By KEMI YESUFU
Omoyeni Ajayi is designer to Abuja’s top celebrities. For the capital city’s fashionistas, Ajayi, the Creative Director of Sartorial Yeni is the person to go to when there is a classy event to attend. In less than four years of establishment, Sartorial Yeni has gained reputation for clean cuts and eye-catching designs. Ajayi, who holds a degree in Computer Science from the Ladoke Akintola University, started out as a banker. But after three years, she dropped her banking job for her long held passion of fashion designing.
In this interview with Abuja Metro, she gives fashion advice, just as she speaks on the fashion sense of Abuja’s fashionistas and why they don’t bare flesh.
Dropping IT for designing
Speaking with Ajayi in her Wuse Zone 5 showroom, it is obvious that she has no regrets dropping her Computer Science degree for the scissors. “I would say that I studied Computer Science out of my love for education. I always had the ambition of getting a university degree. With hindsight, I should have studied a course related to the fashion industry”, she revealed. “But you know how most Nigerian parents are, they prefer that their children study the called professional courses. I guess this is why I went for a more acceptable course. Nevertheless, I have no regrets studying Computer Science,” she added with a shrug of shoulders.
Life as banker
Being a banker was the childhood ambition of Ayeni’s, this much she told Abuja Metro. “Working in the bank is something I enjoyed a great deal. As a kid, I dreamt of working in a bank especially the customer service department,” she said. “I used to visualize myself in suits and high heels speaking with customers and dealing with their complaints. But when I did get into the banking sector, I ended up in the marketing department. At that point in time, I loved doing my job but I never forgot my love for entrepreneurship. There is a kind of freedom and satisfaction that only an entrepreneur enjoys. I yearned for this feeling during my days in the bank. It wasn’t always easy but I committed myself to making my job enjoyable.”
Her longing to be her own boss isn’t the only reason why Ayeni established Sartorial Yeni. “I had to leave when things became highly unpredictable,” she admitted frankly. “There were always talk about management or CBN is saying about this or that policy. Besides, I have always been into buying and selling as a banker, so, once I made up my mind about leaving banking, I already had something to fall back on.”
Starting out was tough.
Though she is now a household name among Abuja’s trendsetters, like most first time entrepreneurs, it was tough starting out. She even cried on her first day at work. “There is a particular corner I stand to pray from time to time, because it was at the same spot I cried the first time I started working on setting up my office”, she recalled. “I kept asking myself, how I will start. There was so much work to be done. But I remember that I woke up one day and I drove straight to this place and I started making phone calls. I called different kinds of artisans; I got in-touch with many people as I could. I started moving all the stuff the former tenants left behind. I hit my leg while dragging out a table, I cried but I just told myself I have to start somehow and here we are today.”
For Ayeni, young people interested in setting up a venture must be determined. They should also be ready to be fully dedicated to bringing their ideas to life. “When you work for an organization, you are sure that you have money coming your way by the end of the month.
As an employee, once the month ends, your salary is paid. But the opposite is the case for me now”, she said. “I am the one who ensures that my staff get paid as at when due. These days, I have to make things happen, so that I can meet my financial obligations. Sincerely, being own your own has it highs and lows. One day, you are happy being in-charge, some other day, you ask yourself what you got yourself into
running a business. However, I must add that most times, it feels great to have your own business.”
Ask the average entrepreneur in Abuja what his/her challenges are and two issues will be on top of the complaint list. They are short hours of power supply and exorbitant rent. The lady behind Sartorial Yeni is no different. “Rent is the major challenge. Of course, we all know how high the rents are in Abuja. It cost a lot to get a good office space in the city center and nearby satellite towns” she said. “An entrepreneur in a decent location in Lagos might use what I pay for rent to cover costs not just for office space but a few other important things. Then, the fund used in supplementing government power supply is enormous. I can imagine how great it would have been if I drive to work knowing that there will be power in my office. As we speak this evening, we haven’t has seen a flicker of light since morning. In fact, my generator is having problems due to strain caused by daily use.” Again, it isn’t easy satisfying finicky clients and this are kind people who patronize the banker turned designer. “Thirdly, customers can be difficult to please and I just have to find a way to make them satisfied. Like is often said, the customer is king.” Abuja women are classy without being showy. Concerning the fashion sense of ladies in the capital city,
Ayeni isn’t patronizing. She said, “Abuja women are improving by the day. You can’t compare the Abuja woman of 2000 to the woman of 2013. A lot has changed.” Continuing in a tone of knowing she said, “For me, I like to ask my clients all the important questions until I understand what she needs. I like to know where she is going or what event she will be attending in order for me to advice her accordingly.” “In most cases, Abuja women don’t want their cleavage to show, they don’t go for flamboyant attires that much. Most times, I dialogue with clients until we agree on what we believe is best for them.” On what kind of clients she works for, Ayeni is sincere that she prefers them classy and exposed. “I like to work with trendy and classy women. I like clients who are mature, yet, they haven’t lost the joy of life, so they are open to trying out good designs. What I always tell clients to avoid the in-vogue train. For me, it is important to be real to yourself when it comes to fashion. It is better you have attires that are timeless, rather than a wardrobe full of things that will soon go out of fashion. Then, the fitting is very important. Women have to understand their body shape in order to buy things that fit them and they are comfortable in. I really don’t like it when people are tugging at their skirts or tops. When a lady adjusts her attire frequently, it simply means that she is not comfortable in what she is wearing and this isn’t good. People say fashion needs sacrifice but not to the extent of being uncomfortable. I am also particular about colors ladies wear. Whatever color you choose, it should compliment your complexion.”
Lanre Dasilva and Tifanny Amber
The lady behind Sartorial Yeni looks up established names like Lanre Da Silva and Foluke Folarin-Coker of Tiffany Amber. “When you look at Lanre Dasilva’s designs, it is quite obvious that she is detailed. She concentrates on what she wants to do rather than doing everything. I also respect the work done by Tifanny Amber.” These top designers have rubbed off on Ayeni especially when it comes to the type of fabrics she uses. “I work with African fabrics. I love to combine fabric. I really don’t like working with just one type of fabric all the time”, she stated. As for the women she picks as fashion icons, they also are favorites of many other fashion loving ladies. “We got a whole lot of trendy women. I look out for Nike Osinowo. I also respect Daisy Danjuma, Senator Grace Bent and I like Funke Akindele’s dress sense. People might say she is tacky but for me, she isn’t.”
Eclectic, not eccentric
Many fashion designers can be eccentric in their choice of attires but not this Osun born label boss. Her mood is the first thing that decides what she wears. “My mood affects what I wear. Sometimes, I wake up and I don’t feel like wearing makeup. Other times I take my time to dress up. The most important thing is that I must be sartorially dressed, that is, I must have a piece of my creations on me.
Ayeni isn’t doesn’t fit into the fashion industry stereotypes. Her lifestyle is probably a hangover from her banking career. She doesn’t like parting or clubbing and she isn’t into maltreating her staff. But she accepts that she loves shopping. “I am indoor person, I don’t really like hanging out. Shoes are my fashion must have. They also give me my shopping guilt. I wear all kinds of shoes. But I love high heels the most. I place my staff as my topmost priority. I work hard at ensuring that they are comfortable and happy working with my label.”