Meet the Gift Olohije, winner of the 2022 Fashionomics Africa Contest and Green Access 2021 Semifinalist. Opportunities in time that are perfect for you may not be so many, but are important for your rising. Thus, it is pertinent that when you find an amazing opportunity, you jump on it and never look back and let it elevate you to the next level. Green Access was an opportunity for emerging designers to come up with innovative ways to create collections with energy conservation and sustainability in mind and to eliminate waste. Lohije, a fashion brand focused on celebrating African history and art through deliciously tailored fabric was a finalist at Green Access 2021. The platform gave Gift Olohije the opportunity to thrive and thrive she did. Here is an amazing interview with Gift, where she shares the joys of the fashion industry as well as the challenges and the sustainability route her fashion brand is taking.
On how she found her passion for fashion, Gift explains, ‘My mum was a seamstress. She was my first contact with everything sewing, and everything fashion. She made clothes out of leftover fabric from her own clothes, as well as new material for me and my sister. One of my passions is what I am doing presently: fashion that is very culture centred. My dad was a culture person. He taught us African culture and African art. I would be in the house and he would listen to songs from African musicians. We didn’t really know what the music was about, but we would just vibe to the beat. It was really nice. So that’s it.’
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On Olohije’s formal training in fashion, she elucidates, ‘I am not self taught. I don’t think that anybody is every self taught. I went to a fashion school after I graduated from University of Benin. It opened me up. It was a strong foundation for me to be able to do what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to do, and I met great people, like Ami David who was my fashion illustration teacher. It was a thing that made me up and I am grateful for.’ Gift was also a participant at the Claire Idera Portfolio Workshop, Lagos.
Lohije shares the real picture, asides the glamour of Lagos Fashion Week, and explains that the real work of selling out pieces continues.
Lohije picks happy, colourful prints, including batik, tye dye, aso oke and cotton from Funtua in Katsina. On getting her clothes from conception to advertising to sales, and even beyond the runway, she narrates, ‘It is actually a thing that we are navigating. We are just one year old. We are a very young brand. Every brand, whether fashion or art comes with challenges, so even if it can be covered we need to step back if we make a mistake. What have we done, what have we been able to achieve? This step that we took was it the right step for us? We have to retrace our steps and make it better. And go back to our drawing board. That has beem the most reviving or helpful step.’
Gift Olohije analyses how inflation and the impending recession has affected the Nigerian fashion market, ‘Like every other sector in the economy, fashion has been affected by inflation. It is the 3rd largest sector in Nigeria. People buy clothes everyday. We have to deliver we have to keep the market wanting something. But it is not so easy. Just as everything food gets high, cost of fabric even now many of the artisans that we have are moving to other lucrative jobs that they feel will pay them better. They feel like fashion is not able to pay them anymore. Because the cost of the thing that they are able to do their work is even too high. Electricty and the extra work of perfecting the pieces at a high cost also. It is really affecting us, I would say.’
On the inspiration behind the individual collections of the Lohije brand, Gift muses, ‘Most of what inspires my style or collection are the experiences that I see from around me; random things; could be a touch feeling emotion and then I build from there.
‘Per our business model’, Gift Olohije explains further, ‘One of our major anchors for Lohije is that we see our artisans as our stakeholders. They are part of the brand and we love to celebrate them and their craft. They are most important to us. They are our partners and we want to show what they are doing.’
On how the Lohije brand promotes sustainability and sustainable fashion, she sheds more light, ‘We promote culture and promote our artisans by giving an accurate history of where these fabrics come from. Our social part of sustainability ,making sure our workers are being paid, are in a conducive environment is not left out. Per our fabrics, we have found a way not to use plastic bottles anymore and we make buttons out of coconut shells. We try to cut down on our collections and our waste. Nothing cut in the studio is not thrown away. We have baskets where we put them and we tell ourselves that it is our responsibility. We upcycle fabric waste.’
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Gift Olohije waxes lyrical on how Lagos Fashion Week has positioned her brand, ‘LFW has done quite a lot. They have put us on the spot. That is like the most important thing. They have introduced us to the world. They’ve seen what we can do . From there we are taking it up. We are grateful for that opportunity. We were at Green Access last year and it really opened us up to possibilities and even gave us the courage to see that we were doing something good, something important, and we can continue.’
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