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The most important bridal apparel is the underwear-Patience Torlowei

The fashion business is now enjoying a boom in the country, especially, with the increasing emergence of new talents and their exploits. But while many of the industry’s players are exploring cloth making, the same cannot be said of underwears.

At the moment, the country depends mostly on imported underwears. But a new dimension is in the offing if the Belgium returnee, Patience Torlowei, makes good her ‘promise’.

Torlowei may be new to the Nigerian fashion industry, but not in Belgium where she has established herself in the sale of women’s underwear. Although she reckons that Belgium, being the unofficial capital of the European market, is a difficult terrain to make a mark in fashion business, hence succeeding in the country is tantamount to success in the whole of the Europe. And that she has been able to do through her company, Patience Torlowei Limited, which supplies wedding and cocktails dresses to bridal shops.

Now that she has set her feet on the home soil, she intends to launch a factory where ladies collections will be made locally.

“I believe we shouldn’t be a jack of all trades,” she says. “I chose ladies because I adore the female body. I am a female and I like that; not that I am anti-men. I appreciate God for being so creative that he created us to dress for beauty. My love goes to women.”

The graduate of Fine Arts/Design from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos told Saturday Punch that the fashion business was not something she ever gave a serious thought while growing up, even though she always emerged the best student in Arts while she was in school. Her eyes were set on studying Law or Journalism, because she loved professional jobs.

“I personally did not like Arts. I wanted to go for Law or Journalism, but I never excelled in these. Reluctantly, I went into Arts. I love fashion and love to make things, but I never thought it would be enough to sustain me. All I wanted was to be addressed as a lawyer or a journalist, because Arts has no title. I would say it was because of title that I wanted to practise those two professions. But fate brought me back to where I ought to stay and I am so thankful to God who shaped my life and brought me to where I am. Now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than dressing women,” she said.

Patience Torlowei, Nigerian fashion designer based in Belgium

Patience Torlowei, Nigerian fashion designer based in Belgium

She said that in Belgium, she only dealt in bridals because the underwear market was saturated. “I only did bridal collection and that was very little. I didn’t see the need to do a wide range of underwears for the European market because it is saturated. I only produce series for bridals,” she said.

As an expert in lingerie and bridal wears, Patience posited that a bride should be able to put on underwear that would arouse her husband on the wedding day. “She has to take into consideration the fact that she must go for something that will seduce her man. Seducing the man is the first step, but a lot of ladies don’t realise that,” she noted.

Torlowei boasts of creative ability when it comes to fashion, saying, “I can do everything from the scratch to finish in fashion. I create the concept. I know how to do the patterns, make cuttings, use whatever finishing materials that are required to give the look when it is finished. I know how to give the finish look that will look impeccable. Everything that I do is patterned. Nothing is just measured, chalked and cut. I do that for myself. But every pattern that I do, I measure people in detail, in absolute fitness, and those fine measurements are put into the garment or the article in absolute correctness.”

Since she started her career in the fashion industry in Belgium, Torlowei has been able to stand out among her contemporaries; a situation she said was made possible by her unique approach to designs. Many designers, she said, had tried to copy her, but to no avail.

She said, “My things are different. They are not necessarily racy, dazzling, big or bold, but they are different. I have a way of working with fabrics that do not exist anywhere else. It is a system of deforming fabrics in order to create my own. People have tried to copy it. I have seen it. It is a mere replica of it, but it is not the same because mine is handmade. The copies that I have seen are machine made. It is like when I was doing tie and dye. My tie and dye had a spiral. This spiral is sold in most festivals abroad. In spite of this, people always wish to buy mine because it is handmade. You cannot have two items that are the same once it is handmade. So, I have the wrinkle and that is what make my brand unique.”

But she laments the business environment in Nigeria, particularly the erratic supply of electricity, and the bureaucracy that goes with cargo shipping, as well as the protocols involved in importing raw materials into the country.

She said, “In Nigeria, there is a lot of bureaucracy before things are brought into the country.”

She believes that a competent fashion designer must know the shape and size of her client before deciding on the kind of bridal wear that will suit her.

“When a young lady comes to me, I need to know her background; the family she comes from and the family she is marrying to. I will also need to know if there is any religious restriction. They are very important, because if she is a member of Deeper Life Bible Church, her style will be different from those of other Christians who are more socially inclined. If the person has a big tummy, I will produce the kind of style that can disguise that. But I hammer on the underwear first. And if the person has big breasts, I sure know what to recommend. Sometimes, some women may have big breasts but they insist they are young girls and that they want to wear strapless dresses for their weddings. That won’t work because they will not look their best. I hammer on the importance of their underwears for that day. It is so important because everybody is seeing the outside, but you are marrying one person and when he undresses you, you have to look your best. She has to look just right any time he undresses her.”

She is of the view that a woman’s bra should be of the same colour her pants as this helps to seduce her man. “You should make it a habit that when you buy your bra, you are buying a matching pant. Avoid putting on black or red bra while wearing a white pant. It doesn’t work and they turn men off. You should try as much as possible to seduce your husband. My move to Nigeria is not just to create the bras and pants to sell, it is to re-educate couples. It is a re-education process. We can recapture your man for you. I know what men look out for in women. When you are young, your body is so delicious and a lot of men say this girl looks so beautiful. But they forget that their wives looked like that before they gave birth to children and lost shape. It makes them forget their first love. They forget that this woman is beautiful. I want to bring that back to women. I want a woman to enter into the bedroom and cause her husband to say, ‘This woman is beautiful.’

Torlowei describes Nigeria as the most fashion-conscious country in Africa. “We invest in fashion. Nigeria fashion is up and rising out there in Belgium. The designers are doing great,” she says, insisting that her decision to come to Nigeria was not informed by profit considerations, but to create employment opportunities for her countrymen and women.

“We have a need for it and I want to create employment in Nigeria. I have spoken with my colleagues in the fashion business. I want them to come into Nigeria. At the moment, everybody goes to China to produce. People go to Morocco and Turkey to produce. Why not in Nigeria? Are we different human beings?”

However, she notes that though Nigerians are hardworking people, they could be lax in their approach to work. “Nigerians are hardworking people, but we are also known for our poor approach to work. But I know that when people are taught to work properly, they will work properly.”

According to her, Nigerian fashion designers are not known for sewing straight, which is why she has decided to help in her own little way. “Nigerians don’t sew straight. I want to help my country in my little way. I am a Nigerian and I want to help. If I create employment, I am helping the country, and that is my sole purpose.”

To her, competition in the Nigerian fashion industry is nothing big. At least, it is not anything that can scare her out of business, because the industry is very big.

She says, “I am unique. I am not moved by any competition. Fashion is vast. I have my style. I will come and give my style and I know they will like it. I am not even hammering on fashion; my interest is to get the underwear business started before I launch my bridal, boutique and cocktail businesses in Nigeria. I am launching the underwear business first, because that is the greatest need for now. People are cutting and sewing, I have a vast collection of fabric in the country already. They are waiting to be cut into beautiful garments.

“I just feel that Nigerians are good copycats. We copy both the good and the bad. I have seen dresses that make me feel embarrassed for the persons wearing them. People that have very flat breasts put on something that is revolting all in the name of cleavage. But you could still put on something low if you put on the right bra, to show that cleavage if you must.

“The fashion mistake women make is buying a dress because they see it on other people: ‘A has something, I also must have it.’ But it has to do with knowing what suits you and being yourself. Do not join the crowd. Find out what is best for you. There is something for everybody. There is something that makes an ugly person look beautiful as long as she knows the right thing. Try to find what is best for you and by that, you will look beautiful all the time,” she advises.

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