Meeting Abby Ikomi for the first time, you immediately get the impression you're talking to one of the brightest women you have possibly ever come across. She is on absolutely charming and beautiful lady. Mrs. Abby Ikomi is a fashion designer and the CEO of the fastest rising fashion brand in the country today, House of Irawo. Abby has an intensely creative mind. She's always constantly trying to think out of the box and keep ahead of her peers and competition. Little wonder why she has been able to transform her fashion outfit, House of Irawo, into such a big brand in just two years, taking the brand to places it would have taken others several years to get to.
She also runs a flourishing interior decor outfit called Homes and Fabrics, that's been in business for about 12 years and still counting. Abby is a proud, 50- year old mother of four who, it must be said, looks absolutely stunning for her age. She looks nothing like 50. And it sure looks like the older she gets, the better and more successful she becomes as an entrepreneur.
City People's Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL had a chat with this gorgeous lady and she revealed a lot about her background and how she's been able to make a success of House of Irawo in just two years.
Congratulations on the award you just received tonight. Share with us your thoughts, how does this recognition make you feel?
First of all, I'll like to say thank you to City People for this recognition award. I'm very excited, I'm very happy that within the short while that we started our brand, Irawo Fashion House based in Victoria Island, I'm so proud that we've been noticed. Yes, I'm very excited.
How did the journey start for you? How many years altogether?
Believe it or not, we've only been in the industry for two years. Before I went into fashion, I was in the interior business and I did that for about twelve years. I'm a natural creative, I'm very good with my hands. People would always tell me, you need to be in fashion, as you can see, I'm very stylish. A lot of family members and friends were always telling me, you need to be in fashion. So, two years ago, I decided and said, you know what its about time. So, I started my fashion business at age forty-eight, I'm fifty now.
You don't look anything like fifty, I must say. You look much younger....
Thank you. I turned fifty last month.
Alright, so, are you still doing interior or you totally left it for fashion?
Yes, I'm still doing interior. The name of my interior brand is Homes and Fabrics Ltd. We've been around for about 12 years. We started out from the Mega Plaza in Victoria Island before moving into our own shopping mall in Victoria Island as well. And that is where House of Irawo is located as well.
You've been in the fashion industry for two years now, how would you say the experience has been?
It’s been amazing. And I'm a hard worker. I work hard. I don't joke. Most of the times, I'm in my office till midnight. I do my best. Anything I do, I put in my best. I'm sure you're probably aware that the fashion industry is the next big thing to come out from Nigeria after Nollywood and music. See, there's a lot of culture appropriation right now in America with people trying to wear our stuffs and our designs. So, why can't we take it from here and take it to them, rather than for them to come and take from our culture and designs and take them back. So, our plan is really to totally engage the world and we'll do it.
What did you set out to become when you were young?
I've always wanted to be in the fashion business. But then, I wanted to start out as a model because I was very skinny and very attractive, but of course, I had very traditional kind of parents that refused. So, all along I always said I wanted to be a model, I wanted to be in the fashion industry, I wanted to impact on that aspect of beauty. At a point, people used to say I look like Naomi Campbell....
They're not wrong, ma.
Okay. My kids would tell you, my mum looks better. They'll tell you, 'Naomi doesn't have any child, mum, you've done well for yourself.'
And how many kids are we talking about?
I have four kids.
Wow! Lets have their ages, please.
Twenty-six, twenty-four, twenty-one and sixteen.
Incredible. Is your first child male or female?
Three girls back to back, then I have the last one, male. My daughters are also very invested in the business. They stay in the United States.
Your first daughter would certainly look like your sister....
The three of them, we look like sisters. When we step out and they say mum, people would be like, 'ehn, where is the mum? Is she your mum or she's your friend?'
You have really been blessed, ma.
Yes, I give all glory to God always. I always give him the glory.
Within 6 months of starting the business, we were invited to take part in the Arise Fashion Week. I just got back from Lesotho fashion week in South Africa and in October, which is a few months away, we've been invited to the Accra fashion week. We're doing big things. We're doing amazing things. And its not just me. I have an amazing team. My children, like I said, are also on the team. My husband has been very supportive and I've got very supportive friends. I thank God that something that could take some people ten years or more has taken us just about two years. And this is just the very beginning, we haven't even scratched the surface yet.
What are those unique qualities that stand out your brand from the rest of the pack?
I would say the fact that our designs are very unique in the sense that I look at the woman and see what can work for her. I don't generalise. When I see you, I advise you on what to wear. I also do a lot of styling. Apart from designing, I'm also a stylist. So, when I see you I tell you, you know what, this is what should work for you. So, therefore, when I eventually create a piece for a woman, she feels very unique and very special. That's why everybody keeps coming back.
How about your fabrics, do you work with a lot of African prints?
Yes, I do a lot of prints. When we do our collections, I prefer to use prints. But when I make designs for an individual, we use a lot of laces and stuff.
What's your overview of the fashion industry in Nigeria?
The fashion industry in Nigeria is about to take off big time. In fact, it has taken off. In another few years, we'll be competing with New York Fashion Week. Look, the average Nigerian woman is extremely stylish. Even the one that is in the village is stylish. So, really, the world is not ready for what we're about to give them.
Where would you say you picked up your passion for fashion from, mum or dad?
My mother was extremely stylish. She was like the best of her peers. So, its only natural that I would take after her.
What about your girls, what roles do they play in the business?
My oldest daughter is in charge of Communications and Media. My second daughter is an Accountant. She's in charge of all our finances and my youngest daughter is in charge of our PR and online marketing. So, they're all involved in the business even though they're in the United States, they're still involved. As we're here now, my Chief of Staff is busy sending them pictures, they're posting on the websites and they have a lot of friends and their friends too get involved and all that. Like I said, it’s not just my effort, it’s a collective effort.
In another few years, where should we look forward to seeing you?
Expect me right there in New York Fashion Week. Also, do not be surprised if you find that CNN has come to interview this mother of four who discovered herself at age forty-eight and is doing wonderful things.