If you’re an avid follower of the African fashion movement, the name Ituen Basi ought to ring a bell. With a strong presence in the fashion business since the early 2000’s, Basi’s reputation precedes her in Nigeria’s fashion scene and beyond with both local and international accolades to boot. Through her years in the industry, Ituen Basi successfully created a unique brand that continues to set the pace for others to follow. In a chat to the designer, she talks her return to the local runway scene, the brand’s relationship with its signature fabric – Ankara, high-end fashion labels in a time of recession and more.
Congratulations on your return to the scene. You had a pretty lengthy hiatus, share your reasons with Us?
For us it wasn’t a hiatus but the result of a business development consultation to strategize the next phase of the business. What I understand you to mean by a lengthy hiatus is our absence from the runway. This was one of the many decisions that was agreed after we evaluated the import of runway shows to the business.
Ituen Basi’s latest collection NKOYO which debuted at MBFW, sees the brand’s shift from its signature understated silhouettes to a sexier, more risqué one. How did Ituen Basi ‘faithfuls’ receive this change?
We introduced our ‘Ankara and Beads’ collection in Lagos in 2008, which impacted the Ankara trend in Nigeria especially, and as part of the celebration of our 10th anniversary we revisited our favourite elements through the years. We have thoroughly enjoyed hearing different people describe it in as many different ways. For us it is the both the celebration and evolution of the brands aesthetics. The Ituen Basi ‘faithfuls’ have been an integral part of the Ituen Basi story.
Speaking of unique textures and fabrics, Ituen Basi seems to have deviated from its Ankara staples to more diverse fabrics, what prompted this?
The brand before it was known for its use of Ankara used many other fabrics and fabrications. The continues to find its creative expressions in many diverse fabrics. Its artisanal innovations are constantly expressed in diverse fabrics.
Is this a signal towards the end of the Ituen Basi X Ankara love affair?
I grew up with Ankara around me and the brand has maintained a line of Ituen Basi classics called ‘Ankara and Beads’. We are regularly lending pieces to exhibitions abroad and being featured in books from this line. It wasn’t a love affair it is a relationship
What influences the Ituen Basi designs these days?
We didn’t set out to deliberately contribute to the 21st African narrative, but we are very proud to have done so through a medium we love. We continue to be influenced by the Nigerian story in particular. The same everyday things around us still hold a fascination for the brand. We just retell it in our own voice.
Are people still spending on designer labels in the recession?
I find that in any recession economy people generally become more astute. In fashion it simply means they are more on value for money. As a brand we have always been about giving people value for money. It is essential too create and give people quality products at reasonably competitive prices.
Local shoppers are willing to break the bank on foreign designer pieces but question the high prices of locally made pieces, what are your thoughts on this?
In my experience I find that more Nigerians prefer to buy locally made products. They however expect to buy quality products at reasonably competitive prices. Our local cost of production is a concern but thankfully the industry is making strides to create a more enabling environment to ensure our products are more competitive. There is also distribution and logistical concerns. The growth of the larger industry through the development of production units, independent retail outlets, distribution networks and much more across the country will further help address the production costs which invariably impacts pricing.
Do you worry about the extremely short amount of time (only one or two seasons) creative directors are given to make their mark?
The fashion industry is extremely ruthless and as it reflects the relentless desire in consumers for change. Social media especially further heightens this desire for newness. I don’t think this is peculiar to the fashion industry.