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My ambition is to be a brand in the global handbags business -Nena Kalu Ogba

By Kehinde Falode
Nena Kalu Ogba
Nena Kalu Ogba

Nena Kalu Ogba of Nena Kal Hunter Ltd. is known for designing and producing extraordinary high fashion millinery. She is renowned too for classy handbags production with best quality materials. A manufacturer and retailer of ladies' hats and fascinators, Nena studied Fashion and Textile Design at De- Montfort University, England? She then decided to focus on millinery;she built her hat making expertise when she trained with Mrs Rose Cory, a milliner to the late Queen Mother of England. In this interview with Kehinde Falode, she speaks about her passion for the fashion industry and her new handbag collection.

People all over the world know you as a milliner; what prompted you to go into handbag business?
Basically I am trying to build a brand; people know me as a milliner (hat maker) but that is not actually the only thing that I studied. I studied Fashion and Textile Design in England at De- Montfort University in Leister. I learnt how to do bras and knickers, bikini, interior design, bridal wears, children's wears, sport wear. So, I later did a short course on how to make bags and pants as well. I learnt all these abroad,

Your relocation to Nigeria, was it a business strategy?

It wasn't; basically when I finished my university, the tradition in my family is to come back home and stay for sometime before going back. I went there to study, what I wanted was to practise here. It was really like I came here to do business.

I came home for a short visit, made a small hat and wore it to a wedding and I got stuck; from just that one outing, I got thirty orders; making hats actually was not what I intended to do, it came as a mistake. I wore it to a wedding and I got stuck in the business of making hat, so, that is just what happened. Basically my goal is not just to make hats, it is actually to build a brand, like we have proper brands abroad like HM, Topshop, Marks & Spencer, Mango, Next etc.

I am a general designer, I design anything that has to do with fashion; perhaps working with Mrs. Rose Cory the milliner to the late Queen Mother of England taught me how to make hat, made it possible for me to launch out and the hat business has really been booming but I am actually trying to go into other fashion things also, like doing handbags, home décor stuff etc. I am trying to build a visionary life style brand, a brand that will survive even after I am dead.

Why did you start with hat, home décor etc and now bags? Why not lingerie?

Yeah, lingerie is somehow complicated. At first when I came back, my dad gave me a piece of land in Aba to set up a factory; you see the infra-structure is not yet there for the laundry business, moreover they are banning this and that (lace, African prints etc) so, where do I start from for the laundry? It will be difficult and I said ok instead of starting with the laundry, let me start with the handbag and I start to design handbags. I didn't plan it, it just happened and now it is a business. I am a jack of all trade and master of all. Right now I am trying to build a brand, people know me for hat but hat is not actually the only thing I studied, I make .design for jewelry as well.

The bags that you are churning out, are they normal office bags, clutch bags or what?

They are funky bags like the one I am carrying (a very nice bag that is beautifully crafted). I have my names on it; everything that I produced is Nena Kal Hunter.
eople all over the world know you as a milliner; what prompted you to go into handbag business?

Basically I am trying to build a brand; people know me as a milliner (hat maker) but that is not actually the only thing that I studied. I studied Fashion and Textile Design in England at De- Montfort University in Leister. I learnt how to do bras and knickers, bikini, interior design, bridal wears, children's wears, sport wear. So, I later did a short course on how to make bags and pants as well. I learnt all these abroad,

Your relocation to Nigeria, was it a business strategy?

It wasn't; basically when I finished my university, the tradition in my family is to come back home and stay for sometime before going back. I went there to study, what I wanted was to practise here. It was really like I came here to do business.

I came home for a short visit, made a small hat and wore it to a wedding and I got stuck; from just that one outing, I got thirty orders; making hats actually was not what I intended to do, it came as a mistake. I wore it to a wedding and I got stuck in the business of making hat, so, that is just what happened. Basically my goal is not just to make hats, it is actually to build a brand, like we have proper brands abroad like HM, Topshop, Marks & Spencer, Mango, Next etc.

I am a general designer, I design anything that has to do with fashion; perhaps working with Mrs. Rose Cory the milliner to the late Queen Mother of England taught me how to make hat, made it possible for me to launch out and the hat business has really been booming but I am actually trying to go into other fashion things also, like doing handbags, home décor stuff etc. I am trying to build a visionary life style brand, a brand that will survive even after I am dead.

Why did you start with hat, home décor etc and now bags? Why not lingerie?

Yeah, lingerie is somehow complicated. At first when I came back, my dad gave me a piece of land in Aba to set up a factory; you see the infra-structure is not yet there for the laundry business, moreover they are banning this and that (lace, African prints etc) so, where do I start from for the laundry? It will be difficult and I said ok instead of starting with the laundry, let me start with the handbag and I start to design handbags. I didn't plan it, it just happened and now it is a business. I am a jack of all trade and master of all. Right now I am trying to build a brand, people know me for hat but hat is not actually the only thing I studied, I make .design for jewelry as well.

The bags that you are churning out, are they normal office bags, clutch bags or what?

They are funky bags like the one I am carrying (a very nice bag that is beautifully crafted). I have my names on it; everything that I produced is Nena Kal Hunter.

What kind of fabric do you use?

Are they local fabrics or imported?

The fabrics are made in America and the leather is made in Brazil; it is a combination of both and it is hand finished, the only local input are the stitches and the label; all these are being produced at a mini factory at the back of my house and I sell my products on line. I am doing fabrics and synthetics and I am also doing leather but the real leather collection will come out in January.

What sort of fabric do you like working or experimenting with?

I love to work with fabrics that have a lot of lines, colour and shades; for example, if I want to develop a hat right now, the first thing that comes to mind is the shade. I don't like very lousy decoration on my products; I like to keep it simple.

While so many women are crazy about bags in general, few don't give a damn about it, what they lay emphasis on are their shoes. So, what importance do you place on handbags?

Basically women can't do without a handbag; I can't go out without a handbag. I think bag comes before shoes, it is a necessity; moreover you chuck all your stuffs (make-up bag, cheque book, phones, keys etc) in there; you can't do without it, unless you want to be carrying a nylon bag (laughs).

There are a thousand handbag designers out there; the competition is very high; so, what makes your bags unique?

The prints that I use for my bags are things that women relate to, for example the one I am carrying has lipsticks colours on it; there is also another print that has encouraging words for girls and there is another that has all types of heels on it. The company that produces the fabrics manufacture only forty eight pieces and they are all for me in Los Angels in America.

Who are your target audience?

Before my target were on people between the age bracket of 18 and 35 but I just found out that even old women like my mum are buying it! So I am confused (laughs). I have been traveling around the world and I noticed that most of the clothes shops right now, if you go to the children section, you find that the kids are wearing the same thing as their mom, kids and adults are wearing the same fashion right now. Everyone is wearing the same thing but with miniature version for the kids and I think this is cool

Big and oversized bags are the order of the day, are you working toward that direction?

Yes, I am doing big bag for the leather collection.

How did you come about the name Hunter, it sounds foreign?

My surname is Ogba and my grandfather was a hunter, so I decided to change it around, in order to funkify it. Ogba means hunter.

What was your growing up like?

I went to a seminary secondary school, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican girls' seminary school in Umuahia. I learnt a lot there, the discipline that I have now, is from there. It was a lot of fun. I have a wonderful family; I come from a family of loving parents and relations. My dad is a lawyer and he is also the Attorney General of his state; so many years ago my mum studied music in the university.

Is designing what you have always wanted to do?

All my life, this is what I have always wanted to do; I designed my first cloth when I was nine years old. I bought the fabric for one naira fifty kobo and sold it for thirty naira to one of my dad's junior lawyers that worked in my father's chambers; my mummy bought me my first sewing machine when I was nine.

What motivates you when you are designing something with your name behind it?

I like things that stand out. I don't like things that are common and I like things that look unique. So, when I am designing, I look for things that are not the norms which will definitely be a trail blazer. I don't like to produce something and people believe that it is made in Nigeria, made in Nigeria things are not up to standard, but thank God, things are changing now. I like well finished products. I pay more attention to detail and finishing.

Challenges faced in the course of doing your job.

Capital, it is quite a challenge; you know it is not easy getting a loan in Nigeria and trying to grow with your own money is not a joke. Banks are not helping people, when they want to give you loan, you have to mortgage huge collateral, but when you are up there, they would want to be identified with you.PHCN is a long big problem, manpower is another. I try to employ people to do the work but I noticed that they don't finish things really, really well, they don't have the patience. Getting people who can actually concentrate and keep to details is a bit of a problem.

Favourite Jewelry

I love Babyphat jewelry, because they are bling-bling and this makes it glamorous.

Favourite shoes designer

I like Babyphat shoes, their shoes is really hot.

On label

I am not a label freak; I wear anything from high street to whatever. I am not crazy on label, anyway I make my clothes.

Style

Style for me is keeping it simple and I like to look hot at the same time. I don't believe in wearing too much jewelry or make-up. I just know where to draw the line, simple clothing and sophisticated accessories, then you look cool.

Personal style

I like to keep it simple; when you come to my house, you will see my personality there. My house is simple but sophisticated. So, I keep my dressing simple and sophisticated.

Where do you shop for clothes?

I make some of my clothes and some I buy abroad; I buy from Zara, Mango etc.