While in Kenya last April, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet fashion designer Adèle Dejak, who'd I'd posted about earlier in the year. I continue to be impressed by Adèle's productivity, perfectionism and professionalism. All of these attributes are evident in the high quality of her prolific collection of work. She gave me a tour of her workshop and showroom in Kiambu and sat down with me to talk about her story and her inspiration.
What's your passion?
Passion for fashion! I love fashion and fashion accessories. A woman deserves to look good and that's my passion. Sorry, change that. Design. Anything: it could be fashion, photography, illustration, websites, anything to do with design. That's my passion.
What inspired MagikGrace?
Magik as in amazing, not superstition. I came up with it in 2002, the year after my mother died. She died suddenly and it was a big shock to everyone. Her name was Grace. She was a very special person to me. I didn't want to call it "amazing" because that would sound like the hymn. So I went with Magik, with a K so that it doesn't hint at superstition, and that's how I came up with the name MagikGrace.
What was it like learning to run a business?
I'm not a businesswoman. So it's incredible that I have a business! It's taught me a lot about finding a really really reliable manager. I have two: Morine and Carol. They are amazing. I used to be very naive and too trustworthy. I had a previous manager who stole quite a lot from me. That was just bad luck. Unfortunately, the downside of what I do now is that I'd like to be designing all day. I'm only designing 10% of the time, 20% at most, and most of the time dealing with pricing (which I hate), communication strategies, PR, marketing etc. I don't want to get involved. I just want to come in and design.
It's mainly my fault simply because I'm a terrible control freak. If you want something done with your vision in mind, you've got to be. I've had to learnt to delegate but it's really hard. I've got a workshop supervisor, workshop manager.
What has been your greatest obstacle or challenge in establishing and developing of your business?
Quality. Finding the right suppliers for my horn ebony. I would create a drawing and give a sample to the guy doing the horn work and it would come out tacky, cheap and badly made. I think the biggest challenge is finding the right people. Not labourers because that's quite easy – I've been quite lucky in that respect. I have very loyal labourers: tailors, jewellery-makers, beaders. But the biggest problem with the business I'm doing now has been finding good quality artisans – those who produce good quality work.
How have you dealt with it, what solutions have you found?
I've just kept looking and asking everywhere and everyone. Even going to shops and asking, "who made this? Can I have their contacts?" Some people would give me that information, some wouldn't. I've been lucky because some of these places really helped me locate the right people.
What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is that, in such a short time, I've established myself as a well-made brand, here in Kenya [Adèle has established four boutiques in under three years] . For a newcomer, I think that's probably my greatest achievement.
Do you have desires to expand?
Yeah, that's next. People do buy from Italy, France. I would like Adele Dejak/MagikGrace to be an established, well-known brand, internationally.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Still in Africa and doing what I'm doing. I wouldn't say I'd like a factory with 3,000 people – no, that would compromise the quality. My brand will be well-recognised but … I don't like looking too far ahead. You don't know what's around the corner. I love Africa so I'll still be in Africa – still in Kenya or Nigeria or … anywhere in Africa. Still improving – there's always room for improvement, nothing is perfect. Trying to improve, hopefully, an established international brand.
How does Africa inspire you?
In every shape and form. I would say the fabrics are key, and the artwork. I'm half Nigerian you know. I grew up in England but was always on holiday in Nigeria. More recently (four years ago), with my husband in Lagos where I've never been. There's so much – it's so rich in everything: pottery, artwork, paintings. The fabric is artwork in itself. I'm a huge fan of the aso-oke. The Kenyan kikoy with an aso-oke looks great and could be worn anywhere in the world. They've got this African feel.
I love everything about Africa. There's something special here. Life for most Africans is so hard – most of them struggle. They push to do something better. You see in the villages people make toys from takataka (rubbish). My recycled bag is inspired by the mama mbogas who carry vegetables using sacks. I thought that's such a cool thing – it's amazing that they just use everything. Africans have been the first inventors of recycling, they recycle everything. Things don't get really thrown away because there are people who will rummage through that rubbish and get what they think they can use in some way or another. I think it's amazing. Ingenuity. Thats the word I've been looking for. I think that's what makes Africa special. Nothing is wasted here.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
That's tough. There's so much I want to share. My job is amazing. I've been lucky I have an amazing team; they are brilliant and I adore them. I've met the right people at the right time in the right place. I'm a huge believer in coincidence and chance. On some of my paintings I write, "make chance essential." That's from Deepak Chopra (my husband always teases me about that). In his book, Synchrodestiny, he writes, "make chance essential." It really does make sense because everything that happens in your life is a chance thing and it's how you use that particular moment in time. Everything that happens to your life is what you make of a chance coincidental moment. Sometimes you can look back and say what would have happened if I had done this? Would it have been something bad or positive?
With regard to me and my business and my life, I think it's just taking specific moments, having met specific people, and using it. Not in a selfish way but, as a journey. It's all a journey, a path with moments we connect with, to move on in the progression of the journey
Is there anything we should look out for from you in the coming weeks, months, years?
My Afri-love collection. I'm so excited about it – I've created it in your honour. It should be coming out around September because it takes a while. Just getting a sample might take two weeks or three. I'm targeting September-October for the Afri-love collection. Also, my little black dress. I would love to go into interiors. I want to focus more on my bags as well. A couple of new designs will be in the Afri-love collection.
Check out Adèle Dejak's blog for updates, fun inside peeks, giveaways etc. There are some truly great photos of her collections, events (such as the Tribal Chic fashion show) and experiences running the business (such as the history, Adèle's trips to market etc.) on her Facebook page. View more photos from my visit on the Afri-love Facebook page.
Images: top, seventh and eighth by Dean Zulich; Adèle portrait and team photo, courtesy of Adèle; remaining pictures taken by Lulu Kitololo.