By Damilola Fatunmise
For Funmilola Oluwajuwonlo Oduronbi, being a fashion designer is more than just designing and making clothes, it’s a lifelong passion for making things happen.
Going by his amazing works, one might wonder if Oduronbi had a background in fashion design. Rather, she earned her first degree in Mass Communication from Babcock University and her second degree in Strategic Marketing Communication from the University of Greenwich, UK.
Oduronbi’s fashion label, Atoke Atelier, was born out of passion and the quest for well-fitting, high-quality outfits. “I’ve always admired international brands like Louis Vuitton, Dorothy Perkins, Prada, Chanel, among others, and I think to myself ‘why can’t we sew like this?’ So I decided to learn the art of sewing at a reputable fashion school, Artmonde Design School, formerly known as Airvy Training Center. After completing my course in 2017, I launched my own brand the following year with the help of friends and family members,” she explained.
Since then, Funmi Oduronbi has not looked back. In this rare interview, she opened up about her journey so far. Enjoy it.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
My name is Funmilola Oluwajuwonlo Oduronbi. I am from Abeokuta, Ogun State. I am a certified fashion designer, tutor and lead designer at Atoke Atelier, a fashion brand. I enjoy my company and enjoy the company of my friends as well.
After studying mass communication, why did you choose to be a fashion designer and not a journalist or a broadcaster or even a public relations specialist?
I have always had a passion for advertising and this prompted me to study mass communication. Back in high school, I used to master TV commercials and dramatize them for my classmates. At the same time, I was that girl who did well with everything I got my hands on. I was and still am good at everything, and I’m proud of the fact that there’s nothing I can’t do. So, the transition to a full-time fashion designer was easy.
My journey as a fashion designer started by chance, which has now become a passion. Fashion allows me to express my creativity, knowing that I am responding to a need for people. The funny thing is that my training really helped me. I was able to apply the knowledge acquired to my job as a designer, but also to the management of the company.
Tell us about your fashion brand, Atoke Atelier?
Atoke Atelier is a women’s clothing brand, and it caters to the fashionable, sophisticated woman who likes to look good. We make wedding dresses, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear. We also train fashion enthusiasts who wish to learn the art of sewing. Our ready-to-wear brands are created to promote Africa’s rich cultural heritage through clothing. It is safe to say that this is an “Afrocentric line”.
What makes your fashion brand unique?
The uniqueness of our brand lies in the experience and feeling that comes with being an Atoke woman. This is fully packaged with our attention to detail, finish and specialness (every woman/client is distinct). We believe fashion isn’t just something to wear; it should also be a lifestyle. Therefore, our clothing and accessories are designed to bring out all the beauty in our customers and give them the confidence to express themselves through their appearance.
Why do you only cater to a female clientele?
First, for the obvious reason of being a woman, but we plan to add men’s clothing soon.
What inspires you to design the clothes you sew?
Different things inspire me. These include fabric, body shape, colors and occasions. Nature also inspires me.
What is fashion for you?
Fashion is a lifestyle. It is a form of expression. You can be whoever you want to be with your style.
What is your favorite outfit and why?
I can’t say that I have a particular favorite clothes. As long as I’m comfortable in an outfit, I rock it.
What wouldn’t you be surprised to wear?
All in tatters.
How do you handle a difficult customer?
The best way for me is to satisfy such a customer and be extremely patient with the person. I make sure to listen and note anything they want, including complaints. After working with such a customer and the problems persist, I might refuse the next order.
Tell us about your most memorable experience as a fashion designer.
The most memorable moment is every time a customer comes for a fitting. Their expression is priceless to me. It’s always a memorable and fun time.
Could you also tell us your lowest moment?
My lowest moment would be the pandemic which came with changes beyond our power.
Who are your mentors or role models in the fashion industry, both locally and internationally?
My models are Deola Sagoe, Ohimai Atafo, Evioghene, Adetoke Olowo, Fisayo Longe and Coco Chanel among others.
What challenges do you face as a fashion entrepreneur in Nigeria?
The main challenge is the workforce and obtaining qualified workers. Another challenge is the relentless power outage.
How would you describe the journey so far and what are the future plans for your brand?
The trip so far has been good. It’s a mixture of good, bad and ugly. But overall, Atoke thrived.
I was able to style different calibers of people. Additionally, I was able to use my skills as a stylist and pattern maker to impart knowledge to others through various platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and physical workshops, and I had the pleasure of training over 40 people who are passionate about fashion and who love creativity and want to explore their creative side. My future plan is to live my vision, which is to be a global brand.