Why I’m making a case for plus-size women — Nigerian designer

Temi Aboderin Alao is a fashion designer and the CEO of the Golden Curvy Agency.
Temi Aboderin Alao is a fashion designer and the CEO of the Golden Curvy Agency.

Temi Aboderin Alao is a fashion designer and the CEO of the Golden Curvy Agency. Having struggled to find fitting and appealing outfits as a teenager, she was determined to fill the void.

She launched JP Couture in 2012, offering styling service, image consulting, and training of plus-size models.

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, she talks about the business side of her hobby, challenges and motivation.

PT: How was it starting a movement for plus-size women in Nigeria at a time when it was largely unpopular?

Temi: When I started in 2012, there was almost nothing about plus size. We kept going, even when we got laughed at. At shows, you’ll hear people saying, ‘what are these people going to do? They’re going to fall’. So at first when we started there was the hostility because people will think ‘oh, you’re promoting obesity’. That’s the primary thing you will always hear. Or ‘can these fat girls walk?’ or ‘will the runway break?’

Over the years, it has improved because with our persistence in doing plus size, suddenly around 2015, everybody and their grandmother started doing plus size. By 2016, it was everywhere and then other people decided that’s what they wanted to do and they now want to say they are the ones that started it, which is not the case.

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PT: Why were you motivated to tow this path?

Temi: I’ve always grown up being plus size. And my father James Olubunmi Aboderin of Punch used to call us princess. So that was what gave birth to my initial brand, James Princess Kingdom. Prior to that, my mum has also been quite fashionable so I’ve always had that stylish feel.

Obviously, growing older and becoming a mum, I haven’t really kept up with the way I used to be excessive with fashion. But I’ve always had that love for fashion. It was one of my friends in England that told me; back when we were still there, that ‘you need to show people that they can be stylish and plus-size’. That was what gave birth to the JP Kingdom. I was still very much UK-based then.

So, 2012 was when we did a physical launch over here. The truth is when we started, nothing like that was around. When I was in secondary school in Nigeria, I remember that I could never buy anything from here. I would have to find something from abroad and even then, it was still limited. It really isn’t that case now. Now it’s everywhere. Almost every high street store abroad has a plus-size section now.

PT: Why did you start training plus-size models?

Temi: I’ll try and say this with all humility. Nobody trains plus size models like me. That is a fact. Take it and pay into an account. I am the best when it comes to training plus size models because it was something I wanted to do myself and because I’m a perfectionist there’s a way that I have mastered that craft. I don’t shy away from challenges.

At a recent plus-size fashion show, it was only the models trained by my agency that the crowd clapped for on the runway. Not my show, this is another show. There is a difference in how we train our models and how other people do.

PT: Since your fashion line is a hobby, aren’t you worried about plagiarism?

Temi: I trademark everything. I’m British. All my designs and works are trademarked and copyrighted. You can’t do it for every single piece that you have. It will be too expensive.

That is not my primary focus and that is the British person in me talking. It is for me to have fun. Even though people are telling me I need to reprogram my thinking when it comes to fashion but for me my business or what I see as the business is this Plus-size Fashion Week Africa.

All the training initiatives we want to put in place for the new age of designers and then obviously the modelling competition that was part of the show is designed to bring out a plus-size model from here and take her to an international stage. This has never happened before.

PT: Your designs have a lot of glitter and shine. Why so?

Temi: I like things being shiny. I think I mentioned before that this is like my hobby. I’m not actually looking at what is in demand. When it comes to JP Couture, for me it’s living vicariously through fashion. It’s just me doing what I like. I can turn around and keep doing Ankara, which I tried to do with that, but as you can see I still threw shiny stuff on it.

I’ve been told that I need to think like other people but like I said, it’s a hobby. If I were thinking along the lines of it being wearable, then maybe I would do the other stuff that people want to wear. But for me, it’s just having fun.

PT: Why are you just coming out as a plus-size fashion pioneer?

Temi: I’m an introvert. I’m not a person that goes out and networks. I’m also very reserved. Permit me to say, in Nigeria, we brag a lot. People brag a lot and even those that don’t have to brag. I don’t believe in that. I believe that substance is quiet.

I’ve been in England all my life, and having that upbringing is very different to how things are here. In the UK, nine out of 10 times, your work will speak for itself; end of story. But in Nigeria, one out of 10 times, your work speaks for itself. The rest of it is noise and plagiarism.

I believe that what I do speaks for itself but I have realized that in this environment, it is not enough.

PT: Tell us more about Plus-size Fashion Week Africa

Temi: There are so many plus-size designers who don’t have a platform of visibility so that is what the Plus-size Fashion Week Africa is. Both designers here and even the ones internationally that want to expand their brand can come and showcase. So it is for both international and local designers who would not be known if they didn’t have this platform.

That’s the aim of the platform and it has also inspired a new generation of plus-size designers. Another thing I liked about our show is that designers who do normal standard sizes — when they saw Plus-size Fashion Week Africa — were excited and they extended their range to the plus-size market.

It is important because it is not just about my brand it is about the plus-size community. It is about everyone and that is why at the beginning of a runway show, you have a video of the designer talking.

PT: What challenges have you faced in your quest to promote plus-size fashion?

Temi: Since 2016, I have felt like I wanted to pack up shop and go because, you know, it was like I wasn’t getting any recognition for what I’ve been doing.

That was when I felt like ‘oh I don’t even live here, this is not my country’. It was very bad last year (2017). It was a lot of work to put the show together. It wasn’t smooth sailing. The fact that the event happened and it happened successfully is by God’s grace.

I was confused as to how people were easily manipulated to absorb the negative as opposed to the positive. I also felt like I had wasted my time coming back to Lagos. I think that was the breaking point for me.

Another thing I found out when I came back to Lagos is everybody was saying ‘oh yeah if you’re not on the island then it’s not happening’. That kind of mentality also shocked me a bit. Because as a kid, people lived on mainland, island and it wasn’t a problem.

And then certain people will send spies to come here to try and understand what our training program is like and to copy our designs. Then I thought to myself that if they keep sending people here, it means there is some value here that even I am not seeing.

So I have no other choice but to keep to keep going because there must be something here. Instead of backing away, we’re now standing our ground so I’m practicing what I preach.

PT: What impact has the Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa had?

Temi: A lot of standard size designers are also opening their doorway into the plus-size market. Another standard size designer who just travelled was saying that someone in the US ordered her piece off the runway at Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa. So the truth is; it is working.

Even if some plus-size people want to be petty and do whatever they are doing, the truth is, it’s going to open the doorway for all the standard size people who want to expand.

PT: Did you take a course in fashion?

Temi: I took two courses at the London College of Fashion. I also went to a couture school where I learnt how to put pieces together.

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