A Candid Conversation with Onyinyechi Thompson on O’MAAN and Going Digital

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Just 2 years ago, Anifa Mvuemba – a Congolese Designer gave a preview of a game changing fashion. At a time when fashion power houses were distressed due to COVID-19, The HANIFA founder debuted a 3D fashion show that changed the course of the fashion industry.

These days virtual catwalks and digital fashion are a norm. According to Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) he called it “an opportunity to redefine business models and build a more sustainable progressive future”.

For O’MAAN, a Nigerian fashion house founded by Onyinyechi Thompson going digital has helped her save a lot of production cost and created a wide space to be creative. With her latest collection “YOUR TRUE SELF” every outfit was imbued with a modern sense of glamour, timeless romance and indiduality. The collection’s main ingredient was a mirror. A mirror is meant to show our reflection, according to the brand – “what you see in the mirror is either what you are or what you want to be”. As the name of the collection suggested each fit aimed at you seeing yourself for who you are. Every piece reflected a strong woman – a woman who can take charge and is in charge.

Onyinyechi Thompson

Below, Onyinyechi shares more about her background, her brand O’MAAN.

Tell us a bit about your brand, who is O’MAAN?

O’maan is an exclusive womenswear brand know for its love for details and great fit. We cater to women who love exclusivity and unique designs. O’maan brand has been in existence since October 2016 in port harcourt. We are a fashion brand that caters to women. We make well detailed, and fitted dresses for brides, wedding guest and other celebrants. We strive for excellence from our design process as most of our designs are original designs to our production and finishing. All pieces are make with careful attention to detail, the unique bodies of our clients, their style and finishing. We are located in two major cities in Nigeria, Port Harcourt city and the Federal Capital Territory.

Who is the face behind O’MAAN? Say something about your background?

My name is Onyinyechi Thompson, I’m from ikwerre local govt area in rivers state. I have a BA in human resource management. I have been into fashion since I was 12 which was when I took my first fashion class but the child in me didn’t let me be great. I tried out other things like accessory making and makeup but after all I came back to my first love dressmaking in 2015. I would say that I’m an introvert but adjust based on situations. I’m the 3rd child of 5 and the first girl. Luckily for me I have parents who saw and still see in me the passion and made sure I got the much needed training. My late father made sure I was in every training I needed to get to where I am today.

What sparked your interest in fashion and becoming a fashion designer?

My interest in fashion has always been there right from a young age but right now it’s just plain love for the beauty of a woman’s body and details.

Creative expression can take many forms, what made you decide to start your own fashion brand?

I have been passionate for fashion from a young age but I would say that the need to change the notion that designers are synonymous to disappointment is one thing I really wanted to change. I also wanted people to see, know and appreciate what I have to offer.

Is there any person/designer that you consider to be your inspiration?

That would be Deola Sagoe

What according to you is a favorite part of being a fashion designer?

The excitement on a client’s face when she sees he dress or tries it on and it fits.

Tell us about the inspiration behind them and the design process?

My collections are influenced by several things and people. Like this last collection was influence by my love for my sister and how loosing her made me feel. I wanted you women to be able to feel and see themselves through the designs, every design has a beautiful story behind it and speaks to a particular woman or women.

What is your best and worst fashion moment?

I won’t say I have had a worst fashion moment, maybe that’s still yet to happen. My best moment will be launching my latest collection.

What do you believe are the essential elements needed to be successful as a fashion designer?

I believe the first time is the get the necessary skill then get the business skill. Understanding that it’s more of business than passion is going to take you a long way.

What are your favorite trends in fashion, past and present?

My favorite trend right now is the corset as different designers have used it in different ways, some it has become their brand. Another favorite was the iro and buba that was modernized.

How would you describe your brand aesthetics?

Classy, clean, unique

Do you think the ever-increasing amount of overseas brands coming to our shores is a threat to Nigerian/African designers?

I don’t believe anybody is a threat to Nigerian/ African designers. The talent African designers possess is second to none and I always believe the sky is big enough for all of us.

Are you self taught or did you study fashion design?

I would say I am both, I studied fashion design, took different classes from a young age but also had to learn a lot on my own to be able to understand my skills. I must say that you don’t learn everything you need to run a fashion business or use your passion/skills in the fashion school therefore you have to learn a lot on your own.

How has your work evolved since you began your own label?

Absolutely! I never knew as at 2019 that I would go digital but here I am doing it and enjoying every bit of it. My brand has grown and evolved and still keeps evolving. As I said I never stop learning.

You digitally display your designs, but we have to know, do you prefer traditional illustrating styles or newer digital mediums? and why?

So for me going digital has help me save a lot of production cost and also given me a wider space to be creative. I feel that the traditional way is still one the most acceptable way but digital is a way that give room for more explorations. If I had my way I will use both traditional and digital mediums – but from what I have seen so far and if I am to choose I’d go for digital.

Is it safe to say womenswear is where your heart is? Why?

It is very safe to say that womenswear is where my heart is, the body/figure of a woman is a the most unique and beautiful thing. I love to create designs that displays the unique bodies of women and love to see how their bodies sit in a dress. I also love how complex and detailed a woman’s dress could be, it gives me something to think about.

What do you do to track trends and stay in touch with the current consumer?

My hobby is researching, I can go for hours on the web and social media platforms searching and learning new things.

Your focus is so heavy on fabrics and their quality, which is very notable in fashion design. How do you choose your fabrics and where are they sourced from?

I choose my fabrics based on how it feels on my skin. I’m very particular about comfort, I will take a comfortable fabric over anything. I want my clients to feel comfortable and luxurious. I mostly source my fabrics locally here in Nigeria.

What was the main inspiration behind the latest collection?

My latest collection “YOU TRUE SELF” was inspired by my struggles with grief in 2021. It was a collection I started working on at a low point of my life, I had just lost my only sister and I was in a very deep place of grief. It was a time in my life where I wanted to do nothing but just sit around and do nothing, everything felt like too much, felt like the world was against me. Whenever I looked in the mirror who I saw wasn’t the real me, I had lost a huge part of me. Every piece in this collection was a step out of grief. This collection is about seeing yourself for who you truly are even in the toughest times.

What is the best lesson you have learned along the way?

So I would say that I have leant to keep learning and unlearning. I have come to realize that you never stop learning. I have also learnt that fashion should not just be treated as a passion but as business as well else you are going to be working for years and never make anything out of it. Once you start treating it as business and passion then you start getting the best out of thing. I always say if my passion can’t feed me and make me relevant in the society then I need to find another passion. I believe God gave us passion or skill so we can make a life out of it.

What aspects of the fashion industry would you like to change?

I will like to change the management and mentorship structure if that’s what I will call it. I feel like designers are not regarded as talents that could be managed. Just like musician and actors I feel there should be a management for designers too. More like a way to discover and guide young designers. Also the mentorship structure, the should be a structure put in place to make sure young designers get the right skill set and mentorship needed to scale up. There are a lot of young designer that are struggling to navigate through the tough stage of understanding their talent and where they can serve better. If there is a management and mentorship structure in place to help this designers it’s going to go a long way to help them see things clearer. I don’t feel things should just end at going to a fashion school or getting some tailoring skills. I will take my self for example it was a struggle understand my talent and where I fit it, I still won’t say I have it all figured out.

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