Out of Africa and into your wardrobe
Yekemi Otaru, co-owner of Aberdeen-based Yo Couture is one of those people, bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, who seems to excel at everything she turns her mind to.
After graduating as a Chemical and Petroleum Engineer, she completed an MBA, became a bestselling author in social media and is raising a family with her husband. She has a business consultancy and has also set up her own fashion label, Yo Couture, with her friend Osa Olayemi.
Yo Couture creates bright, vibrant designs in limited quantities and supports female-run African businesses in Ghana and Nigeria by sourcing fabric there and manufacturing too.
Yekemi explained, ‘I’ve always enjoyed dressing up. As a teenager, I tried to express my energetic side through my sense of fashion. It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I often stood out for wearing bright colours and trying to match everything. Over time, I began to understand what looks good on me. It’s often the simple things like amazing earrings or how a fabric matches your lipstick.
‘I’m not a trained fashion designer. My influences come from wanting to look good so that I feel good regardless of what the day holds. It’s about style and simplicity that lasts. Having said that, Nigerian fashion designer, Tia Adeola is incredibly talented. I love niche, independent designers like Kemi Telford and Mary Benson.
‘I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest, high street brands and especially the African print fabric themselves. I see an amazing piece of fabric and I think, ‘Wow that would make a stunning skirt or dress!’ Then I make a rough sketch and find the right fabric, in terms of colour, pattern and scale.
‘When I nail the concept, I use a fashion illustrator and show the concepts to some of my audience before manufacturing. I like to know that my customers will love a garment before we make it. The design might be tweaked, then I share it with my manufacturer and source the fabric from Ghana or Nigeria. We get images from the manufacturer, then make any changes before we produce our collection. We usually make twenty or fewer of each design and fabric.
‘Our fabric is really special. It’s Ankara, 100% cotton with patterns applied to it using a Dutch wax method. Making Ankara provides a living for millions of people in West African. Each fabric design has some meaning. For instance, the jumping horses fabric also known as ‘Je Cours Plus Vite Que Ma Rivale’ (I Run Faster than My Rival), expresses the rivalry between co-wives in polygamous African marriages. Within some African communities, the fabric became symbolic of unity and support amongst women. African fabric designers are motivated by creativity, so they tend to quickly move on to the next design, so quantities are limited. Our outfits are likely to remain limited editions as we want everybody to have something unique that can’t be found on the high street.
‘Ultimately, we’d like Yo Couture to become a global niche label, known for creating edgy outfits that inspire and give confidence to women of all ages. Our clothes celebrate the uniqueness of each woman and Africa will always be at the heart of our designs’.
You can find Yo Couture’s designs on Etsy, or follow on social media to see the latest designs and find out about their pop up shops. The next pop up shop is scheduled for Stonehaven in November.