Menswear Designer Deji Eniola on the Business of Fashion & Redefining Africa’s Sartorial Identity

We recently chatted with Ayodeji Osinulu, owner and creative director of rising Nigerian menswear brand Deji Eniola. Ayodeji is a seasoned fashion editor/stylist turned designer whose works of fashion imagery have graced the covers of editorials such as Complete Fashion Magazine, RedSheet Magazine and Thisday Style. His vision for the brand goes beyond finely tailored suits as he seeks to “redefine Africa’s sartorial identity.”

According to Ayodeji, he designs for the man who loves to dress for success and loves its echo in every facet of his life. And what man doesn’t desire success?

In this interview, we discuss his foray into the world of fashion, the challenges he faces as a menswear designer and the future of the Deji Eniola brand.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing about the “funs” and downs of indigenous fashion businesses. Enjoy!

Hi Deji, tell us a bit about yourself
I am Ayodeji Osinulu, creative director of Lagos-based eponymous menswear sartorial label Deji Eniola. A native of Ogun State, I graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University with a degree in Geology. My belief in life which inadvertently influence what I do and how I go about them, stem from these two lines of thought “to think is to differ and to seek a change is to stay relevant.” May I also mention I love arts, chicken is my poison and medieval movies settles me more often than not (laughs).

How did you get into fashion?
I have always appreciated clothes from quite a young age. Although it didn’t quite settle in my thoughts early to turn out a designer. However, it’s been an innate thing so much I sometimes find myself mentally redesigning what people around me might be putting on at the particular time. Chronicles of my journey? I started out as a fashion and design intern with the revered Fruition Image Consultancy owned by Ifeoma Williams. I guess it’s safe to say she taught me the principles of design and why it’s essential that it comes from the heart. I went on to work as a style correspondent with Bella Naija and as a fashion writer and stylist with Complete Fashion Magazine, I was responsible for the male content of the magazine during my stay and that had a strong influence on my decision to do menswear.

How did you come to start your own line?
There was a gap in the market; in the menswear segment, there was a need for a certain type of aesthetic. Women’s wear was saturated but menswear wasn’t matching up. Plus I had visions of elegance and masculinity matched up in a particular formula and I needed to show the world the resulting beauty of what was shown to me. I couldn’t afford to start my line right away and hence to visually communicate my vision, writing about style was the only way I could earn money to save up and start Deji Eniola, the brand.

Tell us about your most recent collection
I am sure you know designers like to keep mum to an extent about their most recent collections yet unveiled. I would nonetheless say this about my Spring/Summer 2016 collection:

“Afropolitan Dandy” was inspired by Africa, her ambassadors in diaspora and the need for her ample cultural representation in terms of power and relevance on a global scale. Afropolitan Dandy was showcased at Lagos Fashion Design Week 2015 at Eko Hotel & Suites and it’s been wonderful reviews since the runway show. My collection in the works stems from the Spring/Summer 2016 collection and takes the notches further.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic can be described as ‘understated elegance.’ Others might put that as ‘suppressed elegance.’ I love it when style has a second appeal asides the face value. My vision is to tell the story of Africa and her sartorial cult of modern elegant gentlemen. Ultimately, I want to redefine Africa’s sartorial identity.

Where do you go for inspiration?
Every art person is inspired by life, I guess. It’s just so wide and encompassing we can choose from either wildlife, the struggle for survival, landscapes, architecture, or more abstract things as music, emotions, etc. For me, inspiration comes from soaking all these things up and letting them find their expression in my release. I guess this happens by the help of the Holy Spirit as sometimes I don’t even remember the original source of a design upon closing my eyes.

How would you describe your personal fashion style?
My personal fashion style has been erratic. Not that I want it to be so. I mean I could look a “Jamo” today with my denim shirt, aztec print vest coupled with a ranger hat and tomorrow I could be all clean and suited up. If you ask me, I’d like to be steady with the clean silhouette, powerful aura. However the demands of a burgeoning brand takes its toil on my personal style. Presently I am forced to dress more utilitarian. The good side however for me with this approach is I tend to bring out style out of ‘utility.’

What has been your greatest challenge(s) as a menswear fashion designer?

“There seems to be a stronger lean towards women’s wear fashion as far as retail in Nigeria is concerned. The standard retail stores around here are more interested in women’s clothing. So fashion shows in Nigeria have little to offer a menswear designer looking at the possibility of retail as fashion buyers and merchandisers present are from the women’s department.”

That must be tough. So more attention has to be given to men’s fashion in Nigeria.

What’s next for you professionally?
Deji Eniola is a lifestyle brand. I know this sounds cliché but I’d explain it a bit more. Presently we have started with menswear fashion, but every true fashion artist knows that fashion cuts across life and not just clothes. Your sense of fashion should reflect in the kitchen you have, the car you drive – if you can help it and every other aspect of your life asides just your shoes and clothes. This is what Deji Eniola is all about.

So where do ideally you see yourself and your brand in the next five years?
Another aspect I would love to keep mum. I see Deji Eniola expanding on a Pan-African scale. I envision the other aspects of the brand strong on their own lanes and constantly in the hearts of Africans with an appreciation for beauty, luxury and identity.

Deji, it’s been great chatting with you and getting an insight into the mindset behind the Deji Eniola fashion brand. We wish you great success!

Thank you!

To contact the designer, please use:
Tel: +234 816 928 2829
Instagram: @dejieniola


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