Mariam Afolabi, the daughter of shipping magnate and CEO of Sifax Group, Taiwo Afolabi recently opened a multi-million Naira fashion complex called The Style Cafe in Lekki, Lagos. In this chat, she speaks on her motivation for going into fashion, and other issues. Excerpts…
What’s your motivation for going into fashion?
I have been a lover of art since I was really young, and I’ve always been working with fabrics. I love using fabrics to express myself and to bring out my artistic side.
You recently opened a boutique and other stores in a complex; can you tell us about the services you render?
We do so many things. You can get your nails done, you can cut your hair, we also have a gifts shop. If you are going for an event and you need something to wear, or you run out of time and can’t get gifts for celebrants, we have a gift shop so you can go there and get some stuffs. This is just like a place where we put everything in order.
For how long have you been planning a project like this?
I think we started in 2010, and we started small.  We had big plans of establishing a place like this, but I was schooling outside the country, so I didn’t have the time, but I have moved back to Lagos now.
What are the challenges you have faced so far as a fashion designer?
To be honest, I think everyone has their personal challenges, but for me, I think it’s about making sure I’m getting what people want. You can have an idea of what you want to make, but what if nobody wants to wear it? It’s about knowing what customers want. It’s not easy to know what people want to wear especially when you’re not based in Nigeria . For instance, I’m just coming back to Nigeria and obviously, we have our own traditional attires and style, so I have to try and put it together to get what people really want. We also want to make sure everything is ready on time. I’ve had people walk up to me and tell me what’s in vogue, and I will definitely work on it.
At The Style Café, you have a Spa, barbing salon and Boutique…do you do everything?
Everything here is attached to my whole family, not just me. I came to the table with the idea of my fashion house, and we were like, let’s get a place where everybody can bring their ideas to life, so my sister, my brother, my mum, my dad all came together to do this. You can see that it’s all of us together.
So can we call it a family business?
Yes, you can call it anything you want. As long as people are coming in to make purchases, and they are happy, then I’m okay.
Do you have people you look up to in the Fashion business?
I look up to a lot of people. In Nigeria, I admire people such as Tiffany Amber and other top Nigerian designers who are doing really good and who are making Nigeria proud outside the country.
Looking at the location of your business outfit, one would assume your products would be very expensive.
If you go inside, it is very affordable. We are not trying to rip anybody off. Obviously, we have to add our own prices; I can’t just sell at the same amount I used to make it. Our products are very affordable. In fact our native attires are sold from N20,000 upward, and I have heard of people charging higher than that.
You make both male and female dresses, don’t you feel threatened by the likes of Mudi and Yomi Casual who are already in that line?
I don’t feel threatened by anyone. In every market especially fashion business, it cannot be monopolized. It is a business that if you have an idea, you can come into it. I may get tired of always going to one person and decide to move to another. Nobody wears only one designer only. If you look into your wardrobe, you have different designers, so I don’t feel threatened. What I do most times is to praise them and say oh their stuff is really nice, and I  hope they do the same to my products.
Can we say you have dumped your career as a lawyer for Fashion?
No! I am actually going to the Nigerian law school now. Fashion is just my side hustle while Law is my main passion. I love fashion though because when I grow old and I retire, I can sketch all day and I won’t get tired. But as for law, I have to read and all that. So, I feel like I will get to a point in Law that I would retire, but Fashion will be in me forever.
How fashionable are you?
I prefer to dress and style people instead of myself. I am very simple; I used to like dark colours, but now I wear bright colours as well. To be honest with you, I’m just me, coming out in my dress looking cheerful and all that.
How do you keep your skin looking radiant and what is your daily routine?
When I wake up, I pray. And if I am motivated that day, I work-out in the morning then I just head straight to work.
How do you unwind?
I don’t have so many friends but when it comes to fun, weekends is time for fun. From Monday to Friday, everyone has to work and at weekends I can make myself available. Meanwhile, my friends are busy people too. We are all trying to work towards certain goals. I don’t have friends who just want to party all day or hang out all day.
Did you study law because your father is a lawyer?
No! I have always known I wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was young. I’ve always had a passion for law. I think it is because I argue a lot sometimes about political issues, social issues, religious issues, so since then I’ve always known that I wanted to fight for what I believed in. I am more of a human rights lawyer activist.
What do you do at your leisure time?
I hang out with my friends and I play my guitar.
You play guitar?
So we should be expecting you to sing someday?
Where is your favourite vacation spot?
To be honest, I have been schooling and working, so I don’t think I have a favourite vacation spot. Even when I travel, and I say I am going for holiday, I end up sourcing for fabrics or school stuffs but if I want to take a vacation now, I think I would like to go to Seychells or Bahamas.
What is your favourite perfume?
My favourite perfume now is called Hanako and we sell it in the shop as well. It’s like Arabic and French fusion, it has a very peculiar smell and we have different Arabic oil and we mix them here as well to get our own scent that we really want.
What is the lowest price of a cloth here?
I think it is a top and it cost 6,500 or 8,000.
What is the advice you have for upcoming fashion designers?
They should be creative and they should continue to put out good materials; they shouldn’t give up, they should keep pushing and they should just be prayerful.