Laura Chinenye Agwu Kester, CEO Nene Kester Vibrant Collection is one of Abuja's recent additions to the fashion industry. In this interview with Solomon Nda-Isaiah, she speaks about her love for fashion
How did you start your journey into the fashion industry?
I'm popularly known as Nene Kester. I am 27 years old, married with two kids. My husband is Agwu Kester, owner of Anan world. It was only recently that I ventured into the fashion industry. I recently launched my brand in Victoria Island, Lagos. I never went for fashion training but I always had this flair for fashion while growing up but I never gave it much thought until after my tertiary education. My husband was into the fashion business for some time and I helped him manage the business for two years and he prompted me to open my own brand because he knows my flair and love for the fashion industry.
Do you think Nigerians are fashionistas?
Yes. Nigerians are very fashionable people. They are crazy about fashion. Our fashion industry is doing a lot at the international level. A lot of investors are coming to take some of what we have here. People like Gucci are infusing our Ankara fabrics into their design and we still go and buy it from them. It is no longer what it used to be in the past. We now have a lot of fashion shows and events where we display our fashionable side so that proves that Nigerians are fashionable people.
How was growing up like for you?
It was very good for me. I come from a family of four, two boys and two girls. My dad who is now retired, was strict. My mum is a teacher and a consultant. They instilled in us those religious values and it helped to shape our lives. I was a tomboy in school, very athletic. I play football and was running for the school. I schooled in Command Secondary School, Abakaliki. I was popular and very sociable so it was fun all through for me. I attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka studying accounting. I graduated in 2007, I met my husband in 2008. We got married in 2009 and then the kids started coming.
How do you balance work and family?
It was not easy at first but as a woman, I had to learn to do it. I also had to balance between my children and my husband. Thankfully, my job is a flexible one when I am home I am a wife and a mother. I have learnt to multitask a lot so that I can get things done quickly.
Who are your role models in the fashion industry?
One of them is Biola Shogo. She is a very edgy designer and she has made Nigeria proud on the international level. She recently launched her jean line and I see myself in her. Another person I like is Keto Couture. When I went to her place in Abuja here I was wowed. She has some really outstanding designs so I look up to these two people in the fashion industry.
How much of the Nigerian/African culture are your designs?
I would say that a lot of the Nigerian culture is reflected in some of my designs. From my cocktail dresses to the party wears to the casuals, they all have a touch of the African culture, especially my evening dresses. It is a mix of the English and the African designs. I believe that a woman should be well covered, with nothing too revealing about her outfits. I consider our norms and values when designing a dress. Although I also have some edgy pieces that have nothing to do with culture for celebrity videos and such things.
How do you get concepts for your designs?
Anything that I see can be an inspiration for me. It could be the table, the paper, the sky , a book or Google, anything at all. Everything around me can give me a unique concept.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
Fashion helps one express him or herself. So it should always be based on what you find interesting and not what another person wants. It is a reflection of one's self expectations and not what the society expects.
Is fashion synonymous with nudity as shown by some celebrities?
Yes and no. Yes, who because there are some celebs that like it vulgar while there are some others like it quiet in the fashion sense. For those who like to be heard or vulgarlike Tonto Dikeh and Cossy Orjikor, it is their style. They have very controversial personalities. The likes of Genevieve and Omotola are on the quiet side because that is the way they are. So it depends on individuals.
How can you use fashion to rebrand Nigeria?
The fashion industry is a multi billionnaira industry so it is not just about the clothes that end up on the stands. It is about the pins, the needles, the beading, the accessories, every details that goes into the dress. Along the way, you are employing people in a bid to make a dress and that empowers poepl financially. Money is made along the way and the use of Ankara fabric promotes a positive image of the country to the world so fashion is relevant and is rebranding the country.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about my family and my business and those I work with. We always plan things together every day
How do you unwind?
Well I love to hangout a lot. I love to eat and I love cosy places. I travel a lot and my favourite place is Dubai. I also love to dance even when I am pregnant