interviewBy Azuka Ogujiuba
Challenged by her frustrating search for stylish clothes that suit her buxom shape, Osa Aisien created Ma'Bello to help similar-sized women find flattering designs with ease. Azuka Ogujiuba writes
Tell us about yourself - age, education, family and career life?
I'm 36 years old, married to Osawe Aisien and we are blessed with two boys - Iredia and Eghosa. I attended ADRAO International Primary school in 1986 and went on to FGGC Benin for Secondary school and graduated in 1992. I had a short spell in Ahmadu Bello University and University of Benin and then left for the United States to further my education. I graduated from the University of Houston in 2001. I moved back to Nigeria finally in 2005 and currently work in Lagos.
What was it that spurred your interest in fashion?
Growing up I was not keen on fashion; I was what you would a tom boy. One thing that stuck over the years was my mum telling me that looking good was important. My mum always looked nice and had her personal sense of style, she always took time to look good.
Starting a line for larger-sized women seems like buckling the trend; what's the story behind that?
The average Nigerian woman is a size 14 (UK specification) and above and she has curves. There is a gap in the market and Ma'Bello Clothier is here to bridge that gap in the fashion industry. Most stores you walk into here in Nigeria rarely carry large, true to size clothes for women over a size 10 or 12. Just because you are curvy doesn't mean you can't be fashionable and trendy.
What were your aims?
To send a clear message that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes. Western magazines tell us what they feel is beautiful, but we (women) are all beautiful in our own unique way and Ma'Bello Clothier is here to achieve that goal with you.
You are launching your Ma'Bello brand this month; how do you think they will be received?
I think women will love the collection because finally there is a clothing that caters to curvy women. Over the years I have personally battled with finding nice clothes here in Nigeria, and soon I noticed that I was not alone in my frustrations. To shop I would have to wait to travel and this drove me to start Ma'Bello Clothier.
Do you think Nigeria is ready for a curvy line fashion brand as most plus size women do not seem comfortable being classified as such?
Most definitely, I feel Nigeria is long overdue for a clothing line for curvy women. I don't believe in labels hence I don't use them. The term "Plus Size" is one that should be embraced and not perceived as something bad. If you are a size 18, then be the best, confident size 18 out there. For you to feel good you have to look good, and as women we all have our assets; we just don't know how to enhance them.
What's your design philosophy?
Attention to quality and detail.
What kind of fabrics dominate your designs?
Ma'Bello has a mix of different fabrics. We use a lot of ankara mixed with order fabrics like chiffon and silk.
Are your designs influenced by your cultural roots or you're influenced by international fashion trends?
What we've done is to incorporate international trends and African fabrics to make a line that is globally-acceptable and wearable. Ma'Bello clothes can be worn everyday to suit every woman's life style - from the working woman, the socialite, the business woman and to the home maker, the line has something for everyone.
Can you tell us about your upcoming spring/summer collection to be launched on December 15?
The line has lots of bold fabrics in simple, easy and wearable styles. We've used a lot of lace, chiffon and ankara in the collection as well.
What should we expect in terms of shapes, themes and colours?
Empire cut, A-line, tailor cut pants. We used a lot of pinks, blue (cobalt), gold, lace and bold prints on ankara and silk
How would you describe your personal style?
Comfort and chic.
As a curvy woman yourself, what are the city essential items you cannot do without?
Sun glasses and sun screen. A pair of black and dark blue, skinny jeans.
Tell us about your craziest fashion moment?
I was rushing for a meeting and did not realize I wore my skirt inside out.
Your wildest fashion item ever worn?
Striped bell bottoms (white, blue and red stripes!)
What's the most fun place to go?
How do you relax?
I lock myself in my room, turn off my phones and watch a Tyler Perry Movie.
What has been you greatest challenge so far?
Getting access to materials - fabric and dedicated workers.
What was your childhood earliest ambition?
I wanted to be a doctor until I realized I wasn't science-inclined.
What is your greatest food indulgence?
Dodo (fried plantain).
What could you never give up?
What could you easily give up?
Are you confident about your body?
Yes, I love my body and I work with what I've got. I think I love the fact that I'm 5'8 tall (and close to 6 feet with heels); so clothes look decent on me.
If you could change something about your body, what will it be?
My tummy; it's a bit flabby after childbirth.
What is your take on cosmetic surgery?
It's a personal choice. If you feel it would help make you feel better then go for it.
What do you think of naturally curvy women or plus size women who are not comfortable in their skin and will do anything to lose weight?
Women should do whatever makes them happy; but I feel that as women we should love the you today and work towards the YOU you want to become.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
What attracted you to your husband?
His passion and he is very smart.
What is the nicest compliment your husband has given you that remains memorable?
I was eight months pregnant and he told me I was beautiful.
What has been your saddest moment?
When my mum died.
And happiest moment?
I would say moments - when I had my boys.
In your opinion, what attributes does one need to succeed in business?
Dedication and perseverance
Do you favour high end designer labels?
Not really; they don't carry my size. I love Lanre DaSilva Ajayi. She's flexible
If you could raid anyone's closet, who would it be?
Given an opportunity, which celebrity would you like to dine with?
There are two celebs I'd love to dine with - Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.
Who has been the greatest influence on your life?
If you were the first lady of Nigeria what sort of programmes would appeal to you?
I would start a welfare programme for the less privileged which would provide the basics they need to live. For women I would focus on abused women, open shelters which would create a safe haven for them and their children. I would start a mentoring programme for kids and part of the mentoring would include summer camp programmes so they have an opportunity to mix with other kids and learn life lessons too.
Age - 36
Western magazines tell us what they feel is beautiful; but we (women) are all beautiful in our own unique way.
Comfort and chic.
Craziest fashion moment - Was rushing for a meeting and did not realize she had worn her skirt inside out.
If she were the First Lady
She'd start a welfare programme for the less-privileged and open shelters for abused women to create a safe haven for them and their children.