Body & Soul

I don’t design with Nigeria in mind – Zizi Cardow

 

Running into the ever elegant, stylish Ngozi Cardow at the AMVCA’s black carpet was like going back in time when fashion designers were few and her fashion brand Zizi Cardow was one of the most powerful. With a portfolio and brand that have stood for over two decades, Zizi Cardow is still iconic with an intriguing personality that captivates. She represents wealth of experience in the fashion industry to reckon with. With a new fashion store in London, showcasing in New York, Milan and Paris fashion week, Zizi Cardow is fulfilling the dream of taking African print and design to the world. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, Zizi as she is fondly called, speaks about why it seems she is missing in the Nigerian fashion scene and why many Nigerian fashion designers are not yet up to the standard to compete in the international market

 

You are one of the few that pioneered ready-to-wear fashion in Nigeria and if we are correct, it’s been long you have been seen in the fashion circle lately. Tell us how it has been?

It’s been alright. It has been quite an experience and challenging. At the same time, it has been rewarding. I am happy to see that what I started over 20 years ago, when people couldn’t understand what I was doing, now, suddenly everyone, the whole world is doing that kind of fashion.

 

How have you been able to stay relevant in the fashion industry? Now many people are doing the same kind of ready-to-wear kind of fashion you are known for?

It’s all about knowing yourself and staying true to yourself. Having your own signature. I am not interested in what everybody else is doing. I do me. I have always been a trendsetter. I have never been the type to follow what is in vogue. So, I am still me and still pushing the boundaries.

 

At the AMVCA, were there celebrities that wore your brand?

There were one or two of them that wore dresses made by me but the thing is that I have not been in the country for a while now. I came back for some appointments and I got invited to AMVCA. I have another fashion store set up in London and I have been focusing on that.

 

What about your fashion store in Nigeria here?

 

It is still there. It has been running like a boutique that it has always been. We have always run it like a boutique. It’s a brand and not a tailoring set up. It’s an independent brand that you walk in and pick what you like. The clothing line there is all ready-to-wear.

How easy is it for you to break even in the fashion industry of today?

It is a whole lot easier because it is something I have been doing over the years. I have been doing International fashion shows for a long time now.

I have done New York fashion week; I have done Paris fashion week and Milan fashion week and many others. I don’t do much of the Nigerian fashion scene. I do more of international fashion scene. That is why it’s easy to break even and that is also why it seems I have not been around.

Why did you abandon the Nigerian fashion industry?

I didn’t. Funny enough, the Nigerian fashion industry think that I am not good enough. Some of the organisers of the big fashion shows in Nigeria have turned me down. Two times that I have tried to apply, they told me ‘better luck next time’. Another one told me that I am not qualified.

In your opinion, as a designer that has stood the test of time, what kind of designs do you think they are looking for?

I don’t know. I think they are happy with people doing copying and pasting other people’s designs. As long as you can copy right, you are good to go. That is what they are comfortable with and that is what they get.

 

That should not discourage you from getting more involved in the Nigerian fashion scene…

It has not discouraged me in anyway. Like I said, I have set up my fashion line in London. I am also looking at setting up in New York as well. To start with, my designs were not created with Nigeria in mind. It has always been for global appeal. I have never had Nigeria in mind when I design. It doesn’t matter to me really, whether I am accepted here or not. The fact remains that I have my clients.

 

My brand is an acquired taste. My brand is for women who know themselves and have confidence in themselves; who want to make a statement and those who want timeless pieces. Not for those who follow anything that is trending. So, I am not afraid of not being accepted. I am confident in the fact that my brand has stood the test of time.

Do you still get budding fashion designers calling that they want you to mentor them?

I get that a lot. It constitutes the pro-bono part of our fashion house. We take in interns for about three months. We work with Faith Foundation and we used to work with British Council and also work with schools to enhance their skill acquisition scheme.

Take us back to when you discovered that fashion is what your dream career is?
Back then, my parents were my biggest supporters. My parents didn’t bother with what you are doing; all they cared about was that you have something positive you are doing. Just like my daughter is an artist. She paints and I support her as much I can, even though she read psychology.

So you didn’t have parents that insisted you must have a career in medicine or become an engineer or a lawyer before you can become someone?

Everybody has their God given talent that they are born with. You making someone to go into a business you are into just because you are his or her parent is redundant, which doesn’t make sense. People should be able to love what they are doing. I love my job and that is why I have been able to thrive. Most times, it’s not all about the financial aspect. The money is important but that is not what is driving me. My driving force is that I want to be as good as my peers outside Nigeria. I want to be able to go to a runway and have my designs compared to any other designer on that runway.

We have had cases where some Nigerian designers go for fashion shows abroad but they are not allowed to showcase because everything they have is copied from another designer. But here in Nigeria, we make it loud because nobody pays attention. I say that style writers in Nigeria should pay attention to these things.

 

We can’t have people duplicating other people’s designs as their own and we hail them as a designers. A style writer should be able to tell whose design is this from the other. You should be able to tell what is in style and what is not. They should be able to know the fabrics, the colours that are in vogue. It shouldn’t be about how much one can copy someone’s designs and copy well. And then we shout, wow! Latest Under 30 designer!

In your opinion, what is in vogue presently?

This post COVID-19 people are not so much about what is trending but about what is it that can be comfortable. The purpose mostly is on how to help the environment, on recycling rather than go out there and buy, buy, buy. We are being asked to recycle to help the planet. Nigeria as it it, I don’t think we are having that discussion about investing heavily in recycling to help the planet.

Most Celebrities don’t repeat dresses they wear to red carpet events. For example, most dresses worn to AMVCA, if not all, may likely not be seen on any of these Celebrities again. Does this have any serious effect on the economy and helping the planet that you are talking about?

I think it has a lot to do with our mentality. First of all, we are being powered by corrupt government and society. There is a lot of stolen money that is being thrown about and so, some people afford to wear certain clothes once. That aside, the whole aspect of recycling is just to help the planet. Because we are not big on this discussion on a global level, many do not understand the importance. I don’t think repeating what you wear is a big deal. I don’t think it makes any sense to have a dress that is so elaborate in your wardrobe and you can only wear it once.

 

It is a waste of time, capital and labour and it hurts the planet. A lot of avant-garde clothes you see celebrities wear abroad is usually loaned to them by a museum of a designer brand. Most of the dresses are iconic pieces that is not to be sold. Here, you wake up and go and task one tailor to make an elaborate dress and at the end of the day, it’s sitting in your wardrobe and you can’t wear it again. Really, it doesn’t make sense.

Will we ever see you showcase on runway in Nigeria again?

I do have my own solo shows. In the history of Nigeria, I am one designer that has had the most solo shows. The last one I had was at Fahrenheit Hotel, opposite Eko hotel, Lagos in 2019 just before COVID-19. That was the show we launched the Chiffon Agbada, which is what people are wearing now. It was worn by Elvina Ibru for the One Per cent premier. That is how the Chiffon Agbada style went viral.

Where did the love for bum shorts come from for you?

That is my comfort zone. I love comfort. I don’t like wearing something that I won’t be comfortable in. I don’t wear girdle and I thank God that in my 53 years, I don’t need to do that. I want to be able to sit, dance and do whatever I want to do anywhere. I don’t want my clothes to wear me. I want to be able to wear my clothes.

 

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