cosmopolitan to create a whole is the new standard. Street styles are being embraced like never before, and I think it’s a trend that will stand the test of time.
What are your future plans?
I can’t wait to take over from someone like Akon (international singer), who launched his clothing line in 2007 and is doing very well now. His hard work and determination to put Africa on the map paid off. It is important to always look to the future. We are constantly coming up with many ideas and hope to realize them in 10 years or less. We are also planning to establish a fashion, art and dance school to help develop our culture and train a young generation of creative individuals. Another goal is to have a chain of fashion stores in Nigeria.
What are the important factors that are essential for success in the fashion industry?
You have to be creative and innovative to develop trends. One should also be able to inspire other people to follow trends as exhibited by celebrities. This ultimately ensures the success of brands and adds value to the industry. Fashion is alive and often, old trends resurface to captivate the younger generations, and consolidate their previous successes.
It is also important to be aware of the value chain which encompasses design, manufacture and distribution.
What memories do you keep of your childhood?
I was born in Owo, Ondo State, and spent my childhood there before moving to Ibadan, Oyo State, and later to Lagos. I really enjoyed my childhood and I have fond memories of it. I was very popular in school and had big dreams.
My parents were very strict, so I had to be good at all times. My friends and teachers knew how strict my parents were, so I had virtually no chance of doing anything stupid. Growing up, I had the ambition to become a pilot. I loved the idea of being in the sky and piloting a plane. When I was young I watched a lot of shows and movies about making and flying airplanes. My father sold cars, so I knew the technical aspects of dashboards. I was intrigued by the operation of an engine and an airplane. I loved traveling and the idea of being able to travel abroad kept my dream alive. I was also good at fixing faulty electronic gadgets around the house. Unfortunately, I was unable to study to become a pilot due to financial constraints. But, I have no regrets as it probably wasn’t meant to be.
What was your first exposure to business?
I was helping my dad with his business and it was an eye-opening experience for me. He used to travel abroad and bring hundreds of cars from Amsterdam (Netherlands) to Nigeria. Our dealership was always filled with a lot of people who intended to negotiate car prices with him, and I helped him take care of them. After school, I would rush home to help fix the flaws in some cars before they were sold. The most interesting part for me was that when the business closed for a particular day, my father gave me money as compensation for my services. It put a big smile on my face. It also taught me that there is a reward for hard work.
Since you couldn’t study to be a pilot, what was the next option for you?
After graduating from Coventry University, I was exposed to many opportunities. Living in the UK has also given me a very positive outlook on life. Living in Nigeria as a young boy prepared me for the challenges ahead and gave me the resilience to be successful in my life.
What advice do you give to young people to make their dreams come true?
They must remain focused and resilient in the face of daunting challenges, because success is not served à la carte. They must be determined to succeed and always have their eyes set on their goals. If they did all of this, they would overcome and be victorious. They should not harbor pessimism while pursuing their goals.
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