Ifeanyi Okonkwo is the CEO of MESSAGE fashion Label, a prestigious clothing line that has many top celebrities as clients. In this interview with Reporter, Ifeoma Meze, he speaks on his style and what having a label has done to his wardrobe.
Your fashion label is very popular amongst celebrities. However there are others who would like to know the person behind the label?
I'm Ifeanyi Okonkwo. I was born in Lagos but I schooled in the East. I schooled at Nnamdi Azikiwe University were I studied political science. I have been in clothing business since 1999. So I'm 11years in the business.
You studied political science, why didn't you tow the line of politics?
We graduated from the university during the military era. Those days, there were few jobs out there basically and I have always had flare for trying to do things myself. I ventured into the family business at first. My dad was into the construction business, so we did some constructions works in different places. When the time was ripe, I branched out to pursue my passion which is fashion. I started with bringing in designer wears from all over the world. We brought in clothes from Italy, Paris, London, New York and many other places. We were bringing them in and clothing all the fashionistas and celebrities.
When did it occur to you to own label?
We started our label some years ago. We did out first set of label, our pants almost six years ago and they did very well in the market. We have just decided to introduce the shirt and suit line that we just brought in recently.
Talking about doing well in the market, how versatile is the label around Nigeria?
The label has been all over Nigeria for years. We have always been doing our own thing, it's just that we decided to rebrand. Things done from the 'House of MESSAGE' are all over the country already, it's just that we are rebranding.
By rebranding, are you trying to change the name of your label?
No, we are not changing the name. It is still MESSAGE. We are just trying to add some other things to the line.
Do you design your wears?
I'm a stylist. I create, I design and I send out for production.
How many shirts do you produce monthly?
We produce up to 7, 000 shirts quarterly.
Your fashion line seems to be strictly for men. Are you likely to start something for female folks?
We have just introduced the female section of our label. It is part of the things we are adding to our brand. We started with female corporate wear and so far the patronage has been wonderful. We are looking at the corporate women, the bold women because those are the women that can wear our clothes.
It is not everyone that sells clothes that is fashionable. Has you sojourn in the fashion business inspired your style or is it something that comes to you naturally?
I believe in practicing what I preach. Some customers that would prefer to buy things just because somebody wears them. They want to see you wear the things you sell to convince them that it looks good. So if you don't wear them, they don't buy. There are customers like that. I'm a man of style and fashion basically. I don't step out of my house without looking good. I have always loved everything about style and looking good for a long time even before I came into the business.
Do you sometimes have the urge to try on the varieties of shirts, shoes and pants that you stock?
No you cannot test out everything. There are too many varieties and there is no way you can test out everything. We make 3, 000 different kinds of shirts and it is not possible to wear or test all.
How large has this business made your wardrobe?
My wardrobe is not too large but it is congested. It is congested in the sense that I just have different parts full with varieties. I've lost count of how many shoes, shirts or stuffs I have but I definitely I have so many of everything. Being in the business has a lot to do with the way my wardrobe is stocked with varieties because it would have been hectic buying them one by one. I don't think my wardrobe would have been as large as it is if I'm not in the business because there are only few people in the world that have such large wardrobes.
What kind of designer labels do you patronise from your own label?
In my wardrobe, you find a lot of Vivienne Westwood, Armani, Versace, Franco Ferre, Fragamo, 'it's Black' Dolce and Gabanna. I love all good stuffs. I don't really believe in a particular designer. I believe in the work of art. Some of these designers inspire my own designs. Once something looks good and it has its creativity and it is beautiful, I buy it no matter who the maker is. The only designer that I have stock with for a long time is Vivienne Westwood. Their designs are very good.
What would you say has the lowest price in your wardrobe?
I cannot say the item with the lowest amount or even the highest. I cannot value but in my wardrobe, you will see everything. I'm a watch collector. I have over 30 wristwatches in my wardrobe. Some of them, I've had for ten years. I try to buy top of the range kind of wristwatches. From Pierre Jade to Rolex and many other quality wrist watches. The most expensive thing in my wardrobe might be my Rolex wristwatch, I'm just guessing because there are some other things.
For someone that has a label that deals on men's wear, is it possible for you not to repeat same clothes within two weeks?
To be honest, I do repeat clothes. I wake up lazy at times and I look back and see a shirt I wore on Monday and I wear it on Friday. Not that there are no other varieties to pick from but it just happens naturally.
What kind of colours will someone find more in your wardrobe?
I love to brighten up my day and for that I love bright colours. Red, yellow, blue, green orange, white, they appeal to me. I believe in colours.
How would you describe your style?
Our kind of stuffs, i.e. things in my label, are of quality. They are shirts that only bold people can wear. Nice well cut fitted suit with bold lapels and probably low rise waist coats for the very trendy and very stylish people. Those are my kind of style and the kind of things you find in my label.
So you don't have a problem with guys that wear low riser trousers that show their boxers?
It is fashionable. I wear them once in a while.
Are you one of those that believe that being fashionable is an expensive business?
To me, No style, No life. It is as if you are not living if you are not looking good. That is the way I look at it but it must not be expensive. Your tailor next door could be the one doing it for you as long as you sit down and direct him and make sure it comes out good. The most important thing is how you look.
Do you also do jewelries?
Of course I do jewelries. I have like 14 trinket boxes. I do white, yellow gold, I do fashion accessories.
What are you a freak for?
Being in this industry has made me like everything. I cannot stop buying shoes; I cannot stop buying shirts, belts or jeans. I don't really know what I love most. The business has made me vast and interested in everything. I have been selling belts for eleven years and before you know it, I see myself having over 100 personal belts. The same thing with shirts and many other things I deal on.
Do you ever see yourself buying things that are very cheap?
I buy the best. Cost plays a little part in fashion. The most important thing is the beauty. As much as I can buy a $500 shirt, I can still buy a $5 shirt if it looks good enough and I will wear it to a red carpet event.
Do you also do perfumes?
It's hard for me to step out of my house without using cologne. It is part of my style. I don't deal on perfumes but my favourite is Tom Ford.