In Lagos, Nigeria, Ugo Monye runs a flourishing fashion design business, renowned for delivering exquisite Ready to Wear as well as exceptional Haute Couture. He can be best described as a custodian of African heritage through clothing. His works are distinguished by their daring, distinctive, and expressive avant-garde designs that draw inspiration from African culture while being artistically infused with contemporary finesse. The Ugo Monye brand is beloved by many prominent celebrities, both inside and outside of Nigeria. Among the stars he has styled are Jidenna, Joke Silva, Uti Nwachukwu, Alex Ekubo, and Ebuka Uchendu. The Fab Team had the chance to chat with this incredible African creative about his foray into the fashion industry, his most recent KONIPARI collection, sustainable fashion, and the future of African fashion.
Fab: How did you end up a fashion designer? What’s your story?
UG: Growing up, my mother owned a fashion business, so I picked interest in fashion early enough. Fashion designing wasn’t a lucrative industry then, so I did not even imagine that I’d become a fashion designer, but exposure and knowledge soon showed me that sometimes a person’s passion and calling have to cross paths. I started coming up with creative designs and clothing ideas, drawing inspiration from the things around me at the university. I continued with my designs through my university days and until the end of my one-year mandatory service (NYSC).
Afterwards, I got a job in a consulting firm, but it only took a short while before I realised that even though I was earning well, there was no sense of fulfilment in what I was doing. I resigned and decided to go all-in on fashion designing; I attended a fashion school to hone my skills further, and now we have Ugo Monye Clothing.
Fab: What sets your work apart from that of other designers? Is it a method or a material? Do you even have a specific material that you have chosen as Ugo Monye’s choice of material?
UG: What sets me apart from the other designers is not the method or the material; everything sets me apart. First, my mind is the leading factor that sets me apart from other designers. Even though the materials I use are not the regular types any other male designer would use at any given time, I use them anyway, and many people are happy wearing them because they are just different!
What sets me apart from the other designers is not the method or the material; everything sets me apart.Ugo Monye, Fashion Designer, Lagos
The materials are not what people are used to, but they are happy wearing them. What sets me apart is my ability to incorporate these elements to create designs that are unique. For example, I can make a skirt for a man, and he would wear it proudly because skirts are not meant for women alone, nor are trousers for men alone. The secret to that is how creative my mind can be.
Fab: What’s your approach when designing?
UG: My approach when designing centres on conceptualising styles that are stunning. However, I cannot categorically state in clear terms what my approach to designing is because I work in tune with inspiration, which comes at any time. When I get inspired, I can just quickly jot it down on my phone or on a piece of paper. I keep doing that relentlessly until I am able to put all of it in a collection. Even so, my approach when designing a collection is different from my approach when designing a piece or an outfit. When I’m designing a collection, I ensure that there is a flow in the components of the collection, including a flow in colours, materials, and concepts; I just want the presence of a flow. Once I am able to see what that flow or style will look like, I start building on it.
Fab: Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind your KONIPARI collection. How did you translate this into designs?
UG: For the Konipari Collection, I wanted to create something that could be limitless in terms of wearability and designs. In my mind, I thought it would be interesting if someone could create something that could be worn in different ways while showcasing the uniqueness of each of the different styles of a particular piece. That was what actually inspired the Konipari Collection. That is why, if you see the different types of materials and fabrics used for the collection, there is a flow. One outfit in the Konipari Collection can be worn in three different ways, each showing a different style, while some outfits can be worn in up to five different ways with unique styles.
The idea behind the Konipari Collection was that you could wear a particular outfit to one place today, then wear it to another place tomorrow and have a totally different look. I just wanted something that could be transformed into a different style anytime someone wore it, thereby being limitless in design and styling; that was the inspiration behind the Konipari Collection.
Fashion Tech, Sustainability, and Red Carpet Tips
Fab: Is there a specific tech that you have implemented into your brand given the popularity that tech is gaining in the fashion industry?
Apart from the high-power sewing equipment that we utilise, most of our designs are carefully hand-made. That said, we make use of technological tools like 3D body scanning, augmented reality, and 3D virtual sampling to augment our design processes. Explore Sustainability For Beginners. 3 Major Things You Can Do.
Fab: The tie between the fashion industry and Nollywood is stronger than ever. Your collections have appeared on numerous red carpets for Nollywood film premieres. What do you believe the ideal red carpet look should be?
The “red carpeting” industry is pretty growing in Nigeria, and if you look at the western world, they try to showcase the best of their own kind of culture. On that note, I believe the ideal red carpet look for Nollywood should be something African and strong that represents African culture. There should be something unique about us such that when people from the western world look at our red carpet footage, they’ll be wowed by our originality and uniqueness. At this time of the century, we don’t need to borrow anyone’s culture, so our red carpets should be strong, African, and royal.
Fab: There are significant ethical and sustainability concerns facing the fashion industry. How is Ugo Monye addressing these challenges?
Sustainability has been a major theme in the fashion industry for some years now, and the Ugo Monye Clothing brand is happy to be part of it. We ensure sustainability in the fashion industry by sourcing fashion and clothing items that are eco-friendly. When designing and producing clothing pieces, we are big on minimising wastage of materials. So, yes, we are very keen on ensuring sustainability in the fashion industry.
Ugo Monye’s Dreams For The Brand Yet To Be Actualised
Fab: Given the large number of young African and Nigerian designers we now have, how would you compare fashion design in the past and present? Do you believe we have progressed? And what’s your advice for emerging designers?
Without any doubts, the African fashion design industry, including that of Nigeria, has experienced tremendous growth and progress if we’re backdating to two decades ago or even a decade ago. We have made giant leaps as an industry, notwithstanding the ever-prevailing challenges, including little to no support from governments and inadequate talent training and mentorship when compared to the western world. I am always happy whenever I come across emerging designers. My advice to them is to learn, unlearn, and relearn, as well as have elements of originality and uniqueness in their designs. They should not always follow the crowd or jump on any new trend at will.
What ideals do you hope to convey through your designs? What would you want to be remembered for as a designer?
I want to be remembered as the person who created the way for African fashion designers to move forward in the industry. Everything about Africa is premium, even though it has more developing nations. For you to do anything in Africa that will be globally recognized, you need to sweat it out, which is why I say that everything phenomenal about Africa is premium.
I want to be known and remembered as the person who brought Africa to the world map in the fashion terrain. Because of our originality and richness in culture, the whole world has been looking to see what we can bring to the table in all facets of life, including fashion. So I want to be that ambassador of Africa to the rest of the world; I want the name Ugo Monye; to be a household name from Africa to the world. That is the legacy I want to leave.
I want to be remembered as the person who created the way for African fashion designers to move forward in the industry.
What can we expect from you NEXT?
Although Ugo Monye Clothing & Fashion has become a brand to be reckoned with among celebrities and notable personalities in the last decade, my dreams for the brand have yet to be actualized. I see the brand becoming a force to be reckoned with in the coming years, a brand that every fashion enthusiast in Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the rest of the world would want to be identified with as the industry takes shape. I am not yet wowed by anything I have experienced so far. There are quite a lot of achievements I have made with the brand, but it is still not up to what I dreamed of. There’s no shortcut to anywhere that is worth going, and that is why I am leading the dream with corresponding actions. Expect something stunning from us soon!