Fashion has always been monumental, pivotal at times, changing culture, society and bridging communities. It also blesses us with aesthetics and grand visuals that are undeniably captivating. It defines our taste, enamouring us with wonder and encouraging us to contemplate our appearance.
We had the privilege of gaining insight into the fashion industry, branding, and a unique approach to design by interviewing Gozi Ochonogor, the Creative Director and owner of the fashion label U.Mi-1
Paying tribute to the 3 cultures that Gozi calls home: Nigeria, Britain and Japan, U-Mi-1 offers a modern interpretation of Nigerian culture weaved with British tailoring and Japanese minimalism elements in a style described as “tailoring with a twist”.
Stocked internationally and with plans to establish a fashion school in Nigeria for aspiring designers, it’s no wonder that the ethos of the brand is Unity and a belief that all cultures share more similarities than differences.
Read on to learn more from Gozi about her desire for creating fashion, the building of U.Mi-1 as a brand, and the uniqueness embedded in the pieces she brings to reality.
Where did your passion for fashion come from?
Gozi: From the stories my mother would tell me about refusing to go to nursery if my ribbon didn’t coordinate with my socks.
I’d say it was innate but I would credit my father who is a dapper dresser and a bit of a show-off. He taught me to know a good dresser by their shoes. I love music and growing up I consumed a lot of music videos. MTV was where it all came together. I loved the way the artists dressed, and I took inspiration from them for my wardrobe.
How did you start to build your brand?
Gozi: I started U.Mi-1 while I was living in Japan.
At the time, I had just lost my job as the fashion company that I worked for was closing its operations. I didn’t want to return to London, so I decided to make a collection and sell it to stores. I had nothing to lose. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was determined. I didn’t speak Japanese either and communicated with my factories and suppliers through a translation software.
I didn’t have much luck convincing many buyers to come see the collection at first, but one night I was dancing in a night club and a lady asked my friend who I was. He introduced us. She was a very influential buyer from Beams department store. I told her I had a collection and she said she wanted to see it. She did and bought it. It was not a big spend but this gave me the confidence to carry on and she bought more every season, impressed with my design, quality and ability to deliver on time.
A brand is much more than products or the Creative Director’s lucky break and U.Mi-1 brand has evolved to what it is today. You can read about how the brand and what sets us apart here.
What space did you see in the market for U.Mi-1’s unique approach to tailoring and style?
Gozi: I wanted to make clothing for men who needed to look modern and cool. Clothing that was easy on the eye as men like it but filled with a lot of interesting quirky detailing that the wearer discovers with each wear.
It is about personal luxury. The market is not that large, mostly creative professionals like architects, graphic designers etc. We are now working with a Nigerian fabric Aso-oke and moving the brand into the denim space, offering something unique and sustainable. As always, the tailoring and design aesthetic remains.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own brand?
I would say know what sets you apart. Your story is important as that is what people connect to, not your products.
Why do you do what you do? Let this answer be seen in every crevice of your company – the product, colours, the fonts, the way you communicate.
Think creatively and differently. This is how to build a successful brand. But most importantly, find out what people need and provide for that need. A lot of people don’t do enough research before they start a business, and this is so important.
Our Future Creative Summit is an opportunity to celebrate Creatives like Gozi Ochonogor. It is also a space to address and provide solutions for Black creatives and professionals who historically experience a lack of recognition for their work. We encourage you to join in on the conversation by becoming a member of our community as we shift the paradigm to reflect a workplace and society that is inclusive and truly honours the Black community.