(BY CHINYERE AKATAOBI)
“Since the Aba Fashion Week, I have not rested”,Toskyme told me while injecting a bit of apology in Igbo for keeping me waiting for as long as he did.
“Everyone that showcased is cashing out” he proudly added as he sat back, a cocky smile playing on his lips as he reminisced on an occasion that many have tagged his finest hour.
“Fashion has always been a part of my life, my father is a man of style and although he isn’t in the fashion business, he knows a lot about details and coordinating colours, he provided the foundational knowledge and inspiration of what I am doing today.”
Toskyme(born Ugomdi Ogbonna) has come a long way from the days he made clothes for his friends at Babcock University where he studied economics in a quest to double his pocket money. Making over 200% profit on orders that cost him just 30,000 Naira to make, he realized he was onto something and decided to follow the path of his passion, much to the chagrin of his parents who had hoped that the son who they were investing so much in would walk the hallways of the world’s greatest universities as a Professor.
Toskyme had wisely obeyed them by getting two masters degrees which they funded while fine-tuning his craft, but by the end of the programs, he was sure of his calling in the Fashion world and submitted himself to training and apprenticeship much to the disappointment of his parents. Fuelled by the desire to turnaround the disappointment he could sense in the individuals that gave him life, he rented a small corner shop which he called Toskyme House of Fashion, a place he talked about with fondness as he reminisced about his early days of struggle.
“My parents were heartbroken by my decision and my dad had called the move I made madness. And until a few years ago he didn’t really take what I was doing seriously”,Toskyme says while attending to a client who had walked in to pick his finished clothes. The client speaking in heavily-accented English okayed the clothes and completed his payment to the delight of Toskyme who saw him off to the door with a knowing smile that can be easily traced to the just-completed financial transaction.
It was not always like this for the man whose mentees now call the ‘grandmaster of fashion’, a title which he has modestly refused to embrace. Being in Aba, a city saturated with a vast number of creative talents in the leather and garment industry, did him no favors as the excess supply of people in his craft made profitability within his immediate environment a pipe dream. It would be 6 more years of grinding before he could truly call his business profitable, a situation of good fortune which was aided by the participation and support of his wife who is now a prominent fixture in his business.
“Being mocked that I wasn’t financially ready to raise a family left me with a point to prove and by the end of the year I married my wife I had bought my first car and acquired my first set of properties.”
“Knowing that I had a family to look after made me start travelling outside Aba to market my products and my eyes became open to the opportunities which I didn’t see as a single man. “I reduced the number of hours which I spent on my bed and increased the hours which I spent in my shop to meet the increased orders that came out from my moves.”
These days, he is eating good. An Aba-based Tailor on a quest for global recognition and with an Instagram followership of close to 70,000 people, Toskyme has leveraged on the opportunities which the platform offers to enable him scale and solidify his spot as one of the best in Nigeria. With his target market stretching beyond the shores of Africa, social media has been a key driver of his growth and Toskyme readily admits to the quantum leap which his business has experienced since he began sharing his work using the power of the internet.
On Aba, his eyes gleamed with pride when I asked about the influence which the city has had on him. With words bordering on the evident exaggeration that can only come from being emotionally attached to a place, Toskyme talked up the potential of the city that, for some, should be the Milan of Africa.
“ABA TO THE WORLD is not just a slogan, it has been a major ingredient in the pot of Nigeria’s fashion industry and for a long time the creative players in it haven’t gotten their due credit”, he says. “The entire point of the fashion week was to showcase our essence, our style and culture”, he continued, referring to the week-long fashion event which he conceptualized and which was held in December 2020.
The event generated encouraging reviews and Toskyme who had been working on it with a childhood friend for close to a decade with little headway credits his meeting and sharing his dream with Sam Hart as the turning point in the realization of a lifelong dream. Sam Hart, working in his stead as the Director General of the Agency which is charged with marketing all things made in Abia State, had enlisted Governor Okezie’s Ikpeazu support, and with BETKING’S co-sign, the maiden Aba Fashion Week held to the applause of the fashion industry’s stakeholders and enthusiasts.
Despite working on his legacy which includes ensuring that his work graces the major fashion stores all around the world, a regular hobby of his is carving out time weekly to coach a group of young designers who he notes have shown the required aptitude, stubbornness to follow their passion and openness to take the honest feedback which his experienced head can give.
By all accounts, Toskyme is closer to the life which he has always dreamed of, the brand has gotten bigger and he is aware of the weight of expectations that now sits on his broad shoulders. “Is there any other path you, sometimes out of curiosity, wish you had taken?” I asked as I stood up to leave.“Akata this is what I was born to do. Nothing else would have been fulfilling”, he replied without hesitation.
Reflecting on our conversation, I am confident in the potential of Aba’s renaissance and position in the fashion industry. The increasing awareness and intentional investments of the different stakeholders who have remained steadfast despite the effects of previous bad governance renews my hope that, finally, Aba is getting it’s due recognition, especially with people like Toskyme championing this course.