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I have a unique style that is difficult to copy —Bashy Kuti
Since he made his mark in the fashion industry fifteen years ago, Ibadan based fashion designer, Alhaji Bashiru Kuti, widely known as Bashy Kuti has not looked back. Bashy, as he’s fondly called is the brain behind BKK Ultimo. Those who had followed the career of this talented designer since he started know that he’s indeed a thorough bred professional. In this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, the Ogun State born designer speaks about his career and life. Excerpts:
BKK outfit now wears a new look, what’s the reason behind this?
OVER the years, we have enjoyed what I can describe as an unflinching support from our customers. So, in order to serve them better, we decided to refurbish the whole place to prepare us for a whole lot of stuffs that we will be doing very soon. We decided to do a complete overhauling to make life more comfortable for ourselves and to improve on our service delivery.
How do you feel about the change?
It is n o more a hidden fact that we have raised our game to a level that our work has become known in virtually all the sectors of the country. We are prepared for the challenges that come with the recent upgrade of BKK Ultimo. God is our pillar of support, no reason for unnecessary panic.
This must have cost you a fortune, could you put a round figure at the amount you have spent so far?
We have done a whole lot of work and we are not leaving any stone unturned. I don’t want to disclose the amount we have spent so far. Let’s just thank God for giving us the grace to do this. We have been in the business for sometime, I guess we deserve to be where we are today.
But we learnt that it was unconnected with a big deal that you won recently...
Laughs..this is coming as news to me. I don’t know about any deal. Above all, we remain thankful to God.
What actually led you into fashion designing business?
The passion and love for fashion had started growing in me since I was in primary school. At some point, I also discovered that the only thing I wanted to do was to create different designs with fabrics. My maternal grandfather was a tailor. Any time I came back from school, especially during the holidays; you will always found me standing beside him. I can say the penchant for fashion designing started from that moment. I was always fascinated by the way he handles the scissors and how he cut different fabrics to carve out his designs. The man tried to stop me several times from coming to his place of work but I was very resolute that when he attempted to scare me away, the next minute he would found me at his side.
So you were stubborn when you were growing up?
My stubbornness as at that time was strictly born out of my undying passion for fashion designing. The truth is that I was not standing beside him to learn how to sew, I was standing because I loved the way he handled the scissors when he cuts the cloths. But whenever he went out, I would sit down on the machine and tried to practice what he did, so, I guess my stubbornness has paid off today. To God be the glory.
Some people believe that being a fashion designer does not necessitate the fact that one understands what fashion is all about, what’s your take?
Let me tell you one interesting thing about me when I was growing up. Like I said earlier, my obsession for fashion had started way back, and I can also trace that to my dad. My dad was a fashionista, any time I want to go out, I will pack my wears and stand before his picture in the sitting room and I will make sure I dress exactly the way he dressed in that picture. I had always wanted to dress in a fashionable way. In my own case, aside the fact that I am a fashion designer, I also pay attention to what I wear. I understand the nitty-gritty of what fashion is all about. You can’t survive in this industry if you don’t know what to wear and how to wear it. As a clothier who has lasted more than fifteen years in the business, I always try as much as possible to drive myself to the limit, pay attention to my work and learn with keen interest from those who have been in the business before me and also those that are coming up. I have also continuously evolved my style, create new materials from every day events and move closely and wisely with the trend.
Are you a tailor or designer?
I practice both effectively with the help of God.
But you prefer sewing natives, especially Agbada and kaftan to other styles?
The truth is that I love fabrics to a fault. I decided to stick to my style and concentrate on my area of specialisation. But that does not mean I don’t sew other designs. My love for fabrics dates way back since I was living with my sister when I just got to Ibadan. She had a very big textile industry in Ibadan at that time. She taught me all I needed to know about fabrics and since then it has remained one big part of my existence that I can’t do without. I can tell you that I have successfully convinced most of my clients to explore the beauty that comes with fabrics. Most designers don’t do it because they don’t know it. Give me any fabric today and I will carve out something nice from it. You can’t also rule out the fact that fashion is innovative; you just have to keep moving. I just love what I do and I am really enjoying every bit of it. You can’t be a successful designer if you don’t understand fabrics. Most of our designers don’t know this but I don’t blame them because they didn’t have the proper training before they ventured into the business.
Who were the designers who encouraged you when you started?
There is one man that I will always mention his name, Vivid Imagination. He’s a friend and brother. He kept on telling me to continue when the going was very rough and tough.
What do you mean by rough and tough?
I don't want to go into all that for now. Trust me, you don't want to hear. What matters to me is how God has transformed the outfit from what it used to be to where we are today. It has become one big part of my life that I will never forget.
What is the story behind Bkk outfit?
The journey started fifteen years ago. From day one, I wanted to come out in a different way. I came in to the business with so much passion that I couldn’t do anything else than fashion designing. But the journey did not start on a smooth footing when I started. I was faced with some challenges that I don’t really want to bore you with right now. But despite these challenges, I was very determined to make a mark for myself in the fashion industry. Honestly, I never knew it could get to this point where my name now moves faster than me. Aside the fact that I started because I was passionate about it, and it became a success story today because God had a hand in it. I never knew what was lurking in the corner for me as far as fashion designing is concerned. I was enjoying the fun that comes with travelling around the country to deliver my clients’ wears. Despite the fact that I was not really making money but the fun and passion kept me in the business until the turn around came. What most designers don’t know is that, you don’t start this kind of business because you want to make money, something from the inside of you, which is your innate ability will keep pushing you to where your success is. If you set out because you want to make money, you will quit when the money is not forthcoming.
Was designing the first thing you did when you got to Ibadan?
No. I did quite a number of jobs but I was not fulfilled until I discovered where my passion lies. I was so passionate about cloth designing that I would abandon whatever assignment I was given to do and started thinking about how to I would start my own fashion label.
Can you remember the particular client and design that gave you the breakthrough?
That’s quite interesting. I will never forget that person but because of some reasons, I won’t mention the name on the pages of newspaper. That particular moment would remain indelible in my mind for as long as I live. I think my commitment to work was another key factor that paved the way for the transition BKK outfit is witnessing today.
It is a general belief that your kind of job does not thrive in Ibadan, but you have managed to remain as a top designer in the country, what is the chief ingredient of your success story?
God has been so merciful to me. When I started, there were challenges that almost forced me out of the job but I thank God that I have remained relevant for fifteen years. I don’t believe that Ibadan is not fruitful for my kind of job. Those who are saying that should rather have a rethink. In this job, what you need mostly is your client’s trust. Wherever you are, if they trust your job, they will look for you, no matter what. I have also realised that you can’t please everyone but you have to be fair to all. That was the wrong perception people had when I wanted to start, they thought I was going to fail because of the location factor. But I love Ibadan so much because the city is calm and peaceful, and as a matter of fact, I started the job from Lagos before I decided to move to Ibadan and thankfully, God has always shown me what is positive concerning any negative situation I may find myself, thus allowing me to stay afloat despite the many odds in Ibadan back then.
With the continued introduction of new fashion trends in the fashion business every day, how do you manage to cope?
It has always been like that even before I ever dreamt of becoming a fashion designer. There will always be new fashion trends. I am not moved by that. Over the years, I have tried as much as possible to be relevant by doing something different from others and I am also not ashamed to admit my mistakes and make necessary amends. The industry is big, everybody wants to come out in a world of his or her own, hence the introduction of various trends that have become a big issue today in showbiz. A serious minded designer would always be relevant because your ingenuity and ability to think ahead of your colleagues would stand you out in the midst of millions. Let me take your profession as an example, there are many journalists in the country, but if an event breaks today, I am not going to write my story from the same angle as yours. And also, the readers are not gullible; they know what they are looking for in every major story. They have their favourite writer and would never compromise. Let them introduce one hundred thousand trends tomorrow; I will always be on top of the situation by God’s grace.
That brings me to the next question, with the Crème de la crème of the society, including governors and senators as your models, would it be wrong to say that your designs are strictly for the affluent?
There you go again! I respect all my clients, from the highest to the lowest. Without my clients, BKK outfit won’t be where it is today. My designs are for everybody who is fashionable. It is very essential for every man to dress well. I know some people go about saying our prices are not affordable but that’s not true. No matter how small your money is, we will always deliver our services to you. I think people should stop spreading false stories about BKK outfit. Fashion should not be too expensive. It has to be affordable, simple and classy.
Could you let us into some of your top clients?
I don’t want to start mentioning names here, but trust me, I have them in torrents and I thank God for that. I have been on this job for some time and I have paid my dues as well. So, if God grants me the opportunity to have ‘top clients’ like you have mentioned, I don’t think that is too much. Over the years, I have worked on myself and outfit to where I don’t have to start rushing over the place for jobs, God knows how to reward you if you are hardworking. But the truth is, we have come a long way in the business and people appreciate our work.
Does that mean Bashy kuti is one of the richest designers in the country?
The word, rich, I believe is a relative term because there is so much to life than what we all regard as richness. You cannot conveniently say that one designer is richer than the other. But regarding my job, I have, no doubt, come a long way from when I started and being thankful to God for this height is apparently the most important thing in my life right now. How God has brought me to this level, I don’t know but I know He did it.
Aside the fact that you are a designer, some people have argued that most of you guys know little or nothing about what tailoring is all about. In what capacity
do you get involved in the final production of the clothes you make?
Those who know me way back would be in the best position to answer this question. But for the sake of those who care to know, I am always involved from the beginning of every work that comes into BKK. From the cutting, sewing, designing and every other thing that has to do with the making of the dress. Nothing goes out of my office without my knowledge. I do the cutting and teach my staff how to go about sewing it. If you don’t know what it entails, you would be rubbished by your own clients. And that is where creativity comes in; this is something you don’t learn. Mere looking at you right now, I can tell my boys to make you a dress without even taking your measurement. I remember when I started; I hardly take the measurements of my customers before I sew anything for them. The only thing I need is to see you, and you can be rest assured of a perfect work when I finish. I just thank God for the uncommon talent He gave me.
How can you possibly know the number of clients you have and how are you sure your workers don't sew without your knowledge?
No member of my staff would deliver any cloth without my consent. That is, I must have seen and certified that it should be released. If I finish sewing and I am not comfortable with the outcome, I will start all over again. I have about 19 staffers that work in my factory, I tried as much to make them feel comfortable so that none of them would have any reason to misbehave or flout my orders.
Some of your colleagues have expanded their frontiers beyond the shores of the country but you have not despite the success you have recorded so far, why are you afraid to leave?
Well, those who have moved have their reasons. I don’t believe I have to move because others have moved or are moving. If you ask them what kind of wears do they make for the people when they go out, you will find out that I don’t make such. My strength is in Agbada, Kaftan and Safari like I said earlier. I don’t think there is any other country in Africa that its citizens wear those things I have just highlighted like they do in Nigeria. So, why do I have to leave my area of specialisation for somewhere else? That is the way I see it. My clients love what I do and I appreciate them for that. That alone is a major source of encouragement. They have always been there for me and vice versa.
What makes you different from the rest?
My ability to understand what my clients want and the fact that I have a unique style that is difficult to copy.
Like your tall caps?
Yes. That is my identity. I was the one who started wearing it before every other person took over it.
Is it true that you don’t wear other designers’ wears except the ones you make by yourself?
Yes. I am a practical person. Whatever you see me wear, whether English or native wears, just know that they are products of BKK outfit, except my underwear.
Are you saying you don’t appreciate what others do?
I never said that. Nigerian designers are doing excellent jobs. I can say it anywhere in the world. They have continued to improve and I appreciate them for that.
So you don’t wear foreign dress?
My brother, I don’t. I would rather look for the materials, buy them and sew them myself. I don’t buy all these your jeans, pant trousers and stuffs.
Where does Bashy kuti hail from?
I was born and bred in Sagamu, Ogun State.
Do you intend to delve into something else in the nearest future?
That is very certain. I will definitely go into some other businesses when the time comes. If I delve into something else now, this job will suffer.
I don’t want to disclose that.
What does Bashy kuti mean?
It was craved out from my name. Basheer Kolawole Kuti.