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Marvelous Olugu: Nigerian Fashion Rapidly Growing, Attracting Global Attention

Marvelous Olugu is the founder and CEO of House of Marvee Fashion brand. The Fashion brand’s first runway collection, ‘The Playground’ was one of the fashion shows which shut down the penthouse of Pier Harbour Residence, Victoria Island, Lagos in October 2023. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, the Marvee Fashion boss, who studied Sociology in the university and hails from Abia State, speaks about building her brand and some of the biggest challenges designers face in running their businesses

You started the brand in 2009 and you unveiled your first collection last year. Any reason it took that long?

I felt the brand was not ready to be shown to the world at that time. I was taking my time to perfect things and when I felt we were ready, I gave it a shot.

Last year, you unveiled your first collection, ‘the playground by Marvee’. What inspired it?

Playground views life as a playing field, where everyone comes together. Though we are all distinct in nature and attributes, in that moment our differences don’t seem to matter. Playground is where we all come to feel seen, loved and supported by our peers or the people we call friends or family. At it’s core, it’s about friendship and exploring the freedom that comes with knowing someone has your back. It’s embracing the uneven playing field of life, celebrating each win and milestone with the people you love. To portray this emotion, we played with silhouettes and techniques that allow for exaggerated movements which symbolizes freedom; the interwoven beading patterns illustrate life’s boundless interconnectivity; the floral beading patterns to symbolize growth; the maze beading embroidery patterns to represent the twist and challenges life brings. Structured silhouette for which evokes the inner strength and an overcomer mindset of a woman.

At the unveiling, you spoke so much about your fashion brand being all about women femininity and some of the clothes are hand crafted and hand woven. Why so much love for hand woven when there are so many machines that can do it in seconds?

As a child, I had always loved doing things with my hands. I was and still am quite crafty. I know how to sew; I know how to bead, I know how to weave. We also have young men and women we train to do these for us also. We train them on how to weave, sew, to bring the vision to life. I am a couturier at heart. I enjoy the art and the satisfaction of bringing things to life using old and forgotten techniques. In creating things by hand, there is a bond between the creator and the art- the process of unraveling through experiments where the art decides or takes shape into what it wants to be with the guidance of the creator, almost like the garments/art has a life of its own. This makes the clothes all the more special in the eye of the artist and the wearer.

Has fashion always been your biggest dream?

Yes! I have always wanted to do this for as long as I can remember. It’s hard to imagine what else I would have done if not dress making. Back then as children, when I was asked what I wanted to be, I always said a fashion designer. The other children would laugh at me saying I wanted to be a tailor. In their minds, it wasn’t as prestigious as being a doctor or lawyer and the likes.

When you started making clothes, who was the first person you made clothes for?

It wasn’t a person (shy face). It was a thing. Lol I would practice on my dolls. I don’t mean to be a cliché but I guess, I’m one of those designers who went through this route. The first person I made clothes for was a friend.

At what point did you tell yourself that it is either fashion or no other career?

It has always been fashion for me. However, I have to remind myself why from time to time, as running a business isn’t the easiest.

You make clothes mostly for women. Any particular reason for that?

Yes. I make clothes for only women, for now. I am a woman first of all and so naturally, women are my first love. It’s easy for me to express myself in my creative designs. In my line, I believe this is how I am supposed to look and that way, it is easy to create things for women.

You seem to have come from a wealthy family. Did your parents support your dream to become a designer or they wanted you to be a lawyer or doctor?

My parents are very supportive of me. However, my dad wasn’t at first. He wanted a career in politics or law for me but eventually realised this doll dress making wasn’t just a hobby. He ensured the secondary school I attended added clothing and textile to their curriculum to help me develop my skills.

Tell us what your view about Nigerian fashion industry is, the level as it is right now?

The fashion industry in Nigeria is rapidly growing. The opportunities are endless for us at this time. With the rise of social media, the world is paying attention and I’m happy to be a part of it at this time. Yes, it has its challenges. What industry doesn’t?

You have celebrities like Chioma Good hair Ikoku as one of your clients. How did you build that high class profile for your brand?

Like I said in the previous question, the world is paying attention. People would always gravitate towards good work.

These days, every lady wants a snatched waist, big hips and butt in their dresses, and so demand for corset is on the increase. Is this a problem when dealing with clients? Is it normal for almost everyone looking for the same figure?

To answer this, we first have to understand what a corset does for its wearer. Corsets are able to reduce the waist line by up to 3-5 inches over a prolonged period and give better posture. With that said, a corset isn’t the Holy Grail to achieve that “perfect” figure on your first wear. It only enhances your appearance if the overall garment is made properly. The women who come to us get educated on this.

What is your biggest dream for your Marvee Fashion brand?

To be one of the Member Houses of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, as a Nigerian fashion house.

Tell us about your personal style…what do you like wearing?

Oh, that’s easy. I’m a T- shirt and jeans kind of girl. I do have great legs, so, you’ll see me in shorts most of the time lol. I guess you can say my style is a combination of comfy chic and the occasional femme fatale look when I’m out.

What challenges have you faced building your fashion brand?

Yes, just like every other business in Nigeria, we are faced with various challenges daily. Power, instability of the Naira, cumbersome logistics channels, staffing, access to credit; just to name a few. However, we have, and we still surmount them as they come up. We learn, and we keep building.

The labour world complains that young apprentice are hard to get and most young people are too much in a hurry. Is this a problem when hiring in your business?

Yes, sometimes. I like to think it’s a challenge peculiar to Nigeria. We have a lot of young people, who are ready to work but lack the required skills for the type of jobs available in fashion but yet not patient enough to learn and master any of the skills required.

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