Olujoye Ayodeji is one of Nigerian’s most creative designer of our time. He has been in the industry for over two decades and today, his brand AY Stitches is packaging many top celebrities and dignitaries that cut across several spheres of the Nigerian fashion industry. AY has designed stuffs for these notable individuals to their utmost satisfaction and approval. Though, he started so rough, but with hard work, resilience, focus and patient, Ayodeji was able to move the AY Stitches brand to become the preferred choice of renowned fashion crazy individuals and top-rated fashionistas. In this interview with ISAAC AGWAZIM, Publisher of Top Society Magazine in his Surulere outlet, Ayodeji spoke on the journey from the beginning, what inspired the brand name, AY Stitches and how he was able to steer the ship of the fashion emporium to the admirable level it is today. Enjoy the excerpts:
Having been in the Nigerian fashion industry for over two decades now, how has the journey been so far?
It has been good. We just have to thank God for everything. It wasn’t easy at first but as time goes on, we give God all the glory that things are getting better by the day. We started way back in 1997 and the early stage, it was very rough. We started with one manual sewing machine somewhere around Mushin and then nobody wanted to give you anything because nobody knew you. Then, we went as far as going to other tailor’s shops to pick some pieces and sprinkle it everywhere so that it won’t look as if we are not doing anything. When one or two people come around, they would say okay you are the one doing this and meanwhile, we were not doing anything. We just sprinkle the pieces all over. But as God may have it, though it took us a while but after some time, one or two people started bringing work for us.
To our breakthrough I will acknowledge a lady by name Omolola Farinde, then she works with this pharmaceutical company called Greenlife somewhere around Ilupeji, she walked-up to me one evening and asked, bros can you make something for me? she brought something like linen material, I said why not, I can. So, I did the cloth for her and to God be the glory she liked it, people who saw it on her also liked it and from that moment people started patronizing us that every Friday, you have to wear AY stitches and this was how it all started and grew gradually.
What would you say that distinguished AY Stitches from every other Fashion Labels out there?
What really distinguishes AY Stitches is just because of the kind of fabrics we use. We don’t just pick materials from the market. We pick some sample materials and make something out of nothing. It may look plain but by the time we finish it, it comes out unique. So that’s the difference between AY Stitches and every other brand.
How did you come about the name AY Stitches?
As a matter of fact, that name came when I was learning work. My name is Ayo by the way, so one day I was just walking down the pedestrian bridge and the name just jumped into my mind, I just heard AY Stitches. So, I was like AY Stitches and I never heard it anywhere you know, so that’s how the name came about. I immediately wrote it down. So, when I started my own, even when I have not registered it, I started bearing AY Stitches till when we finally registered it officially and I thank God that the name has gone viral today. There are so many AY Stiches now everywhere. Even online, when you type Ay Stitches, you see a lot of AY Stitches popping up. Everybody wants to associate with AY Stitches, but we thank God that it’s a good thing and we are still standing strong.
What is fashion to you?
To me, fashion is a lifestyle. It’s a daily thing. You can’t do without fashion. Even if its ordinary pant you wear, its still part of fashion. You can equally see some people wearing a little top and short it’s also fashion. So anything you are wearing is fashion anyway. So, fashion is a lifestyle, that’s my own simple definition of fashion.
If you have not been into fashion, what else would you have been found doing?
I will say, probably a doctor because I like a decent job. I admire professional corporate jobs a lot. This I discovered right from my secondary school days. I am always on point. I like to look good and I like looking very sharp. So, if I had not been into fashion, probably I would have been a doctor.
What has fashion done for you so far?
Fashion has done so much for me. God used this platform to showcase my person. It has taken me far and wide within and outside shore of this country. It has linked me with so many people and so many dignitaries, I won’t go on to mention anybody’s name but it has really connected me, exposed me and has showcased my personality and talent. So fashion has done whole lot for me.
As a celebrity fashion designer, how do you manage your female fans?
You see, when you are becoming famous then you need to relate with everybody. Not everybody per say, but to some extent you need to be friendly so that people will not tag you who you are not. So, they don’t say that guy is too harsh, he is too arrogant, he doesn’t talk to people. You try and relate with them based on work relationship. You manage people on coverage, not too close and not too far.
How can you describe the Nigerian fashion industry today?
Today, the Nigerian fashion industry has gone really wide. The industry is so broad, you know, it’s not just limited to male and female clothing. We have so many costumes and so many countries in Africa, who are celebrating Nigeria’s fashion industry. As a matter of fact, it’s getting to a point where people will come from different countries to dine with the Nigerian fashion industry because the industry is getting bigger by the day and now, it has become a tourism platform. People like African outfits and that’s why we here in Nigeria are special.
As a stakeholder in the fashion industry, what are the roles individually playing to make sure that the Nigerian fashion industry is well promoted and projected to the world?
One of the things we do is trying to help people discover their talent and that is part of what we are giving back to the society. so that we don’t give birth to mediocre. You know we have another session of AY Stitches where we train people on how to become creative designers, not just a fashion designer, but on how to become entrepreneurs, as we all know, the youths of these-days do not want to learn, rather they prefer to go online and start doing ‘yahoo yahoo’ stuff and of sort.
But with our own little efforts, we have been able to groom a good number of youths within and outside Lagos. Your attitude as a leader depicts your brand. Anybody that comes to AY Stitches can tell that this man is an exceptional leader. So, we are trying so many ways to help our people with our own fashion experience.
AY Stitches as a brand, how have you been able to project it to compete with the global standard when it comes to the fashion?
Well, what we do is this. If you check our profile, one of our vision is to be the best and the most preferable fashion company in Nigeria. How do we come about that? We compare our works with leading designers globally to enable us achieve our overall goal in terms of quality and good finishing.
When you look at ready-made wears, check from their design to finishing, everything is stitches. This is the standard we at AY Stitches are trying to maintain.
Our clienteles can attest that we are of international standard, hence while we have many clients in diaspora ranging from Canada, Kenya, Johannesburg, UK, US and others, people call to place order on daily basis. And none of our client had ever come back to complain of a low standard because we are known for excellent.
Who is your role model in the fashion industry?
I will say Mudi, because he is highly creative and innovative, his packaging is of top notch, He’s a brother to me, I admire his system of running the industry and his personal carriage. So, I see him as someone to look up to in Nigeria fashion industry.
How fulfilled are you in your chosen career?
Ehhhhhh… Any work you do that pays your bills, gives you comfort, you have good numbers of staff working with you, nobody has ever complained of you owning them salary. So, we thank God we are doing very well and I’m fulfilled.
Where do you see AY Stitches to be in the next 10 years?
In the next few years, AY Stitches will become a global brand that will attract people from different countries of the world for tourism and business relationship. AY Stitches will be everywhere not just within Africa, but globally.
What does it cost to make a good outfit at AY Stitches?
We are very affordable, not because we are AY Stitches, with as low as N45,000.00 you can get a good and quality outfit that can be compared to what you buy for N150,000 out there.
What is your advice for upcoming designers?
The only advice I will give them is to be patient and hard-working. “Rome they say was not built in a day”. It’s a gradual thing. Just like when I told you how we started, it was tough. If we were not patient, we won’t be where we are today. Patient is a virtue, so keep working and you will get there.
What does success mean to you?
Poverty is a curse. Nobody wants to remain the same. So, not until you have all the money in the world before you can say you are successful. If you are healthy and can pay your bills, you are comfortable then you are successful. But to me, the true definition of success is when you invest in people. In Surulere area where we operate, some of the people we have empowered now have their own shops. So that’s what I understand about success.
What negative media reports have you ever gotten about yourself?
I think one major negative report I have ever heard was about one lady who paraded herself as AY Stitches somewhere in Ibadan and she has been doing sewing for so many people, even to some of my celebrities’ clients. So, people started calling me AY Stitches I heard you sew for a particular person and it was all over the social media. I had to explain that it’s not my own AY Stitches and at that point, some people were calling this lady for jobs to the extent of my search engines were sabotaged by this lady. When someone tries to hook me up for jobs, this lady comes out as AY Stitches as well. So, at a point someone just called me because he noticed that her number is not the same number of the real AY Stitches that he knows. So that’s how I got to know that she made some clothes for some people and they paid her through online and all of that. So that’s when I started bearing real_aystitches on Instagram.
What do you think has sustained AY Stitches all these years?
As a matter of fact, it is God. So many distractions here and there but when you have God, you have everything. So, it’s just God.