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INTERVIEW: ILI OFFICIAL CREATIVE DIRECTOR TALKS ON THE BUREAUCRACY CHALLENGE AND HIS GROWTH IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY

Dedicated to creating a platform for emerging fashion talents in Africa, the Fashion Focus Fund for 8 years has continuously provided the tools needed for fashion designers to grow and build the necessary foundation for their creative business.  This year, the programme selected five finalists from across Africa, who showed their different collections at the just concluded Heineken Lagos Fashion Week.

We were able to have a quick chat with one of the finalists, Amali Curtis, Creative Director at Ili Official. Amali talks to us about his journey through the fashion industry, his latest collection and everything in between.

Q. Tell us about ILI?

ILI is a contemporary and sustainable fashion brand established in 2016 in Lagos, Nigeria by Amali Curtis. The brand focuses on expressing one’s individuality and essential nature by delivering very well-tailored garments, inspired by classic cuts and a wide and rich range of fabrics that make our customers always look and feel like they are where they are supposed to be, doing what they’re supposed to be doing. ILI means clothes in Idoma which is a tribe from Benue State and my local dialect. 

Q. What made you pursue a career in fashion?

Fashion chose me, I always wanted to be a lawyer as a child but when I grew up a little more and started to develop more flair for creativity I decided to study architecture in the university and that’s where I met fashion and business, I felt there was a need to create something African from Africa that could stand anywhere in the world and today we’re here.

Q. What would you say contributed to your success for fashion focus 2019? 

Well, fashion focus isn’t over yet because we still have to pitch our businesses to investors next year. The things that contributed to the success of our Lagos fashion week outing the most would be the love and support from my immediate family and my fiancée and also the great and immense commitment of the team of amazing human beings I work with. 

Q. How would you describe your journey in the fashion industry? 

It has been the most turbulent journey so far especially because we’re operating from Nigeria where the systems are mostly wired to slow down and sometimes hinder the growth of businesses, new and established ones alike. Then there’s the challenge of bureaucracy, the poor attitude of some of the artisans especially when they have to do something that is out of what they are already used to and most of all the state of infrastructure has entrepreneurs spending so much on maintenance and logistics. Absolutely loving what I do and divine grace from God helps me find a way through all these obstacles and I’ve learnt to leave the things I can’t control to run their natural course. 

Q. What is the name of your latest collection?

SOVEREIGNTY 

Q. How would you describe your collection from the Lagos Fashion Weekend 2019?

It was a collection that we tried to use to express different parts of the brand since it was the first time our work was going to be showcased on such an immense platform. With Sovereignty another first is that we are trying to extend our reach to a new market segment being a group of people that want to associate with the brand for how it expresses African cultural heritage. The project was inspired by elements like; the adinkra signs which originated from the Asante tribe of Ghana, we used earthy colors that are also in the family of the colors on the Ethiopian flag (red, yellow, green) since Ethiopia was the first African country to get independence, these were the heart of the design of the fabrics we produced locally using Batik. The rest of our focus was on reiterating the brand’s aesthetic and expressing beautiful African craftsmanship. 

Q. How do you decide the direction for a new collection? 

It’s not something I get to decide on in short time, it’s mostly a product of research and documenting flashes of inspiration from various elements at different times in my journey through life. It’s usually bits and bits at first but it develops through time until it becomes whole and it’s the same way I develop the stories behind the collection.

Q. You describe ILI as a sustainable brand, what do you mean by that?

ILI is a sustainable brand because we source all our fabrics and production locally hereby providing jobs for a range of artisans which we can consider as playing a role in contributing to the quality of our community economically. 

Q. Who would you say your ideal customer is?

Our ideal customer is a person irrespective of gender and age that knows what exactly they want, lives ready and actively makes moves to be in the places they need to be, pretty much someone who is mostly intentional about their life. 

Q. What should we expect from you in the foreseeable future?

Expect to see a lot more of ILI and we will be doing all we can to make sure you don’t have to go too far to get our pieces within or outside Africa.

Photo Credits: Kola Oshalusi (Insigna).