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Adebayo Jones: The King of Couture

Thursday February 02 2012    |     Views: 3924    |     Comments: 0   |     Print    Bookmark and Share

Adebayo Jones
Adebayo Jones

“There was once a man named Thomas Edison. He was afraid of the dark. There was once a man named Walt Disney. He was afraid of mice. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Walt Disney invented the most famous mouse in all the world: Mickey Mouse.Sometimes you just have to go towards things that make you want to run away. Is there any thing that makes you want to run away? GO TOWARDS IT WITH ALL YOU GOT. You just might even surprise YOURSELF AND YOUR WORLD.”
This is the inspirational story of the multi-talented Adebayo Jones, award winning fashion designer and the undisputed King of Couture. Be inspired!

Interview by Shile Shonoiki / Photography: Din of London


You've been referred to as the King of couture. How did you carve this niche for yourself?

Fashion has always been my dream. In this profession I find the fullness of purpose. The ability to dream of an idea, a thought coming from the subconscious, a influence of something seen or unseen, inspired by art, travels, surroundings, being realised in form of a garment or collection is the ultimate gratification anyone could find.

I set out to be a designer, universally accepted, not holed into a spectrum  of limitations, but one whose work would speak for individuality, grace, elegance, opulence, excellence, art,

finely horned production and manufacturing skills, crossing barriers of race.

I set out to be distinctive in what I did, not to let whatever limitations be a hold back, but a source of creativity and invention. I created fabrics, innovated on techniques, appliqué, beading, I held nothing back in expense to realise a creation whether in materials, time, and resources. If I dreamed it, it was possible.

This quest initiated a drive and pursuit for being best at my profession, to train and get the prerequisite skills needed to achieve such levels of excellence and I am most grateful to God almighty for the opportunities afforded me to gain the necessary experience to forge on.

Overtime the investment in time and resources paid off. The public understood my work. The fashion press defined it in terms of being fine, clean, elegant line of creations.

Every time I read this in the press I was fulfilled. My work had meaning. It was understood. The ethos of the Adebayo Jones house was clear to all. The effort had all being worth it.

It started with a quote “King of Couture” by a fashion journalist and soon other followed suit. The title would take a life form of its own and become the lingua by which the Adebayo Jones brand would be known near and far.

For this grace, I am eternally grateful to God Almighty for this beautiful gift, for all good things come from him, and for the strength and grace to persevere over the years and stick to the helms of this dream even when at times it seemed impossible. I am grateful that God cared enough for the desires and lifelong ambition of a young man then, to put all things in place, every character needed in the script to make it all happen. Also for the strength to overcome every experience along the way and for the birth of a new name “KING OF COUTURE.”


How did having a mother who was also into fashion help you realize your dreams?

My belief is always that with God there are no coincidences. Events, stages, stories as we may           define them are set in place to achieve God’s ultimate goal of a blessed, desired, expected and fulfilled life.

I miss my mum. I look at her picture on my desk everyday and memories come flooding back. Sometimes, time can be so short.  Fashion was my mother’s profession. I saw her make things for my sister and others and there was always this intrigue. I recall when my big sister was attending the children’s birthday party on TV those years ago, and my mum made the dress. I recall watching my sister dance away on the show in the dress my mum made her.

I suppose from then, the desire was birthed. It was so real and it could be done. I would fool around on the sewing machine then and ask questions. When I was in University of Ife and had starting designing and holding fashion shows, I would ask mum, how to cut certain intricate styles, which I could not really explain to my tailors. She would take out her pattern papers and cut out the miniature patterns pieces no matter how complex the style.

With these pattern pieces I was able to explain away my concepts and ideas to the tailors to achieve my creations, as at then I could not cut. It gave me the confidence to further strengthen my belief that this is what I want to do. Fashion was going to be the platform in which the images, the pictures and visions which only I could see become a reality, not just for me but for the world to see.

So why would God have chosen to make me come from a line where creativity flowed? All my siblings were excellent at art. We can all draw and I see now the same gift flowing in the next generation of children in the family, nieces and nephews. Was this a mere coincidence? The encouragement I needed was there for me. The background was set in place. The support system I needed was available.

Recall the story of Jonah in the bible? Did he just happen to be in a big ship, and then a big storm came and rocked the sea, then he was taken off the boat and thrown into the sea, where a big fish just happened to be waiting to swallow him up, then he would be in the belly of the fish for three days, and he did not die, but was put out by the fish after three days? Was this all just a coincidence?  

I have walked long enough to at least understand the ways of God in some aspects. Why my Mother? Why the support? Why the training? Why the encouragement and love? Why the gift? I could go on and on, but at least I know beyond a shadow of doubt that when God has your life in his hands, “NOTHING JUST HAPPENS.”

Getting to your current position now in the fashion industry has no doubt been an arduous journey. What were the greatest challenges you encountered?

Someday soon, I will come out with a book, about the journey in pursuit of excellence and a dream. I am sure it would make a block buster story. [Laughs]

I have had a variety of experiences. Some have been incredibly wonderful and others have been heart-wrenchingly painful. I have known comfort as well as desertion. I have seen love as well as betrayal. I have known grace and the loss of loved ones. I have seen kindness. All these varied experiences in pursuit of this dream and from every experience, the totality of a blessing has been gained. It is refreshing to know that I am never alone and can stand at all times, for if God be for me, nothing can work against me. I have become stronger and refined.

There were limitations at the start: funding, resources, proving yourself in a place where you had to strive five times harder than your contemporaries. Knowing that you are just as good as the next celebrated person, but sometimes other factors kick in with a society that may not easily afford you the same opportunities as some of you colleagues. Should one then fold ones arms and bemoan one’s lot? The answer was, “Never.”

I have a grace for resilience. I have found strength that can only be empowered by God alone, in never laying down whenever I did fall.  For the failure is not in falling, it is in not getting up to fight again.

How  is your career better served by being in the UK, rather than being in your home country    Nigeria?

After University in Ife, I studied fashion in England and as events turned, I started out here and the stage has been set that way for years. The education and training I got here in England is invaluable.

Techniques, skills, availability of resources to function at one’s best have been very important catalyst to the brand’s success. I have worked in the couture and ready to wear sectors. I have learnt a variety of skills which have proved wonderfully useful over the years.

There are limitations sometimes in operating back home. Even the littlest of things like finding good quality zips which would not snap and embarrass your brand and your client in a situation can be tasking. Quality fabrics can be an ordeal to find as well as other resources needed to function well. Once back home  I was trying to get silk duchess satin which I could walk into any quality fabric store in England and leave with, but this was difficult to find. Explaining to the fabric people when I was presented with polyester satin that I could not work with for the calibre of clientele I was dealing with made me look like I came from Mars.

Basically most of those with successful brands back home do the shopping from abroad. I see them and we meet at fabric stores. They get their trimmings, zips, buttons, linings etc and have to cargo everything back home.  There are always ways around limitations however and it should not be a permanent barrier in effecting and realising ones objectives. It is just more or a mindset of those importing tailoring materials to sometimes rise above quick profit and insist of quality products from their suppliers.

The Diaspora group also have a lot of influence and are quite diverse. There are numerous awards, shows, events that recognise those based abroad and also those back home. Those in Nigeria also appreciate what we are doing and the whole cycle is balanced.


You have worked with a lot of big names. Who would you say was most interesting to work with?

I have been fortunate to have been blessed in many places where I have gained invaluable experience over the years.

Please allow me the indulgence to mention not one but two names.  HRH Erelu Abiola Dosumu, who in the eighties had opened her shop “Talala” on New Bond street and who believed in me at the time after pestering her for so long to give me the slot for internship at her shop. Many may not know it, but she has always been a designer and had owned her fashion shop on Broad street years before the England experience. Her Innovations in the Aso Oke sector should be commended. She revolutionised the lighter weight and vibrant colours, and we worked on some wonderful details and creative work with Aso Oke.  She introduced a lot of beading, feathers, and various aspects of appliqué. Her Aso Oke jackets and gowns sold for thousands then. Her creativity and flair was legendary and still is as all can see. It takes great skill and a good sense of style to dress only in white and maintain the creed. I was blessed to have been at the right place at the right time.

Also, Katherine Hamnett  CBE. I was fortunate enough to work for this amazing British talent. She was a lesson in humility. Her simplicity and warm nature is quite rare for the fashion industry. Believe me I have worked for some others and I know the difference. I learnt from her skills, I watched her at fit meetings, looked at her methods and how she would displace and balance out seams, cuts. I learnt from the patterns and methods of production. The tailoring again was an interesting aspect of the stint there. The simplicity of her fashion line was awesome, yet in it the intricacy of style and definition of the brand was never lost. She was two time British Designer of the Year and there was the branch in Sloane Street when I was at the design room. She was approachable, and created an atmosphere that was conducive for creativity. From her I learnt a lot about leadership and caring for those who worked for you. We had fresh bread in varieties; fresh orange juice, butter, etc delivered for us free every day. She would stock up on Vitamin C soluble tablets particularly in winter, all free for us in the kitchen to reduce the cases of colds etc. I just found it all almost unreal. Once I was in the west-end, I saw her get off the bus and just could not believe. Here was this amazingly successful designer, world known, without a care in the world getting off a bus. She works tirelessly for sustainable fashion with her ethical business philosophy.

But then the designer Nicole Farhi was the same. During my spell as a freelancer in the design room in Bow East London, I bumped into her on the tube in the morning going to work at her office about twice.  Yes, and this woman who was worth millions!


What other passions do you have aside from fashion?

Music and food would be my other passions aside fashion.  I sing and write gospel. There was a time when I did a lot more in church, occasions, weddings etc. For a while I stopped but now I’m back into it again big time. I sang at Isha and Arne Johansen’s wedding in Free town. I sang with a live band when I collected my Male Lifetime Achievement Award at BETTFA 2011 Awards.  I sang a new song I had just written at the church Christmas dinner and Awards 2011 where I even received the 2011 Award for Outreach. I do sing in Church on special occasions, as my schedule sadly for now does not allow me enough time for regular choir practice.

I was in a choir when I was in Ife. It was a group called the Ayoro voices. We performed all over Ife, Ibadan,  Lagos, on Television. I was in a choir in church from about the age of ten till University. I cannot explain the feeling of having to perform, to sing from your soul and take your audience with you on the journey, knowing that you are working hand in tune with grace from God almighty. I have enough materials for an album now that has been written and selected and we are getting to work on it. The songs come just as the designs come. They come, inspire  brand new words, music, the whole lot. Then there are re-arrangements of covers that I hold really dear to my soul. I like to push myself. The voice has found its niche now and I pray 2012 will afford me the grace to fulfil this dream.

I am also a foodie. The creativity and flare from fashion I suppose flows right through. You might be amazed to see what I might come up with a few bits of ingredients. I have a passion for exploring and I’m very adventurous with food; with boundaries of course! [Laughs] Just last evening I was speaking with a friend who makes the makes delicious hand-made chocolates. She will be taking me through some private classes and also next week I am looking forward to some real handmade white chocolate cookies.

Am I going to explore with the food industry as well? Well you guessed too right so just watch this space. After all we at Adebayo Jones are way past just being a fashion brand. We are a lifestyle company.

I would also not mind some cameo role in a movie if the right one came along. After all one spent enough time in the youth drama group to remember one or two things about acting! [Laughs]

What are you doing to give back to the fashion industry?

I already train and mentor students in industry. I have interns from schools, colleges and university in the UK and the USA. I work with the education authorities here and have done so with the design council initiative of mentoring and giving lessons to Year 10 students in schools who might be considering pursuing a career in fashion. Education and training is a must to build those for tomorrow.

My students tell me I am very patient and I take my time is explaining complex aspects of the trade when they are on internship. It is a grace I suppose. Education is a family thing. The remainder of my siblings are involved in education. My sister has three arms of a private school in Kano. My brothers all lecture in arms of advertising and brand, mathematics, media, and art.

I plan this year due to demand to run a series of lectures and seminars on the business of fashion. The details will be announced shortly. I am passionate about information. Passing it on, blessing others, instilling confidence and raising champions for tomorrow. For what use is it, if all we know we take with us when we go, when there are those waiting to be imparted and blessed by the knowledge and skill set we have acquired over the years?

I was fortunate to have had the most amazingly talented incredible mentor in college. She was the principal Mrs Ingel Wrigley. I recall Mrs Folorunso Alakija of Rose of Sharon also studied  fashion under the same principal at the same college. Now you see clearly what passing the right information and training does. It does nothing else but raise champions and we have both done our college and principal proud.


There seems to be sudden burst of young players in the Nigerian fashion industry. Do you think the rising population of fashion designers will benefit fashion positively or negatively?

Most definitely. It is pleasing and a blessing to see the rise in creative talent in the nation. The world is a different place now and with the available of the internet, social media networks and home based designers now going to showcase abroad. The time has come for the nation to shine as the leader and innovator in the world of fashion on the continent.

We are extremely stylish people. We are trend setters and leaders. But times are changing. It is not only a situation now of the foreign brand being appreciated above the home made products. We now value our own and this is raising the profile of the industry in the nation and abroad. More needs to be done. To support, encourage, train and produce world class goods that can be exported confidently meeting the international requirements and standards which will enable the home based designers to compete favourably. On the Diaspora scene the expansion and explosion is mind blowing as well. Younger and younger designers are able to make the bold statements announcing their arrival on the fashion scene. It is refreshing to see the influx and expression of creative flair and individuality. One feels proud of one’s own. It is a delight and a joy. When we started there out there were not many of us. There were mostly the designers from the Afro Caribbean community who were well known. Joe Casely-hayford, Bruce Oldfield etc. But we also moved in and carved a niche as well. Now the next generation are making their statements.

This is a joy, joy situation. We are a force to be reckoned with and the world needs to know and see it truth in it.

Most creative people usually have some personal attachment to their work. Which of your pieces are/were you most attached to?

Every piece has a story. There is the journey for a couture garment. It starts with a thought. A vision of something that has influenced you somewhere along the line. Then there is this burning desire and passion to realise it. I have worked on some wonderful pieces and I am passionate about each and every one of them. It takes countless man hours, detailed specific work, intricacy in design and elements and a whole lot or resources to make it all work.

My blue feather piece that was made in hand died feathers and embellished with crystals, took three people five weeks to make. Then there is the Purple ribbon dress made from about two thousand meters of ribbons, singly cut in strips of eleven centimetres each and hand sewn to a bed of stretch net base as modelled by Rachael Williams and my late friend Katoucha Niane.

Shall I then talk about the work in progress, a pearl white silk tulle dress in frills and ripples which has consumed about a hundred and sixty metres and still not done?

I put my heart and soul in each piece; I spare no expense in resources and time. If I see it that way in the vision, it has to be made that way, for in essence the details and outstanding accomplishments is what has set one aside.

What drives you?

Passion drives me. Creativity and the quest for excellence, coupled with an insatiable appetite to be successful drives me. The ability to dream, have a vision and see the finished product gives one satisfaction that can neither be explained nor equalled.

There is a joy seeing a product and knowing this came from a dream I had. There is a saying that goes that the greatest job you can have is one which you enjoy and also pays you a wage. What could be better than that?

 A quest to conquer fear and limitations drives me. The desire for perfection if such can be achieved, to create, innovate, to be unique, outstanding and to leave a mark positively and a legacy of dazzling brilliance when I am gone.

To show that nothing is impossible to the person who is resilient, one who has a goal and must make the dreams come alive with God’s help. These factors are my drive.

What goes into the average piece that you make?

A lot of thought goes into the design project. Passion, dedication, time, and a great deal of love and sacrifice go into each average piece. The need for an identity and signature to be embedded in the garment. This flair and style of the house must be carried and reflected in each design. The ethos of individuality and elegance, signature of the house which lends itself into creating the style identity. So when someone sees a garment, they can tell immediately “that’s an Adebayo Jones.”

Each piece is made with a whole lot of love.


What should we expect next from Adebayo Jones?

Great and mighty things. New ground-breaking projects. Ready to wear, online shop, accessories, more work on the cosmetic line which was launched last year in a capsule collection, seminars, shows and more. Somehow I believe in surprises, and for this child of God the best is yet to come, for this is going to be the best year of my life so far for me as well as the brand.

Waves of love and blessing to ya’all. Have a fabulous rest of 2012!

Adebayo Jones
Adebayo Jones

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