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DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT: DAMIE IDOWU IS THE NIGERIAN ETHICAL DESIGNER BEHIND ‘MÍE’

Successfully bridging the gap between comfort, style, sophistication and playfulness, eco-friendly clothing designer Damie Idowu is THE designer to watch. Although she has been firmly committed to sustainable fashion practices since launching her label, Míe, for the Nigerian Designer, it’s clearly been about the fashion too. And it shows. The emerging designer’s first collection composed of linen pieces cut into feather-light, playfully feminine separates that are innovative, creative, and most importantly, her forte.

Míe by Damie Idowu marries exceptional design and commercial appeal with a strong ethical component, something which many African brands strive towards, but few have truly mastered. What makes the line truly noteworthy, however, is Damie’s commitment to a more natural way of dressing. In fact, Damie’s impressive contribution to the eco-friendly fashion movement is more than simply noteworthy – it’s unexpected. That’s because her styles attend to a different genre of “green” than the usual fare.

In this insightful interview with IamSCHICK.com, we speak with Damie on the journey of Míe, sustainable fashion, her challenges as a designer in Africa, and everything in between…enjoy!

Q1: How did the name Míe come about?

The name Míe is a merge of two things: my name and the word “breathe” in Yoruba. “Mie” is from Damie, a personalized short version of my name. I started adding “e” to “Dami” in university or earlier to make my name a bit unique. It became legit when my Dad used it in a text message. The accent on Míe makes the pronunciation “breathe” in Yoruba. This was because when I was thinking about the core values of the company and the statement I’d like to make as a brand, the word “breathe” kept coming up. You know, just breathe…don’t forget to breathe. So yes, the name is a bit of me and a bit of the statement.

Q2: What inspired you to want to create Míe?

When I was a little girl, I loved making paper dolls and making paper clothes for the dolls. They couldn’t be naked. It was such a thrill to make different clothes for them, and I had a brother who was super supportive. He would help me staple and sellotape the complicated styles. Later I discovered Fashion TV. I remember sitting so close to the TV trying to memorize all these high fashion brands and also figure out what made each distinctive. I knew then that I was going to have my own design house. In 2009, I officially started working in the fashion industry. No matter what I did, there was always that little girl’s dream simmering in my heart. But I guess it wasn’t the right time or I was scared hahaha.

In 2011, I went to a fashion school for an MBA in Fashion Business and it was then I had a clearer direction of the kind of things I’d like to create.

During the course of my masters, we were encouraged to use businesses or ideas we really were interested in for our projects. I kept drifting towards the sustainable and feel good fashion zone. It was just a personal thing for me that came from being clean, organized, consciously aware of my environment and not liking waste. Then, I named it Cepure because I lived in Europe and I wanted the brand to sound European hahaha.

Q3: Can you talk about the journey of launching the brand, from your personal background and dreams to the invaluable lessons you’ve learned along the way?

The journey of launching Míe is closely woven with support from my family and friends. Their attitude has been “Finally Damie!”. It’s a good feeling when people who know you, and have had either a glimpse or full on view of your dreams and hopes, are there to support you in every way they can. The invaluable lessons I have learned, and it’s a continuous learning process, is that knowledge and timing is key, and wisdom is supreme. In as much as some (including myself sometimes) may feel that I should have started earlier, it just wasn’t the right time. Some puzzles were missing, and these puzzles I found with time and knowledge gained from different experiences prior to this.

Q4: What drives your passion for sustainable fashion?

My OCD. Hahaha just joking, I don’t have OCD. It’s not really that I want to have a sustainable fashion brand, it’s just that if I’m going to do fashion, then I have to do it in a way that is responsible. Does that make sense? As a producer of these garments and other products, I am conscious of what I am working with, where they are coming from, and what happens to them after consumers are done with them. If the thoughts of waste and dirt come to mind then I’m not comfortable with it.

Q5: What or who has influenced your work as a socially and environmentally responsible designer?

That title sounds so big and overwhelming hahaha. It’s not one clear-cut thing. I can sum it up to say I am aware of the consequences of being socially and environmentally irresponsible. A lot of western brands are adopting sustainable methods and processes to different levels because global warming is real. Here in Nigeria, we are aware but not conscious of it. Too much waste and pollution going on here in Nigeria. Some we can’t avoid because of the system, but where we can, Míe wants to.

Q6: Why is sustainable fashion important to you?

If present needs are met as the expense of the future, what’s the fun in that? If looking good is jeopardizing the environment, what’s the fun in that?  I want to know that my looking good today is not a pain in the ass of someone in the future. For Míe, that’s making durable and timeless clothes that won’t end up in landfills so fast. It’s reusing and repurposing things to reduce waste that goes to dumping grounds. And if our products eventually find themselves there, then we hope that they are mostly harmless because of the materials we choose to use.

Q7: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing to look for in ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion covers a lot of things. From the working conditions of employees to sustainable production, even to animal welfare. For me, I would say the most important thing to look for is transparency. Ethical fashion or sustainable fashion is not a destination but a journey, and every brand should be transparent about where they are in that journey. I doubt any brand is completely, fully, 100% sustainable when you really break it down, but the goal is to be as sustainable as possible and to be better with time, and that journey needs to be transparent to consumers.

Q8: Do you think the customer is becoming more aware of the consequences of the fashion industry?

Yes. Not so much in Nigeria as the western world, but we are getting there. Customers are becoming more sophisticated in the way they consume. And they are beginning to realize that the fashion industry here is diverse, there are different brands to cater to different tastes.

Q9: Is there anything unique about Nigeria that has helped foster your creativity?

Everything is unique about Nigeria. The people, the places, the food, the humour, the business mentality…I can go on. All this is considered in one’s creative process. For Míe, it’s especially the weather. Our clothes are resort wear mostly made of natural and breathable fabrics which makes them ideal for hot cities like Lagos and summer getaways. We know Nigerians love to travel too.

Q10: What advice would you give to a consumer trying to navigate the clean luxury journey?

First of all, let me point out that Míe is affordable and functional luxury, we are not expensive (laughs). I would advise conscious buyers to always ask questions. If you need to know more about what you want to buy, then ask questions.

Q11: What advice would you give a young designer trying to get their start in the industry?

As a young designer myself, I would share what I’m practicing: always seek knowledge. Don’t ever get tired of learning. It never stops. Read books, talk to people who have walked the path before you…and this has got nothing to do with age. Your mentor can be the same age as you, or even younger. Also, treat people who work for you right.

Q12: What has been your challenge as a designer in Africa?

Inadequate electricity. Spending a chunk of money on generating light can be a bit painful, but God’s grace is sufficient for us.

Q13: What do you think of the state of the fashion industry in Africa? (Are these the best of times, the worst of times? Or are things somewhere in between?)

It’s a good time, and it keeps getting better.

Q14: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

I’d like people to know that the idea of Míe is not to sell sustainability, which is often perceived as boring. The idea is to sell timeless, elegant and easy to use designs, be it clothing or homeware, with perks of sustainability.

Q15: What does the future hold for your brand? Any upcoming projects or runway showcases?

Right now we are working on our online store where people in Nigeria and abroad can shop everything Míe. It’s www.mie.ng and it’s coming soon.

Photography Courtesy:

Míe

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