Our mission is to show the world how good African prints and designs could be, as well as show the world you could make just about anything, both is style and design with Ankara — to show the world that one could still slay in Ankara.
Zikorah is a fashion brand based in Nigeria, which since inception has garnered a widespread attention to itself because of its unique design and prints on Ankara.
Our correspondent, Akpa Arinzechukwu recently sat with one of the founders, Ezinne Ibe, for this interview.
Akpa Arinzechukwu: Tell us, who is Ezinne Ibe?
Ezinne Ibe: Ezinne Ibe Onyinyechukwu is a Nigerian in her early twenties, a student of Biomedical Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. And she’s the cofounder of Zikorah.
A.A: Fascinating. So, what took a Biomedical Technologist to fashion?
E.I: Well, I can’t say I’ve been interested in fashion from a young age. No. I wasn’t. I actually wanted to be a doctor. That was what I had passion for. However, growing older, I realised I wasn’t a fan of blood and injuries, even though I still loved medicine, so, I took an alternative and applied for Biomedical Technology. At this stage, no fashion thought ever crossed my mind.
I started getting interested in fashion in my freshman year in the university. I had started watching this TV show, Project Runway — a competition for fashion designers. It was/is still an interesting show. I’d always laugh at the ridiculousness of some designs. So after a while, I decided to try designing few clothes, drawing inspiration from what I had watched on the TV.
Moreover, my mother makes dresses as a hobby. So, when I made these designs, she’d make the dresses. After a while though, she started showing me how to make dresses — I basically learned sewing from my mum.
And even at that, I really didn’t take much interest in fashion — it was until my sophomore year in school, I noticed most students in my school paid no attention to their dressing — they only dressed awesomely when there was an event or for church service. I said “Dammit!” who says we can’t dress properly all time? Who said we can’t wear heels? Do we have to always be in jeans and polo t-shirts? No.
I started researching how to combine clothes, and I started dressing like I worked in a bank [laughs]. It was funny at first cos I looked different and appeared weird. But then, consistency saw me through, and it became a part of me. I delved deeper and here I am today in the fashion world. And I can say too, I have inspired some people fashion-wise.
A.A: Fantastic! This is great. So, without your mother who gave you the push, you might not have gone far into the fashion thingy, or would you have still gone to rewrite the story?
E.I: Well, mum taught me how to make clothes because she didn’t want me to keep disturbing her each time I had a new design [laughs]. Her role was more like teaching me how to catch the fish rather than giving me fishes.
If she hadn’t given me the push, I’d still have gone on with my passion for fashion. Though, her role was really immeasurable.
A.A: We should have more mums like that [laughter]. That would be awesome.
E.I: Yes. Please. We should. Very important. Mums should teach their daughters how to be independent.
A.A: How did you come about Zikorah, and what went into making it a reality?
E.I: Well, when I started making clothes, I wanted to be something personal, a hobby — just the way it is for my mum. I could only make clothes for myself and friends. But people saw my outfits and wanted me to make dresses for them — I extended the services.
My friends encouraged me to turn it into a real business venture, and I did, even though I wasn’t comfortable being a seamstress on request.
I wanted to make dresses and also avoid the Nigerian tailor—customer hassles. I decided to form a brand — making ready-to-wear clothes. That way, I can make clothes without being restricted to design and specifications.
Coincidentally, my friend, Obiageli Odoemena who was learning the craft also has the same idea. She approached me with the idea and our ideas clicked instantly. At that time though, I had started my brand — Ziva Apparels, but had financial issues to grow it.
Oby and I needed something to break into the market when we finally decided to be partners. There was lot of Ankara brands and shops — we had to look for something that would make us stand out. We came up with the idea of creating designs in Ankara which weren’t popular such as Ankara joggers and dungarees. Our designs made us quite different from others and that actually helped us break through.
We pulled in resources and got an investor, who is a part of the brand, and we got an amount of money which was enough to kick off the project from the idea level. We actually started production before we had a name for the brand — we wanted something to represent Africa — something people could relate to. So, “Zikorah” popped in — it is an Igbo word for “Show the world”.
It was a perfect name because our mission is to show the world how good African prints and designs could be, as well as show the world you could make just about anything, both is style and design with Ankara — to show the world that one could still slay in Ankara.
And for Zikorah to be where it is — it has basically been by the grace of God, and the determination we have put in. Judging from how far Zikorah has gone, a lot of people don’t believe we are really six months old [laughs]. But we’ve gotten a lot of favour along the way — our first photoshoot by Chez Imagery was free. In fact, most of our photoshoots have been free and the ones we paid for were at great discounts. We also got good customers who made great referrals. And of course, my colleague’s wittiness has been a great asset.
All in all, we have worked really hard to get where we are. Sometimes, we have to forego our profit and invest it back into the business for it to grow. A lot of hard work, perseverance and diligence have gone into getting Zikorah where it is today. At times, we work overnight to be able to meet up with customers’ orders…
It’s been a tough ride, but it’s been a good ride.
A.A: This is awe-inspiring. I was even going to ask what the word “Zikorah” mean.
So, tell us, what do you have in your collection?
E.I: Like I said, we basically make Ankara pieces which you can rarely find anywhere else. We have our bestselling Ankara joggers and top (Cynthia two piece), Ankara dungarees, maxiskirts, shift dresses, sheath dresses, kimonos and lots more.
And we would be launching our harmattan collection really soon — just about the middle of this month.
A.A: I like the buba cropper and the shift dresses, which do you think will fit a drag queen as me?
E.I: [Laughter] a shift dress will really look good on you.
A.A: So, what’s the biggest challenge so far?
E.I: Ahhh. Number one challenge: finance.
This is really a major challenge as most developmental projects we would love to embark on actually require finance. We need better sewing machines, weaving machines, embroidery machines as well as web hosting and publicity campaigns. All these require money. And it gets more challenging every day because of the convulsive economy…prices of fabric and sewing materials rise every day and at the end of the day, if you’re not careful with your cost estimates, you may run into losses. Coupled with the fact that it’s difficult to find major investors these days.
Also, we have the challenge of logistics — there are very few logistics and courier companies that are affordable. Thus, a particular order may take days and lots of protocol before it gets to the customer.
Once, one of our deliveries had been swapped between two different transport companies. It was sent with company A and company B delivered the package. It was quite disheartening.
But then, there’s always a way to go about every challenge.
A.A: Yeah. We can see through that, and in the end, passion and discipline win. What’s your advice to other people who may want to venture into this business?
E.I: Oh well.
First, be different. Yes, it’s Ankara….but let your Ankara come with a different and appealing twist. Also, all Nigerian designers must not work with Ankara. You can do awesome things with denim, tulle, sequined fabric, etc. Find out what works for you and move with it.
Secondly, don’t be scared to do it. In fashion, there is really no wrong combination — how you combine it is what matters. People used to consider prints on prints a fashion error but today, a lot of people have successfully combined prints with other prints. If it seems ridiculous, just do it, some people love ridiculous stuff. If it looks too colourful, do it still — there are people who love rainbows. I didn’t think an off shoulder top would get along with joggers pants, but I tried it, it worked out and it sold!
Most importantly, be diligent, work Hard and work smart. Be witty, be a talkative if you must, always learn. Constant training will keep you relevant. And lastly, rock your designs. You are your best advertisement.