I vividly remember the exact moment I stumbled across the Andrea Iyamah Swimwear’s Instagram page: the utter gorgeousness of every item uploaded onto the tropical-themed page quite honestly took my breath away and I must have spent about an hour gazing at the brightly coloured, summer-inducing, exquisite designs that make the Andrea Iyamah brand! When I found out that the talent behind these beautiful designs was a 22 year old Nigerian, Canadian-based fashion powerhouse, I simply had to contact her immediately. Meet Andrea Iyamah of the Andrea Iyamah brand and Andrea Iyamah Swimwear, whose designs have been seen on numerous international celebrities such as Angela Simmons, Christina Milian and Africa’s very own Bonang Matheba. Below, Andrea takes us through the factors which she believes contributes towards one’s success in the entrepreneurial journey, what she believes the African fashion industry needs and the impact her heritage has had on her designs…
Full names: Dumebi Iyamah
Current title/company: Andrea Iyamah
Educational background: McMaster University, Bachelors Communications and Media Technology
Andrea, you have established yourself as a force in the international fashion industry with features in esteemed publications such as Cosmopolitan UK and Ebony Magazine. Take us through the journey to where you are now – has fashion always been your calling?
Growing up I knew my dream was to become a fashion designer and own a clothing line. Although I imagined this dream becoming a reality much later in life such as in my 30s, I still worked at acquiring necessary skills such as sewing at the age of 13. I have always been a lover of art. Growing up I often occupied myself with drawing and painting until I later fell in love with fashion illustration and began to sketch dresses I would dream of creating.
Although based in Canada, you are of Nigerian heritage. How big a role do your Nigerian roots play in the aesthetic of your two brands Andrea Iyamah & Andrea Iyamah Swimwear?
Being Nigerian means being part of an even bigger picture, Africa. Using the rich culture of such a thriving continent, each piece we design is embedded with inspiration from the colors and traditional prints of not just Nigeria but other African countries as well. From product design to Andrea Iyamah campaigns, diversity is our underlying theme.
The Andrea Iyamah Swimwear brand has attracted considerable attention and your exquisite swim suits have adorned many African and International celebrities! What would you say has been the key factor contributing to the success of your brands?
I wish there was only one key factor that contributes to building a successful brand. Over the years I’ve understood that success is possible with a number of factors. One of those factors is consistency, which is possible with a great team, patience and understanding that more time and effort should be invested in other areas of a brand rather than its products only. It is important that every department from Design, to Marketing, Logistics and Customer service including other activities associated with a brand, be treated with equal relevance. I am constantly educating myself on how to manage in-house and external operations because that to me is an important factor when building a successful brand.
Nowadays, having talent in a creative sphere is simply not enough. It is imperative that one possess business skills and financial acumen. As a business woman, what aspects would you say are of most importance in the success of a product or brand, and what major business tip would you give to aspiring fashion designers and entrepreneurs?
I come across so many brands blessed with extremely talented designers that have so much potential to grow. Starting my business at 17, and still in high school, you’d imagine that the business of it was still quite blurry so I knew there was a lot of learning to do. With fashion comes a trendy hype, but the reality is many upcoming designers tend to face the harsh reality of little to no funding which is easily hidden under the hype. There’s a chain reaction leading to this problem which stems from the trivialization of the fashion industry by potential investors. Fashion hardly seems serious enough to outsiders to throw money into especially in its early stages mainly because the cost of running a clothing line is often underrated. The unfortunate truth is; no one can see your dreams as clearly as you can. Therefore, as an emerging designer you must properly educate yourself about your brand, and set realistic goals. Survival should come before profit, in that accord patience is your best bet.
What piece of advice or knowledge do you wish you knew at the start of your career?
Exactly how hard it was going to be especially as a full time student.
What does the African fashion industry need and how do you think other women can attain success in the international fashion industry?
The African fashion industry is finally getting the international recognition that it deserves and it is certainly inspiring. As previously mentioned, private and public investment in the industry will enable fashion schools and existing brandings in the continent reach its full potential. Besides corporate investment, individuals must be encouraged to support African fashion but actually purchasing from brands. On that note African fashion must also give individuals a reason to purchase their products by assuring quality products and service.
As a fashion designer and entrepreneur, what have been your biggest challenges and how have you been able to overcome them?
Like many other small businesses, the biggest challenge was funding. Understanding our market and making small steps at a time to avoid making big expensive mistakes was important to overcome this challenge. I was never chasing large investment, rather what I hoped for was to put in as much effort and funds in what I could and trust the market to buy into the brand. Funding my brand was my priority so even as a student saving was very important to sustain my passion as a business. Its important to make sacrifices if your passion is truly your chosen career.
Take us through what a typical work day looks like for you?
I start my day really early at about 5am. Its my way of fitting in as much work as possible into one day. I wake up with prayer, meetings, fittings and a whole lot of more. I try to be as involved as possible so I often find myself running in and out of various departments to make sure things are running smoothly.
Advice for aspiring fashion designers and entrepreneurs?
Be patient, consistent and hard working – and expect to work long hours.
Morning or night? Morning
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
CNN’s Aman Pour. I’d order banga soup and pounded yam so she can learn other good things about Nigeria such as its food.
I wish I knew how to…Sing.
African women are… Strong.
Africa needs… Belief in itself.
Best investment… Sewing machine at age 13
Motivation in 3 words… Never good enough
Andrea Iyamah designs may be purchased HERE