Salihat Rahaman is a breath of fresh air, charming and beautiful in her gorgeous pieces that balance modesty with a sweet aura of attraction. The architect and founder of Abaya Lagos graced us with her thoughts on being a fashion entrepreneur while still practicing as an architect.
By Damilola Oyewusi
“Architecture is my first love; I still practice and I don’t think I will ever be able to give it up! What I find wonderful is the fact that the world of design, whether it is clothing or accessories; structures or even just spaces speak one language – innovation and creativity. This is where all the sub-elements come together. Mind you, a few world-famous architects have gone on to design luxury jewelry and other accessories, while world-class fashion designers have also gone in the reverse order to design luxury spaces in real estate.”
The lover of family, music and the arts describes her foray into the fashion business as an unplanned but worthy venture.
“I started AbayaLagos purely to solve a problem. I was growing out my natural hair and being a practicing site architect on the go, traveling from place to place, I had to develop the design for a headwear that I could simply slip on and go on a difficult hair day, with the look of having been carefully wrapped. Sometime after that, I rediscovered a love and appreciation for abayas (flowing robes and overalls) and found that these could complement the turbans and in vibrant colors, trendy styles and silhouettes. The compliments and orders I got propelled me into doing it as a side hustle until it became almost impossible for me to remain in paid employment and handle AbayaLagos at the same time and in the way that I felt was right for the business. That said, I eventually resigned this year as the youngest Executive Board Member at Design Group Nigeria. The rest is the beginning of a most thrilling life and career experience of my life!”
While the fashion trend in today’s world is to ‘show some skin’, She was not deterred in choosing this particular niche focused on modesty with the firm belief that “if provided the right fashion, modesty would be the preferred wardrobe style for most women.” This was the challenge that sparked her choice of niche.
However, she admitted to facing certain challenges in her business. “Creatives sometimes tend to make poor business people, so in my case, I was designing away and loving how my sketches came to life, while not paying attention to profitability and growth of the business. Learning the business of fashion itself has been the greatest challenge. I am still learning, but I also have had great help along the way and my family has been super.”
She considers her first official collection launch in 2015 as the “spark” moment of her success. “The reception was great and I never expected the sales that were made in that one evening. The publicity that followed was amazing!! People still remember it to this day. It is a constant reminder and validation for me that there is definitely something special about the brand.”
When asked if there were some things she wished she knew earlier, Salihat said she wished she was more focused and planned deliberately because she has come to understand that the results from planning are impressive unlike when things are done on a whim.
There are however no regrets as she has learned from the experience to keep her brand going strong. Now, she advises others starting up in the industry to stay focused. “My principle is – focus, focus, and focus. This industry is full of all sorts of distractions – some make you feel that you are not doing enough; some like you are already at the top. The key is to just keep working and keep your eye on the ball. Eventually, the work pays off. It is a constant evolution, this business of fashion and design.”
Salihat would like to mentor one deserving youth as a way of giving back to the society. “Knowledge is power. That is the one great way that I think I can empower others. There is not enough knowledge transfer going on. Those coming behind need a platform to take off from in terms of knowledge that they can build on. I am currently mentoring a young lady who makes accessories. She is eager to learn and hungry for knowledge. Now I know next to nothing about making accessories, but through our conversations, I fuel her hunger to research, and I question her processes and business module so that she is pushed to see the pitfalls and mitigate against them or develop it to be better.”
Laughing heartily as our photographer made a comment about capturing her personality in a photo, she said, ‘Even the entire room is not enough to capture my personality”. We believe her and look forward to Abaya Lagos achieving massive success and making a real impact across the country and the world.
To be a mentee with Salihat Rahaman of Abaya Lagos, apply here
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read more articles.