Fashion in the Nigerian industry and the world over today has taken us by surprise. There are new trends daily, and it is important for all who love fashion to be in the know. Whilst back in the day, fashion was looked at as a ‘female’ thing; that has changed in recent times. Bold men now take the fashion stand and embrace it gracefully.
One of the most prominent faces we often see on the red carpet, whose designs and unique style blows our minds and keeps the ladies drooling is MAI ATAFO. This exceptionally creative mind has been in the industry long enough to be considered a fashion icon. His brand name MAI ATAFO INSPIRED is cleverly coined from his real name Ohimai Atafo – M for Mai, A for Atafo, and I for Inspired – Smart thinking.
We believe every fashionable man/woman should own a Mai Atafo Inspired outfit. Very serious minded and possibly one of the best fashion designers in Nigeria, he shares with 360nobs about his journey so far.
360NoBS: Who is Mai Atafo – The man and Mai Atafo – The designer?
MAI: I am from Edo state. I was born in Ife; I grew up in Ife, Lagos, Benin and England. I attended University staff school Benin; Federal Government College Ido-Ani, Ondo state; University of Ekponma, Edo state where I studied Agricultural Economics and finally City University, UK where I mastered in Information Systems and Technology.
There is no difference between the man and the designer. We are one and the same. I am me.
360NoBS: How long have you been into fashion?
MAI: Well, I’ve been into fashion full time for 2 years now. However, in September of this year, I would have been at it for 5 years.
360NoBS: What were you doing before?
MAI: I was working at an IT marketing company in the UK called Mosaic marketing solutions. When I got back to Nigeria, I worked at British American Tobacco (BAT) and after 4 years, I moved to Guiness Nigeria where I became the Senior Brand Manager before taking a break. Whilst in all these places, I dealt with every aspect of marketing where I acquired knowledge and skills I’m grateful for.
360NoBS: Why did you decide to take a break? And when you say “taking a break”, do you plan to go back?
MAI: I wanted to concentrate on just fashion for a while and explore the possibilities it had to offer. Also, if I had moved one step higher in the corporate world, I may not have wanted to take the break anymore. Yes, I intend to go back. It may be part-time or even full time, hopefully that would be when I can establish a structure were my business can stand on it’s own without so much involvement from me. I do miss marketing and I want to go back to it.
360NoBS: We know MAI ATAFO INSPIRED produces Menswear, Womenswear and the recently launched Weddings, besides these 3, do you have or are you planning to have any other?
MAI: They say when you say it, you jinx it. However, I’m hoping to do a Ready-To-Wear female line which would be more affordable.
360NoBS: What inspired the Wedding line?
MAI: It was just to show people the diversities, length and breath in terms of wedding fashion. There are different elements to consider, it goes beyond the normal traditional ones. So for instance, if someone wants a beach wedding, glamorous wedding etc, they can get Bridalwear that flows with the occasion.
360NoBS: You have one of the most outstanding Crest’s amongst Nigerian designers, does it represent anything?
MAI: Yes it does. The symbol that looks like the alphabet ‘A’ represents the A in MAI, so that’s my logo. The GREEN LEAVES represents growth which means the brand is growing and flourishing. The RED color in the background is a SHIELD which symbolizes blood and sweat; hard work basically. The LIONS on each side represent protection; they are protecting the empire I’m building. The CROWN as in king symbolizes I’m the best in what I do. And finally, my NAME at the bottom, that’s me.
360NoBS: What reaction did you get from your family when you decide to leave the corporate world for fashion?
MAI: It was really my decision to make and they were in support of me. The only person I had to reassure I wasn’t being silly and I knew what I was doing was my mum. But in the end, she was in support as well.
360NoBS: We know Mai Atafo is a happily married man, tell us a little about your family.
MAI: I am married. I have a wife, not male but female and that’s all the public gets.
360NoBS: Your line of work gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of attractive women, how do you handle this?
MAI: It’s part of the job. The women that come always have a need, so more often than not, the focus is usually on the need and I try to keep it as professional as possible. After that, it’s the next beautiful woman’s turn. And half the time, I deal with brides to be. My models are very professional and I love working with them.
360NoBS: What kind of work pressures do you face daily?
MAI: These interviews that put one out there. Because people associate wealth with popularity, they begin to see you in that light and this can put pressure on one. Besides that, lack of constant power supply, running on generator everyday is challenging. Also, getting the right people to you, being able to get enough capital and lack of proper infrastructure also puts pressure o one.
360NoBS: Everyone has a mentor or someone they look up to, for you, who would you say this person is?
MAI: Internationally in the fashion industry, Tom Ford. If I can achieve half of the things he has achieved in terms of his publicity, fashion and so on, I’ll be glad. Also, Puff daddy, Pdiddy or Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, he has different income generating businesses, an activist amongst other roles and he is respected.
360NoBS: We would like to think of you as someone who often steals his shows with his design, how do you achieve this?
MAI: Distraction for attention. It’s not always only about the clothes. Fashion entertainment counts as well; entertain and do fashion. When you give the audience something to remember, they’ll remember the name of the designer that entertained them while trying to remember the details of the entertainment.
360NoBS: Have you ever made any fashion blunders; something you regret?
MAI: Yes! Wearing a pocket square on a crested blazer. I think it’s wrong no matter what any designer says.
360NoBS: Can you recall your most impressive work?
MAI: My most impressive work has still not been made.
360NoBS: What kind of fashion designer would you say you are?
MAI: I’m a practical designer and I make functional clothes.
360NoBS: On a scale of 1-10, how impressed are you with your success thus far?
MAI: I’d say 4. This is because I believe I can do way better than I’m doing now. By the time I have a multimillion fashion empire, and then I’ll start getting happy.
360NoBS: Do your family and friends love what you do?
MAI: They love what I do. I mean, they get to claim me and get tickets to fancy shows, LOL. They really love what I do more than I do.
360NoBS: How much is your business worth?
MAI: I don’t know my business worth.
360NoBS: If you could change anything about the decisions you have made concerning your line of work, what would it be?
MAI: To take fashion as a business rather than a passion when I started.
360NoBS: A lot of people say the future of Nigerian weddings lie on the Wedding by Mai Atafo Inspired collection, how does this make you feel?
MAI: Wow! I haven’t heard that before, that’s a big cross to carry. I love it though! If that’s what they say, it makes me feel absolutely elated.
360NoBS: Which places has your passion for fashion taken you to?
MAI: I’m the fashion editor of Genevieve magazine. Last year, I attended the fashion week in New York and London for the first time. Hopefully, later this year, I should attend the fashion week again but inParis and Milan. I’ve also been to Abuja, Port Harcourt etc for fashions shows. However, in my head, I’ve been around the world. I research, follow trends, get familiar with creative directors of all the big fashion houses and know their story and this has given me a wealth of experience.
360NoBS: How would you say your adventure through fashion has been?
Mai: It has been very interesting and a huge eye opener.
360NoBS: The Arise Magazine Fashion Week is coming up*, what should the public be expecting from the MAI ATAFO INSPIRED BRANDS? (This interview took place on the 20th of February 2012).
MAI: This is the first time I’ll be showcasing, so it’s a bit mind bugging. But expect a good show. I’m going to showcase the male, female and wedding lines and make it as runway as much as possible. (MAI ATAFO would be showing TODAY, 8th of March 2012 at the FEDERAL PALACE HOTEL FOR 7PM).
360NoBS: What are your thoughts on the Nigerian fashion with the influx of new generation fashion designers?
MAI: Fashion designers inNigeria are creatively competent, great at what we do and are at par with other designers around the world. However, in terms of Fashion Marketing, Public Relations and Infrastructure, we are CRAP. This is not the fault of the designers; people don’t want to invest enough to appreciate it.
360NoBS: What does the future hold for Mai Atafo?
MAI: To focus on what I have now and try to expand it. Come up with fashion content for television. Fashion that may not be exclusively me, but I’ll be the one in charge and putting the content together.
360NoBS: Thank you very much Mai for this opportunity.
MAI: Thank you. :-)
There you have it. A great man, a great designer and one to most definitely keep watching.
The WEDDINGS BY MAI are priced at the following (from weddings by MAI website)
- Bespoke wedding dresses from N250,000 upwards
- Bespoke Suit from N65,000 upwards
- Bridesmaid’s Dress from N25,000 to N50,000
- Groom’s Men Cravat and Ties from N15,000 to N25,000
- Groom’s Men Cravat and Ties (Rental) N5,000 to N7,000
Contact Details: For all things MAI ATAFO INSPIRED and Weddings by Mai
B2A Block B,
Falomo Shopping Centre,
S. W. Ikoyi, Lagos State.
Tel: +234 (0)702 9104311
Mobile: +234 (0)803 405 7800