Tiya Akpana: Sip and Shop is the New Fashion Sense – THISDAY Newspapers
Tiya Akpana’s new sensation in fashion exhibition is taking Lekki with a bang next weekend, typical of New York’s Boogie Woogie rhythm and blues, rock, and roll. The fashion show titled: ‘Sip & Shop: the after party,’ combines music provided by DJ Shegsy with dance for the old school. Nduka Nwosu reports
Fashionista Tiya Akpana easily passes for a self-taught student of Haute Coutre going by a few things she has done in that territory in recent times, and very successfully too. Next weekend, she showcases her wares in a clothing exhibition, titled: ‘Sip and Shop & the After Party,’ by her Tuviya Signature at the Glee Hotel Victoria Island Lagos. According to her, there are over 200 designs that will be on display.
“This collection took about a year to build it up; the idea is to make this exhibition an annual event until I am well grounded. I want it to be an event that people look forward to experience.
“I am incredibly positive about the fashion show; I feel this could be an annual. I have no idea where this is going, but I believe I am moving in the right direction.”
Who is Tiya Akpana? The name evokes a poetic resonance like Gabriel Okara’s Ode to River Nun or Leopold Sedar Senghor’s ‘I will Declaim Your Name,’ Naette. The Kalabari, Abonenma daughter reveals her first name at birth was Boma to which her parents’ friend, on beholding her for the first time objected and named her Tiya or Precious, a rare, uncommon gift from God.
Tiya has lived up to that name, a multi-talented being with the hand of gold. First, she arrived as the fifth and last child of the Akpanas with a big umbrella shielding her. She had the privilege of doing her primary school education at the British oriented Saviour’s School. At the Federal Government College Warri where her late elder brother was the Senior Prefect at the time of her admission, she focused on her studies and hardly took advantage of big brother protection among her set. At 10 she was one of three students named the youngest in the school. She went ahead to study Philosophy at the University of Lagos and was deeply impressed by the works of Heraclitus, Rene Descartes, and Pythagoras. She took interest in the philosophy of religion, jurisprudence, and psychology but the interesting aspect was in her ability to view issues from different angles with different results in the study of Dialectics.
Akpana lost her beloved brother last October when she was getting ready to introduce something new to the market. She was devastated, having lost her mother in 2019. She went on a retreat to heal and return to her familiar environment.
Akpana neither studied design, fine arts nor sculpting as an aside, and so is not Influenced by the dialectics of designing or back home by the plastocasts of say a Bruce Onobrakpeya and the ABU Zaria radicals, the Nsukka Uli School of Artists.
Who then are her role models in the global school of ideas in designing where you have modern artists and designers of the West, hugely influenced by the Impressionist and Renaissance schools, who early in the day were attracted to Cubism and the Avant Garde movements? Akpana seems to be the product of intuition and picks up what appeals to her off curve. No study or situation is arduous to the point she cannot face and solve it like an interesting mathematical problem. Her response: “I am very dynamic. I can just decide to do something new. I have made slippers with my own hands; I can decide to do something new if I think it is good. It was my birthday in 2009. I was selling gold at that time. I saw someone wearing an Etubo with studs, the type that my father used to wear. I enquired from him where he bought it. He said some lady sold it to him. Why didn’t you buy from me, I asked. He asked me: “Do you have some? Then bring one to me. I need it.”
That encounter with a potential customer opened a flood gate of patronage. “I went to Dubai, did four studs with my little savings; the customer was impressed with the designs. He took one, another person took one. The studs were pure gold. He said get Iwoko,” another brand of native dress. Another person wanted one stud or Etubo while I was delivering his. I delivered; I was making good sales.
“I asked my brother Daemi, an Honourable member of the House of Representatives, to introduce his colleagues in the House from Rivers and Bayelsa to me and my brand, which he did. There was a market I was looking at. He asked me to come to Abuja. I did. That was the beginning of her ideal market, a steady stream of supplies to the Honourable members. The timing was good though it could have happened much earlier, she confessed, because Jonathan lost the election; many honourable members of the House who contested the election lost,” and that market was closed but it was the high point of her business in the iwoko and etubo stud designs.
Akpana also ventured into the furniture business and exhibition. I put my products on Facebook and other social media apps; for the furniture exhibition; we were at Chief Collins at Lekki Phase One. I may not have oversold the furnitures during the exhibition, but it was something to talk about. and the response was satisfying. Dubai
remained the destination. Why not a Nigerian market? She is asked: “It s all about knowing where to go to, getting a creative furniture maker who cares about his finishings, not one that cuts corners and forces a badly finished product on you. Nigerian furniture makers are unwilling to accept they should work and rework on a product until it is right.
Akpana ventured into the wig business importing from China. “I went to Alibaba; got a manufacturer I was dealing with and later directly. I have my own brand of wigs called Mabel Kay,” a derivation of her mother’s name. At a point, the market became saturated, and she went into other things.
In her process of self-discovery, Akpana lost her mother in 2019 after nearly three years of illness. “My mother was ill and came to stay with me. For the period of two and half years, or nearly three years, I had nothing doing than caring for her until she passed on in 2019.
When she passed on. I brought out the sewing machine in the house to learn how to sew as therapy to get over the experience of losing a most beloved mother. I was to have my exhibition last year when I lost my elder brother Soibi, the Head Boy at FGC Warri. I could not do anything but here I am now. I do not know how prepared I am. I am taking a leap of faith to just go ahead and do it with 40 design types and 250 made wears.”
Akpana recollects her early days learning how to sew was primarily for healing after her mother’s demise, but it became a business at some point. She explains: “When I started sewing, it was not something I could do for too long. I can sew, but it is not something I enjoy doing. I prefer the design, not to cut and sew. I hardly start sewing and complete it. Therefore, I employ tailors.”
Her argument for modelling and exhibitions: “Rather than hang the wears for people to admire, why not have models wear them and display what these design types look like?” She insists there is beauty in simplicity and for this exhibition, there would be some spices and catwalks. There will be music and dancing for the old school,” she informs her anticipated audience, with DJ Shegsy ruling the air waves.
She explains further her philosophical mindset to designs: “I like simple things that challenge your thought processes. I do not like things that are overly complicated. For the exhibition, I will have things for men like my Etubo native dress and Ankara trousers. I still do my bits and pieces such as digital assets, crypto coins and the like. I can sit here for 24 hours, and your money, your investment is doing its work while I sit back watching my phone; I do not do speculative trading; I buy low, when the price goes high, I sell. I just need to watch my phone and see what is going on in the market.
“So, moving around and having something to do, that is why this clothes thing comes to complement me. I need to get up and go to the tailor in Yaba, go to the tailor in Obalende. I need to have that balance. To raise such a collection, I do not think it is a two, three months affair. I have spent time in doing this; tailors in Nigeria are like every other worker in the country. I have even had a tailor telling me that my taste is extremely high when I pointed out he used black thread instead of orange. Why didn’t you use orange? If you wantthe thread, I can buy it for you rather than tell me my taste is too high, I added. That is the reason I feel the need to go into these things to address these imperfections because when you walk into a shop in the UK where measurements were not taken before the clothes were cut and sewn, they fit in very well whatever the size.
“Here in Nigeria, measurements are made in between your arm pits, inside your neck and between your thighs, yet the cloth or dress would be adjusted ten times. They are not patient; they do not learn the work properly; most of them do not go to fashion schools; they refuse to cut with patterns; they use their heads to cut. If you notice what the tailor is measuring for a customer, he does it without writing and when you query why, you will be assured he will remember. That is where the mistakes and carelessness begin; they are just lazy. There is also the: you can manage it mentality and there is nothing wrong with it. I want to take out that; why must someone manage a badly finished job, why can this product not be as good as the shop where a finished product is sold outside our shores in Britain for instance.
“That is another challenge for me, and I am trying to get there; its exceedingly difficult but I am trying to get there; I end up correcting them, adjusting one thing four, five times until you get what you want; it is difficult.
“I have had to condemn a lot of clothes and materials, converting the waste and recovering some useful materials in the process to recreate an existing concept.”
Who among these top global icons drives Akpana’s creative afflatus? Donatella, Gianni Versace, Tom Ford, Christian Dior Coco Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Raph Lauren? Surprisingly, Elie Saab the Lebanese fashion designer is the global fashion icon on her radar. Saab does not come in the top 10 bracket of fashion designers recognised worldwide and reproduced above. Does Akpana have any commonality flowing in her with Saab? Maybe; just maybe. Listen to a report on Saab from Vogue: “Apart from a single year spent at a fashion school in Paris, Saab is self-taught like Akpana.
Akpana is picking her designer’s art after a long journey of discovery. Her late brother Soibi, an off the curve fine artist, must have influenced her just by admiring and observing his works. Deep down, like Giano Versaci and Saab, she is naturally endowed with talent as a naturally born designer, socialite, and businesswoman.
Saab operates from his country Lebanon, with outposts in Milan, and Paris, great capital of fashion. Akpana is not yet there but says nothing dazes her and would be there some day with workshops in say Abuja and the UK.
How does she compare her works with those of top Nigerian fashion icons that have earned global recognition over the years? The Ohimai Atafos, the Deola Sagos, Ade Bakare, Soares Anthony, Frank Oshodi, et
al. Does she see any of them as role models? Duro Olowu, Lisa Folawiyo or Zizi Cardow whose accomplishments, accolades and global recognitions have brought critical respect to designers back home?
The rising star smiles with a sense of humility, on comparisons she feels she has a track record for her to study. She adds: “I will not say I am not in competition but the way I feel right now, the market is big enough to accommodate everyone. I want to deliver a product that will appeal to all. It is not a do or die issue for me, but the passion is there. Let us just take it as it goes; I am ready to learn and accept mistakes when pointed out to me. I need to study people and their responses. A showroom with a permanent exhibition centre with furniture, clothings, Ekubo and hairs, varied materials put together, is possible,” she says, adding that it can happen.
Nigerians that live in the UK, she remarks, commend what is going on here. Still on her earlier background that could have triggered her interest in designing, she adds: “My attempt at Fine Art was extremely poor unlike my late brother Soibi, who draws very well, but I have an eye for good things, I am creative and can detect an innovative idea and where it can lead me to.
“When I came back from Nigeria, I did my Youth corps and tried a few things like buying and selling. It was like I was giving people free things; most of them were not paying, which is a natural thing for many of us. Character has something to do with it. I do not leave things with people any longer. You cannot take it until you pay.
My customer in Dubai said he was no more into credits because people abused it and that it breaks relationships; I started thinking about it and found it was true. You extend credits to friends because they
are friends, but it is often abused, and I have stopped it.
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