Luxury Connect Africa: Spotlight on Tiffany Amber
Folake Coker, the creator of Africa’s first ready-to-wear line (Tiffany Amber), was one of the keynote speakers at the recently held Luxury Connect Africa event at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris. Tiffany Amber was awarded the inaugural African Luxury Heritage Brand of the Year at Luxury Connect Africa on 1 March 2019. Folake shared the following gems with the audience.
On creating Tiffany Amber
- Before Tiffany Amber came along, traditional clothing was worn in a traditional way. It was certainly not worn to create a personal style. There were no African fashion designers creating ready-to-wear fashion for Africans. They created bespoke designs, not ready-to-wear lines.
- The brand was born out of her personal desire for how she wanted to dress having returned to Nigeria from Europe. She was in law school in the north of Nigeria which was hot and humid. This led her to design clothes for herself. She experimented with fashion design during the holidays which received huge positive feedback. This is where the concept of owning a brand originated.
- She understood the concept of the business of fashion before she understood the business of design. She created a line. Took two suitcases of her clothing line to law school and sold out within 2 hours. There was a long holiday between year 1 and year 2 of law school. She used the 13 months break to create more lines with the intention of holding an exhibition. People in those days typically attended fashion shows to laugh at the clothes and the models. However, people convinced her to hold a fashion show. The rest is history.
- The name Tiffany Amber came from Folake’s love of the two names. Nigerians didn’t trust fashion created by Nigerians, so the foreign name made it cool to wear “Made in Nigeria”. If it’s cool in Nigeria it is going to be cool everywhere else in Africa.
On the business of Tiffany Amber
- Folake has always had one hand on the customer and another on design. We need people to wear Tiffany Amber. It’s how we grow. It shouldn’t be an item one has hanging in one’s wardrobe.
- Tiffany Amber has succeeded because it is a brand that continues to reinvent itself. This success in part is because people thought it was a foreign brand. “It was the first ready to wear brand by a Nigerian for a Nigerian. There was no blueprint for me to follow. No platforms for African fashion. No fashion week. Social media was virtually non-existent”. Coupled with Folake’s lack of formal training in fashion these factors created an extremely challenging environment. However, this gave her a huge opportunity to do things her own way and create the blueprint for other African brands to follow. The same simple concept in design that launched the label is still there, but the clothes became more confident in artistry. Classic yet youthful. Sexy yet demure. Vibrant yet sophisticated. The clothes had a global appeal and therefore were highly sought after.
- The African woman has evolved around the world. She is not afraid to explore her culture. She stands out in every court she enters. She commands a new type of chic. A new type of style. A new type of sexy. A new type of cool. A new type of elegance that is made in Africa and is made for now. The African Woman is an arbiter of that evolution and Tiffany Amber showed the world that African fabrics did not have to be restricted to traditional events.
- Tiffany Amber Culture’s (a sub-brand of the main Tiffany Amber brand) clients are predominantly based outside of Africa. They can wear the sub-brand without feeling like they are wearing a costume. It’s African style. An African aesthetic.
- Tiffany Amber deliberately focused on Africa because it was a completely untapped market. Though the brand has experienced international recognition it is important for the foundation of any brand to be very strong and rooted before branching out globally.
- Constant reinvention has kept the brand relevant. Creating products that constantly reflect the mindset of the new African Woman. Not just to stand out in her own African continent but to a wider audience around the world.
On how the African woman has evolved in the 20 years of Tiffany Amber’s life
- She travels a lot more now. She is a global nomad. She has educated herself on everybody else’s culture and has become comfortable in accepting her own culture. Twenty years ago one would not find a Nigerian woman with a jacket made out of traditional fabric in her suitcase to leave the country. Now they are so proud. They say “make me an amazing jacket so that when I get to the streets of New York everybody is going to be asking me where I got the jacket from”. It is not just the African woman that has evolved. Designers have evolved too. Once upon a time when an African woman traveled she did so to go shopping, not for leisure. That’s why when one got to the airport in Lagos they would find one person with 15 suitcases and wonder what was in them. Now it has reduced significantly. Clothing by African designers is in demand by Africans right now because we are confident in our culture and we want to share it with the world.
On how her legal background helps her run Tiffany Amber
- “I am very hands-on with the business aspects. I can’t imagine anyone taking me for a ride legally. I know what I am doing in terms of the legal aspects of the business. The law does not really support the arts and fashion industry in Africa right now. It is still very much in its infancy. Designer A can make something today and Designer B can make the same thing tomorrow. There is nothing Designer A can do about it except call her out on social media and then everybody forgets after about a week. My legal background has helped me to have a lot of structure in the running of the business.”
On expanding into Francophone countries
- Ivorian and Senegalese women are very alluring and have been on Folake’s mind for two years as potential new markets. There has been discouragement because the retail spaces in those countries do not really support a brand like Tiffany Amber. However, the brand will find a way to have a presence in those countries. (Tiffany Amber is currently stocked in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. It will be entering South Africa soon).
On Naomi Campbell walking the runway in Tiffany Amber at Arise Fashion Week
- “We were told Naomi would be the main model coming for Arise Fashion Week. It was decided that they would dress Naomi in something that in 2 years or 10 years time would still be recognisable as Tiffany Amber. Something timeless. Naomi’s stylist Jenke Ahmed Tailly agreed with the choice. Backstage Naomi held my hand and said she would walk down the runway with me. She was dancing along to the music. She was really gracious. We got to the stage and she showed a real appreciation for the brand. A few days later she started following us on social media. It was really encouraging to know a celebrity model like Naomi who has worn practically every major designer in the world appreciated an African brand as much as she appreciated ours”.
On how she views the African Woman (Francophone? Anglophone? West African? Southern African? Pan African?)
- “I look at them from a pan African perspective but also recognise the differences between women from Africa. Each of them has their own vibe. It’s like knowing a French woman and an English woman have different vibes when it comes to fashion but you can cater to both markets. You need to understand how to cater to different women without changing the DNA of your brand. If you try to change the DNA of your brand you find that you would lose your way. When I look at an African woman I don’t see nationality. There is a new type of African woman now. A new type of chic. A new type of cool. A new type of elegance that is made in Africa and is made for now. I feel the vibes of women and that is what allows me to dress them the Tiffany Amber way”.
Folake Coker will be speaking at the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference, 10-1 April 2019 in Cape Town South Africa
The brands Instagram handle is @tiffanyamberng