How to start and grow a successful fashion label in Nigeria- Mmakamba, Patricia Nsan
Let’s get to meet you, ma’am, tell us about your background?
My name is Patricia Nsan, at home, I’m fondly called Mmakamba – the inspiration behind my brand, Mmakamba fashion. I grew up in Calabar / Abuja with my parents and five siblings, we are four boys and two girls. I come from Akbabuyo, Cross – River state. It’s safe to say that I’m a Calabar girl. I attended Estate nursery and primary school Calabar, Regina Paris girls secondary school, Abuja, University of Nigeria Nsukka, and then Academia Riaci fashion school, Italy respectively.
Why did you decide to choose fashion designing as a career?
Growing up with my dad, a medical doctor /politician, and my mum, an astounding media personality and theatre artist. It was hard to foretell what path I will tow. I was raised by parents on two juxtaposing disciplines and I was left to be guided by my natural inclination. I remember always visiting my dad’s hospital and being so empathetic to the patients, I really wanted to become a doctor, for the primary reason that none of my siblings were science inclined, I wanted to be the white sheep, but life happened, I was art. Lol, nothing about me was made for the sciences, my mum’s genes dominated yet again.
Another defining moment for me was an honest review of me by my Fine Arts teacher in secondary school. I was about to make a choice of my course of study and Mr. Chijioke advised my mum to make me study fine Arts at the university. I was an excellent art student and he saw the passion I had for designing. This choice streamlined my learning to the basic things I needed and now use as fundamentals in designing.
What according to you is the favorite part of being an entrepreneur fashion designer
The fact that I get to own so many pretty clothes, you should see my wardrobe, lol, I’m kidding. I love the fact that my creations make such a huge impact on the lives of women. The fact that I empower the women and bring out a better, classier, emboldened, refined version of her, is the reason I’m still designing.
What skills according to you are necessary for a successful fashion designer
I’d advise that you gather as many skill sets as you can. At different points in time, you will be faced with different challenges, this is synonymous with anyone running an SME in Nigeria, challenges will come in customized and unique ways so your ability to not only be creative, but an entrepreneur, and manager is a huge skill you cannot overlook. You should be able to multitask, roll up your sleeves, and work. In the beginning, macro managing is not necessarily a luxury.
You should be as disruptive as much as you can be with innovation. I mean, that’s what helped us during the COVID pandemic. We were locked down but we were still selling because we learned how to be resourceful over the years.
How would you relate past and present fashion trends in Nigeria?
The truth is there’s nothing new. Every trend that comes around is an upgraded version of the old. It just recycles and comes back with a modern twist.
Nigerians are very stylish people. I admire our boldness. We are very “extra” and not minimal with our fashion. That’s just who we are and I love it. I’m loving the fact that the trend now is to patronize our own. Most women shop for Nigerian brands and that’s really encouraging. These days, craftsmanship has taken over mass production and I’m here for it.
You must have contributed to identifying and playing a major role in styling some models or celebrities in Nigeria, what was the experience working with them?
It’s funny how when started off, I used to dream of styling some major names in the industry. I remember writing down their names in my scrapbook and just waiting for the universe to attract them my way. I must tell you that one by one, they wore and patronized Mmakamba fashion. It all felt so dreamy. Now we are looking onwards to styling the international key players, influencers, and celebrities. That too has become a reality. We just styled a major international celebrity but I’m not going to spill before the pictures emerge. Be on the lookout! Winks.
A major highlight for me will be when Chimamanda Adichie reached out to me for the first time to order some MKB pieces. I was blown cos everyone is familiar with my obsession with her. I read almost all her books and just fell in love with her excellent spirit – who doesn’t. We have styled Tiwa savage, Kate Henshaw, Rita Dominic, Toke Makinwa, Regina Daniels, Adunni Ade, Waje, Nengi, Erica, Dakore, to name a few
Do you think the government is doing enough to support the fashion industry? What areas do you think need some immediate attention?
The government can help with production factories for designers. We are growing and our demand is increasing internationally. We need to be able to meet up demand as we run small-scale production hubs.
We need highly skilled experts in the various fields to train our tailors and staff in terms of design, pattern cutting, working the machines, etc. This will solve most of the problems we are being faced with. We have a challenge with the competence and expertise of our staff. We need to train our tailors and every other staff involved in the value chain. There’s room to do better. The government should open up training centers that can compete internationally. We are very talented in Nigeria; we need to be trained so we can produce passionate staff with products that will excel in the international market.
Constant electricity will also be very motivating as this single factor has caused a lot of businesses to fold up. Running your generator 24/7 and still paying for electricity bill which is not constant or predictable hikes the cost of operation.
The government should make grants more accessible to entrepreneurs as running a business is very expensive.
How would you describe your style?
I’m an Afrocentric queen with a contemporary touch. My personal style on a normal day would be an easy fluid dress, sneakers, and glasses, it’s the glasses for me, my glasses always stand as my best fashion accessory because I got an eye for them. It’s become my signature. Generally, for me, fashion must be synonymous with comfort.
What do you consider the important factors that will catalyze the fashion industry in Nigeria and Africa?
The fashion industry adds to the whole economy of the nation. It’s worth billions. We are still developing in terms of quality and industry. The industry is growing employment and giving people the vehicle to express themselves which is empowerment, which is key.
Most businesses like ours are self-funded, we need investors to be more forthcoming – both local and foreign. We are getting really big and need the financial capacity for expansion. We want our businesses to grow into more viable and sustainable businesses that will bring returns.
What are your greatest business strengths and possible weaknesses? What should we expect from your brand in the next 3 years?
The ability to design what my customers want and not what I want is a huge skill. I’ve been able to understand my target market and fine-tune my brand to wow them.
At Mmakamba fashion, our values are to be customer-centric, unique, people-oriented, and Excellent. These have driven us to greater heights.
Our weaknesses are masked by challenges which we conquer at every stage. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have learned to forgive ourselves and move on. Whenever we are faced with challenges, we look upon the bigger picture. The reason we exist. In all, we never give up and keep forging ahead. Remember, never a failure! Always a lesson!
Mmakamba fashion is 5 years in November and all we have to say is thank you, God. We love and appreciate everyone that has patronized and supported us through our journey. MMAKAMBA TO THE WORLD!