Welcome to The T-Spot. This series is the official MUSTA Talent Spotlight where we highlight some really talented people, from different creative Industries.
In this episode of The T-Spot, 26 year old artist, fashion designer and business woman, Uche Daubry, talks about the work her company NotAFlowerGirl Ltd does to enable creatives achieve their full potential. She explores how filling the void in ethical business practices and systemic creative operations by promoting sustainable management led her to create her slow fashion brand and what she has learnt so far working in a country that is predominantly eco-unfriendly.
Q1. Hi Uche! Please tell us about what you do.
Hello. My company is called NotAFlowerGirl Limited which sustains, strengthens and supports creatives in Nigeria. We provide support for startups in the arts and fashion industry by giving transactional advice on the setup for sustainable and green conscious brands and providing professional assistance on sustainability project and compliance management.
To support these creatives to the best of my ability, I have to improve myself, step into their shoes and hone my art skills. Now, this led me to innovate other methods of promoting sustainability by entering into the business of arts and fashion myself and birthing NotAFlowerGirl Arts and NotAFlowerGirl Fashion. We work hard to positively impact our environment, community and society as a whole.
Q2. Interesting, tell us more about these two brands.
Through NotAFlowerGirl Arts, I hone my skills by carrying out residency programs in established art studios and galleries. I'm also an art dealer, so through this brand, I facilitate art sales and protection of intellectual property.
As for NotAFlowerGirl Fashion, the brand thrives on sustainability. We design clothes but we don't do mass production or fast fashion. We are sustainability pro and like to encourage people to be more conscious of the environment. So we upcycle, utilize zero waste techniques to design new clothes and whenever we collaborate with shoes and clothes producing companies we always come up with designs that are sustainable and durable. We create designs that can serve multi-functions and multi-purposes. The goal is to make people have less for more and more for less.
2021 Collaborative shoot with Ibukun Williams. All clothing, jewelry and styling by NotAFlowerGirl Fashion sourced from mixing African prints and rescuing plain pieces.
Q3. What was your inspiration to begin this journey?
My inspiration was my passion for Arts which started in secondary school. I would always find myself doodling in classes and it continued even when I got to Law School. I have been holding the name 'NotAFlowerGirl' since 2017 and for some reason even at the point of wanting to let go, something kept telling me to hold on. So I registered the name as a business in 2019 and because I had drawn and painted prior to that, I was a bit confused as to the direction I wanted the business to take.
Serendipitously, the journey chose me. Coming out of the Nigerian Law School, I noticed that a lot of artists, especially younger ones were not being professional with the way they handled their business, they're so talented but couldn't maximize their business's profit. I saw that this need to help them was there, and I could organize and fulfill it for them.
Basically, my brand is just a passion to purpose vehicle. I took my passion for sustainability, arts and fashion, and turned it into a purpose—support and encourage people who are vocationals to be more organized, professional and environmentally conscious in their approach.
Q4. How has the journey been so far?
NotAFlowerGirl has come a long way from where it began. I started with Afeez Yusuf who is now exhibited at the London Art Gallery. I’ve worked with the Lamishi Brothers and a range of commercial to studio to commission artists. Currently, I am the director of finance at Artstier Studio. I have had the privilege of being under the tutelage of Obi Nwaegbe and Ms. Jacqueline Suowari - who happens to be one of the biggest female exhibiting contemporary artist in Nigeria. She uses waste materials to create new art pieces and I have learnt so much from her. I recently joined the society of Nigerian artists and though I haven’t been diligent and consistent, it helps me to see where the issues lie in the industry and how to solve them.
Q5. Well done Uche! What 3 words will you use to describe your business?
Arts, fashion and social contributions
Q6. Are there any challenges you face on the way?
So many challenges oh.
The first is mindset, in Nigeria a lot of people just want to make money. This mindset causes them to lose sight of the value of doing whatever they want to do well. My mother will always say whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. As an artist it’s important you put your hearts and mind into what you are creating. We need to get to the point where the value we are giving is more important than money. Money should not be the end goal. Let’s create our own currency by improving on our value system and the way we think.
The second one is superstition. So when we go to collect waste materials from tailors, they try to sell it to us and when we refuse, they accuse us of wanting to use the materials for juju. And truly if you don’t bring money, they will just throw the materials away. We need people to be more open minded and collaborative.
Lastly, funding. Obviously, you cannot tell creatives you want to teach them how to maximize profit and you don’t have the money to support them. So we work hard to fund, which is why we have our store where we sell clothes and shoes because it funds this other dream of supporting sustainability as well as people’s art. We need money to buy machinery, to aid us in paying the people we work with and to help us in creating awareness on sustainability in arts and fashion.
Q7. What advice do you have for people who want to enter into the fashion and arts industry in a sustainable manner?
Never look down on anything. The best gifts sometimes come in rough packages. If you want to start sustainable fashion but you’re waiting to have a huge amount of money so that you can go into the market and buy certain materials, then you are on the wrong path. You should be able to start from your wardrobe and the things you’ve got.
Also, if you want to enter sustainable fashion, you need to study every day. When I do a new course, I learn something that just blows my mind and creates new pathways my brand can take.
Learn a lot, go to tailoring school and sharpen your art, fashion and design skills because you cannot direct people when you don’t have the skills, you simply will not get the full picture. So take out the time to learn and improve yourself.
Q8. How can we be more sustainable in our day-to-day life?
Make your clothes with local tailors and sustainable fashion brands. Buy less fast-fashion and instead of jumping on trends, find your authentic style. You should also make it a point of duty to own a plant and plant a tree.
Q9. Creatively what would you say is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
Tailoring is the last skill I acquired but that’s my greatest strength, I’m really good at it.
My greatest weakness is leveraging relationships for collaborations. I’m socially awkward so I find it hard to ask for favors, though I’m learning. I’ve joined a community of networkers to actively improve my networking skills because without networking no one knows what you’re doing.
Q10. What is one clothing item you cannot live without and one item on your wishlist?
I can’t live without a jacket, I always have a jacket on. I want to own a Tamara Mellon shoe so bad.
Q11. What is the best thing about the work you do?
Having something in my head, doing it and then seeing it come to life. Sometimes it’s better than I imagined, other times it’s worse.
Q12. What’s your favorite project so far?
I styled some Nigerian celebrities Larry Gaga, Lasisi and Magnito for a music show, though the show hasn’t aired yet. I also entered the GetRedressed competition and I designed a collection called ‘hidden gems’ using rescued materials, old clothing and then zero waste techniques on the new ones. The collection revealed to people the gems that can be discovered if they just took the time to look through the trash.
Q13. What projects can we expect from your brand soon enough?
The company has been working on a series that celebrates and inspires people to love African Culture. It’s called Harmattan. It is an arts and fashion event that aims to make culture luxurious through its art, fashion, drinks and food. It brings people together to come and learn more about each other’s culture, tribe and religion. We’ve had one in 2019 and virtual ones after but we are working on having another one, come harmattan season this year.
Harmattan fashion exhibition 2019. Collection title: Sticks and leaves. Description: Used old gorge materials and African prints to create pieces for the collection.
We are also releasing a new collection this year with a shoe and clothing company as well, some of Abuja’s favorite. We are working hard to drop it before the year ends!
You can check out the inspiring work Uche is doing here!