Made for Royalty | Paying Homage to Nigerian Culture

On command, a model sashays across the floor in a fitted gold mermaid-styled gown. Reflecting light along the way, the satin train smoothly follows her. Gold lace wraps her shoulders. As she gracefully poses, designer Osayame Uzamere makes a video on his cell phone.

(DoNorth/Arnold Barretto)

On command, a model sashays across the floor in a fitted gold mermaid-styled gown. Reflecting light along the way, the satin train smoothly follows her. Gold lace wraps her shoulders. As she gracefully poses, designer Osayame Uzamere makes a video on his cell phone.

His workroom is situated in the basement of deFredenburgh Hall at Plattsburgh State University. Fabrics decorated in bold geometric patterns poke out of tall metal cages. For many, they would need a chair to grab all the material from the top of the cage. For Uzamere who stands at 6’6”, stature, everything is easily accessible. Dressed in a red hoodie, gray sweatpants and black Nike sandals with matching socks, he grabs his sewing machine, ready to make new garments.

A love for fusing haute couture with Nigerian influences marked the beginning of Uzamere’s brand, Omooba Fashions.

Uzamere attended Pathways College Preparatory School in Queens, New York. In 2011, as a high schooler, he was known for his trendy sense of style. His looks were never complete without his go-to bow ties. Inspired by his Nigerian roots, Uzamere wanted to create bow ties out of African fabrics and prints. The thing was— he couldn’t sew. He searched video tutorials on how to make African printed-ties to no avail. Determined, he took on the challenge to teach himself how to sew.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” he says.“It was a lot of wasted thread and material, but that’s how I started.”

Eventually, his signature bow ties won the attention of his fellow classmates. During his senior year of high school, he was asked to be a part of the school’s fashion show. He assumed his job was to help organize the event, but later found out the promoters just wanted him to show his ties.

Inexperienced at the time, Uzamere decided to design clothes to complement the ties. With the aid of his grandmother, a former tailor, he quickly learned how to sew. Fiddling with his grandmother’s sewing machine, he experimented with fabrics and created his first set of clothes for the fashion show. The event’s success motivated him to take his craft seriously and seek a wider audience.

To the mainstream fashion world, Uzamere’s self-taught style of tailoring may be seen as unconventional, but he finds the beauty in just that.

“According to fashion textbooks, a lot of the things I do, I do it totally wrong,” he says. “But, in me doing them wrong, it actually comes out with a better end result for me and a lot of people looking at it.”

Three years later, in 2014, Uzamere established Omooba Fashions (pronounced Oh-moh-bah). The name, which translates to “child of a king” in Yoruba—one of the main languages spoken in Nigeria— paid homage to his culture. At the time, he began attending Plattsburgh State University.  As an up-and-coming entrepreneur, he envisioned a brand that was not only eye-catching and regal, but diverse with a broad appeal.

He was first inspired by “a love for [his] culture” and wanting to showcase it without having to speak.”

No matter what he’s making, Uzamere incorporates a piece of Africa into his garments. He frequently uses Ankara, a wax print popularly used in West Africa.

Ankara derives from a technique called Batik, which consists of applying wax onto a piece of cloth and repeatedly dyeing the fabric to create multi-colored geometric designs. Early practices of Batik can be traced back to 4th century Egypt. During the 1800s, Indonesia adopted the technique and sold the wax print as Ankara to the West African market.

To enhance the royal aesthetic of his brand, Uzamere incorporates rich golds, blues and reds into his palettes. Omooba Fashions’ collection ranges from jumpsuits and dresses to blazers and suits for all sizes.

“Even when I make pieces that aren’t necessarily African print, it still has an African-esque design and feel to it,” he says.“That’s where I started [my brand], and that’s what I’m using to drive it.”

He isn’t afraid to experiment with fabrics like tulle, satin and lace. Earlier this year, he was asked to design a gown for an award recipient of the National Association of Black Accountants’ 37th Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala. His client attended the event wearing a silk red, floor-length gown with complementary red sash embellished with rhinestones.

“I cater to what I think looks good,” Uzamere says. “Everything I make, I want it to be something I look at and I’m proud of.”

To achieve his client’s desired look, Uzamere first consults. During the sit down, he determines the occasion, the client’s vision for their outfit and their comfort zone. From there, Uzamere shares his recommendations. He suggests which fabrics and colors work well together and identifies the length and cut of the outfit. After that, he begins to sew. He schedules two fittings with the client to ensure the outfit fits perfectly. The overall process takes three weeks for shipping and alterations.

Currently, Uzamere’s work has been featured in more than 15 college fashion shows including Northeastern University, Buffalo State College and Oswego State University. Planning to graduate in May 2018, he sees Omooba Fashions going mainstream and expanding to international fashion markets. He also intends on returning to Nigeria and building tailoring schools for aspiring designers.

“Without my culture, there is no brand,” he says.

Issue 10: Winter/Spring 2018

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