Khaerat Ishola, a successful and self taught Nigerian fashion designer spoke about her journey into the fashion industry and how she was admitted into Nottingham School of Arts and Design, Nottingham Trent University, UK to pursue a Master’s Degree in Fashion and Creative Pattern Cutting. Ishola also told us some of her future plans.
1. Khaerat, your journey as a self-taught Fashion Designer is inspiring. What motivated you to embark on such an ambitious journey and how were you able to navigate through till you started serving clients?
I have had an eye for fashion from childhood, my parents hardly bought me clothes without consulting me because I wouldn’t like or wear them. On many occasions, they had to take me to the store to pick what I wanted because it was an age without smartphones. For traditional outfits, I always picked my own style. In primary school, I would sketch garments at the back of my notes. I did this through the years but I never saw it as anything until a few months after I clocked 13 when I came across a popular UK gossip magazine called Heat World. It was a controversial piece of journalism but I was drawn to the fashion section. The outfits on the models, the styling, photography, I was seeing fashion in a different light than I had ever seen before and I knew instantly that was what I wanted to do. I started learning to sew with needle and thread, I would do adjustments for my mates in the hostel, I even collected old skirts, ripped them apart and turned them into dresses. I did my first paid design job barely a year after and I just went from there. I have quite an interesting educational history, I was a trophy kid and there was no way my parents, teachers and the society at large would let me study fashion or what not so I had to do it on my own, in fact, they were all against it but I am very stubborn, I learnt via the internet, with lots of trial and error I watched youtube, practiced with other people’s sewing machines, wasted and ruined fabrics, I just kept doing it till I was 19 and in year 3 during my undergraduate days at the University of Lagos, I finally took the step to start a business and build my clientele.
2. It must have taken a lot of consideration and emotions leaving a brand you’ve built for seven years, how were you able to deal with that?
To be honest, not really. The fashion I fell in love with at age 13 wasn’t what I was doing in Nigeria. There was something about the market that had me doing the fashion that was selling and not necessarily creative. For me, fashion is storytelling but what I was doing in Nigeria was simply making money. Of course, there was the fear of starting all over but I knew if I didn’t leave, I will continue on that same path. Also, It was just time to try something more daring in my career and take my craft further. It had to happen.
3. With over 7 years of experience, you’ve built a clientele in Nigeria. How do you plan to bridge the gap between your established client base and a new audience in the UK?
I see myself as starting over, with no established client base. I want to build a brand that will be taking a totally new direction from what I used to do. New goals, new visions, everything new. There are people from my past who would resonate with that and those who will not, so it’s a clean slate for me. For 7 years, It was L’ABILA, now it is evolving into ALOHSI. The most important thing for me is to share my creativity in a way that addresses the issues that I am most passionate about and empowers women all over the world. I am more focused on making garments that women of different races can wear and still evoke the same emotions globally.
4. Nottingham University School of Arts and Design is prestigious. How has your master’s degree program shaped your perspective on fashion?
One of the best decisions I made was coming to Nottingham Trent University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Fashion and Creative Pattern Cutting. When I applied, I didn’t think I’d get in because I had no formal education in fashion or fashion school certificate, so I submitted a weak portfolio. I didn’t know what the standard was and I just put together a 10 slide PowerPoint presentation of garments I had made. It was basic. Surprisingly, my application was so outstanding that I was offered two scholarships. When I resumed I had panic attacks and so much fear of the unknown. It was my first time being in the four walls of a class discussing fashion, I had my first degree in Political Science, started a Master’s in International Law and Diplomacy, which I abandoned due to the incessant strikes but you know the learning process was different from what I was used to. It’s a creative course that requires a lot of practicals rather than theories but I’m a tough cookie, I face all challenges head on and I make sure I win eventually. I was also blessed with amazing tutors and coursemates who put me through everything I needed to know combined with the immense support from family and friends. I have no regrets and I enjoyed the whole experience.
5. In what ways do you envision applying this knowledge to create fashion pieces that resonate with the UK audience?
I have learned a lot and grown tremendously as a Creative. I have had immense exposure to industry standards and requirements, machinery and professionals and just constantly educating myself. Combining all of that with my years of practice in the Nigerian market and having to create for body sizes and shapes that are quite strange to the fashion industry at large has guided my translation of creative ideas and greatly influenced the new direction I want to take my brand.
6. Your passion for fashion design is evident. How do you balance maintaining your unique design identity while also staying attuned to the evolving fashion trends in the UK?
I create in a different way from most people because for me it’s more about the woman than the outfit. When she steps in, what do I want people to see in her? I like to create a lasting impression with no extravagance. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter of the world so we need to take active steps towards sustainability. Trends are cool but I don’t give them too much consideration because they always go and come, a lot of clothes end up in landfills. I look at what stands the test of time, what can you put on now that can be passed down to generations to come, and was relevant decades ago as well.
7. What sources or inspirations do you turn to for staying ahead in the ever-changing world of fashion?
I look through archives a lot, I look at runway shows of pioneering designers from the 40s to 70s; they’re my biggest inspiration. I definitely stay abreast of trends through social media and fashion journals but I like to reference history and politics. I like to interprète rebellion, I read about various things, I’m knowledgeable. I look at the evolution of fashion, controversies,religion, pop culture,astrology, sexuality,architecture,I even analyze the personality of animals,I strongly believe that no knowledge is wasted. I won’t necessarily pick up a book but the internet is amazing. I go on solo trips to enhance my originality. I love to sightsee and travel, meet people, learn about different cultures, I love looking at monuments and reading about them, I gain my own experiences.
8. How do you see yourself contributing to the evolving narrative of global fashion through your work in the UK and beyond?
I believe the fashion industry still needs work when it comes to inclusivity in the area of body shapes and sizing, pattern drafting rules; a lot of modifications have to be made to fit full figured women, it’s a hassle to get mannequins shaped like that as well. I am currently carrying out a survey about this to devise a sizing chart that will be internationally recognized. I hope I can.
9. As you embark on this new chapter in the UK market, what legacy do you hope to leave behind with your fashion creations?
I want to be remembered as a designer that appreciated the body of a woman but looked beyond it, that I created designs that empowered my wearers;like a warrior’s armor and made them feel they could d overcome anything.