By Christy Anyanwu
Kolade Folarin is an international fashion designer and corporate director with an interest in oil and gas.
He is Creative Director and Managing Director of BanKola Brand Limited, based in London, UK.
He holds a degree in Oil and Gas Management from Coventry University, London, and runs his fashion brand, established to positively project African culture to the world.
The seasoned UK-based entrepreneur recently hosted a fashion show in Nigeria, where he spoke with Sunday Sun about his life as a fashion designer, from his childhood.
He also gave advice to future designers and much more.
Can you give us an overview of your background?
I’m from Owo in Ondo State, Nigeria, and spent my early childhood years there, before moving to Ibadan and Lagos. I later emigrated to the UK. I was brought up by disciplined parents. Incidentally, both made their living as entrepreneurs. I studied Oil and Gas Management at Coventry University. When I saw the opportunity to invest in the fashion industry, I created my brand to make a difference and contribute my quota to its development.
What opportunity have you seen in the industry?
Fashion is a way of life and it’s an industry that never stops evolving. Living in the UK made me realize that there is a lot of potential in creating African and cosmopolitan designs that people universally appeal to. This opportunity will continue to be explored as people can never tire of being drawn to fancy clothes. People want to be beautiful every day, and a designer who delivers what they want will continue to make a living from their creations. The idea started to develop as I remembered my childhood in Nigeria and how we used to enjoy adorning exotic African clothing. I did my research and realized that African designers were only scratching the surface in terms of what they could achieve in the industry and decided to go for it, being optimistic about making a difference. with my brand. Before creating the brand, I was selling high end watches from an American and Turkish connection. That was about six years ago. The company took me to different parts of Europe as I had to do a lot of networking to establish a successful business. I discovered that I had great communication skills and good customer service with people and really enjoyed what I was doing. From that moment I started to think about how to develop myself by creating my own brand and BanKola was born.
Tell us about working life in the UK as a designer?
Working life in the UK as a designer has its pros and cons. The advantages being that I have a large group of friends who live in the UK and gladly support my passion for design. I feel blessed in this regard and I always feel lucky to be surrounded by a true network of individuals. I find myself invited to many functions that give my brand a boost as well as ideas. The downsides include being in a country where buying major designs is all the rage. I find myself working extraordinarily to get my brand noticed. Still, my eyes are on making it to the top.
What advice would you give to young people who want to join your sector?
They have to work hard at what they want to be good at. Having the desire to work as a designer and be the best is important, as long as it doesn’t hurt others. I advise them to do their best and prove that they can go from zero to hero through hard work.
Who do you see as the biggest influences in your life?
My mom is my biggest influence in life. She has always been by my side through thick and thin. She has a sense of dress that I admire and the love she has for her children is to be admired. Other than her, I find myself influenced by people like Akon and Davido. These two gentlemen, in my opinion, have worked hard to put Africa on the map. I admire their hard work. I also love the way they get involved in charities to help the less privileged. For me, this is what gives me the inspiration and motivation to work even harder to get my brand noticed. I also aspire to work so that I can have a positive impact on the lives of the less privileged and empower them to be the best they want to be.
Tell us about some of your memorable moments growing up?
Growing up, I helped my father with his business. He was in the car business. I was good at fixing faulty TVs, faulty irons, etc., and helped him fix some of the faults in the imported vehicles he brought from Amsterdam. He used to travel in and out of Nigeria and ship hundreds of cars from Amsterdam. Our dealership would be filled with a lot of people who intended to negotiate car prices with him. After school I would rush home and without even taking off my white school uniform I would help fix car faults and resell them. The most interesting part for me was that at the end of the “working day” my father would call me aside and give me money. It put a big smile on my face.
As a fashion entrepreneur, what inspires you?
When I see how proud people are to wear our African clothes, I feel very inspired to create more distinctive styles that would appeal to various categories of people in different parts of the world. I love to explore and have learned that African culture and traditions are endless; the materials for creativity in them are ceaseless.
Where do you see yourself in the global fashion competition?
I consider myself one of the biggest owners of internationally renowned brands. Being an ambassador for our locally created and existing brands would allow me to create an environment that encourages people to support theirs. I also can’t wait to mirror myself with people like Akon who go out of their way to put Africa on the map because of his outstanding hard work. We also want to add value to humanity and create a lasting legacy. It is important to always support our young people because they are future leaders and we have resolved to contribute to their development by creating a school of fashion, art and dance. Nigeria is blessed and the more than 200 million inhabitants make the country a destination of choice for investors keen to explore business opportunities, including fashion, on the African continent. Japan became a booming fashion market in the 1960s and 1970s, as did China in the late 1990s. Nigeria has the potential to replicate this feat in Africa. We plan to have a large BanKola store chain in Nigeria to be part of this projected development.
How would you describe your experience organizing a fashion show in Nigeria?
The BanKola Brand Fashion Event Lagos was set up to showcase Nigerian culture and give Nigerians a chance to win the various prizes including a new car which was the grand prize. We had over 20 professional models on stage wearing various traditional, cultural, elegant and urban outfits created by us while over 700 guests attended the event. This was all made possible by working alongside collaborators and event managers such as Allevents, Brendance and Crusaders Limited and DopeBoy Entertainment. The event was made colorful with the presence of DJ Xclusive, Brymo, Acapella, MC Smart, Denrele Edun and Kulh who engaged the audience in their own way. So much activity and engagement has taken place to get the public’s attention. The BanKola 2021 face search had a total of 1,400 registered participants and the first prize winner got the brand new car and an Ambassador contract for the year 2021. It was a very exhilarating experience. We intend to make The Face of BanKola an annual event.
What are the challenges encountered in the industry?
One of the few challenges was having unforeseen situations. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, it caused a lot of disruption in the business. Everyone had to follow the protocol and regulations set by the government, due to the pandemic. We were in the process of hosting our first fashion event in Nigeria labeled The BanKola Brand Fashion Event Lagos, when the pandemic broke out. This had a slight impact on progress towards the event. However, we complied with government regulations on COVID-19 protocols in Lagos and eventually hosted the event at the Landmark Event Center on Victoria Island, Lagos. The Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Lagos State Security Commission (LSSC) have been very supportive.
What is your driving force?
My optimal goal is to provide people with the opportunity to have access to both casual and cultural clothing, while providing them with unique materials at affordable prices. We intend to accomplish this in different parts of the world, adding real value to the way fashion is viewed globally.