Ohimai Atafo popularly known as Mai Atafo is a Creative Director in one of the leading fashion brands in Nigeria. His sojourn into the fashion industry began in 2007 after the completion of his Masters Degree in Information System and Technology at City University, London. Mai once worked at the Marketing Department, British American Tobacco Nigeria and later as the Brand Manager at Guinness Nigeria before his debut into the fashion world. His brand Mai Atafo Inspired specialises in wedding dresses, suits. He spoke with Yinka Lawal about some of the fashion trends, his thought on the fashion industry and other issues
How would you describe Nigeria’s fashion industry since you joined?
Fashion industry has been doing fine and actively as well. I will rate it on the scale of 90% compared to what we used to have before now.
Within a short period you have made a remarkable success in the fashion industry. What is the secret?
Not only me, but it depends on the response people give back to you. Anyway, I don’t think I have achieved a lot compared to what I want to achieve. But all I’ve been able to achieve is due to the glory of God and people that have been supporting me as customers. They have made me who I am today.
As a fashion Icon, what does it mean to be fashionable?
I think that is very subjective, because everybody is fashionable in their one right. So, there is no common ground to say this is fashionable or this is not fashionable.
How would you evaluate the industry since the journey began?
Absolutely fantastic and I think we are making talents that can actually rule the world of fashion. But we just need support.
What is trending now?
Unfortunately, I do not follow trends, so I don’t know what’s happening for now. But in terms of how you should look, everybody has what they are comfortable with. That you always wear native attires doesn’t mean you are not fashionable compared to someone that likes to wear suits. Former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan wears South-South attire, single colour all the time. Is he fashionable? I think he is. So, there is no right or wrong. Look at that man who wore buba and snickers. Is he fashionable? I think he is. Is he wrong, you may say yes! So, it’s subjective.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you encountered when you started?
Trying to get tailors to work with me, trying to even get people to help me out in the administrative aspect of my fashion and power supply. It’s still a problem even as at now and non-government support is also there as well. Even if they can give us only power supply, we are okay.
Aside fashion, what else would you have done?
When you started, who were your target audience?
I was not that smart. I just make good clothes and didn’t target any segment. But as I grew, I now thought of making suits for men and wedding dresses for women. But when I started, I was just happy making clothes.
How much does it cost to own a good suit?
It’s also subjective. But anywhere from one hundred thousand to as high as two hundred and fifty thousand.
Aside fashion, what are the other things you are passionate about?
When you are not working, how do you relax?
I watch movies and listen to music.
How do you handle some of your young female clients?
Most of them would want to say hi and hello to me, but beyond that, nobody has tried to be closer like that to me and I’ve not experienced such before. They might want to take pictures with me, but that is just it.
What was the best decision you ever made?
Going into wedding. I mean, providing clothes for weddings. An idea that I formulated by myself.
How was the idea berthed?
I did an analysis and discovered that the wedding industry is big and chose to fulfill it. So, I keyed into it to become one of those that provide clothes in Nigeria because people actually borrow clothes for wedding.
What is your advice for a person coming into the fashion industry, what must the person do?
He should realize that fashion is a business and not just fashion. Once you realize that and you take it as a business, all you need to do is to follow it up with your passion. No extra steps to follow, just the normal steps to start any form of business. People always get it wrong because they don’t take it as business and thereby fail to write a business plan for it. Follow the plan just like any other business and you will achieve success.
Considering the nature of your job, how do you balance the home front?
Family is part of my business. They work with me. I have a little girl, but my wife works with me, so we work and balance together.
Can you tell us one unforgettable moments of your life?
I have not seen one. But I would say maybe when I had my little girl, my daughter.
Has there been any moment you felt like quitting this job?
Manytimes. It even happened to me today. I think it’s human because you may think of how much you should be making and you have not been able to make such. So, you think of backing out.
As a stylist, have you ever made a fashion blunder?
I’m sure I have because fashion changes from time to time. Definitely, I have, but I don’t know what it is because fashion is so dynamic that what is nice today is terrible tomorrow. So, when you look at it, you are laughing at yourself.
How much was the most expensive wedding gown you ever made?
I don’t think it has come yet. But from the ones I’ve done, I think the costliest was about eight hundred thousand naira for a wedding dress here in Nigeria.
Whose wedding was that?
No, I can’t give you that. Clients demand confidentiality.