I dear to be different, says Ebony Okosuns
HER name is Ebony Okosuns and she is the first daughter of the late Evangelist Sonny Okosuns and Stella Monye. A rebel from birth, Ebony craved to be different. And that rebellious attitude has come to the fore in her chosen profession, fashion designing.
Today, Ebony's designs as weird looking as the creator's rebellious lifestyle, is fast attracting the attention and patronage of some of our top celebrities.
In this interview, the petite bombshell who at a point in life wanted to follow in her father's musical shoes, expresses herself.
What kind of name is Babugee?
It's my nickname and it was given to me by my baby niece. I think she was trying to call Ebony but in her baby tongue, she ended up saying Babugee and it stuck and now, everybody calls me Babugee
Are you the owner of this Fashion House?
Yes I am. I know you will be surprised.
Is that what you studied in school?
No, I went to school to study Computer Information but I don't like computers. Anytime I touch the laptops, just know that I'm working on fashion pictures and music. I didn't want to be the one processing data, networking and doing all that web designs and so on.
How did this all start?
In the first place I didn't want to be a fashion designer, I wanted to be a nurse, a photographer and a musician. I didn't want to be a nurse because I wanted to treat people in the hospital and all that, no.
I just liked their fashion. I equally wanted to be a musician because they are very fashionable people so in all these careers, it was just the fashion aspect of it that I was only interested in.
As a little girl, I used to make myself dresses with needle and thread from the left over of my mother's clothes. I sew skirts for myself, shape my clothes in one direction or the other and they were fine on me.
I never thought of making a career out of fashion design, I only knew that they were cute on me and I loved them. Also when I wore them abroad, I looked different in those weird dresses I made.
What are the reactions of people when they see you in such weird dresses?
Really, I make weird dresses but I tell you what, everybody likes them and they will ask me where I got those dresses from. People didn't know that I am a tailor and when I tell them I made them, they usually ask me to make the same for them. At the beginning, I was doing it for free until it got to a point when I was like maybe, I should start charging them some money and I began to charge them but it was peanuts.
So how much was your first charge?
It was 20 dollars, but I always told them to appreciate it because if I take it to a shop, it could go for 200 dollars.
So my friends just sort of paid for the needle and thread. I made so many designs that people started advising me to sell them, that was how it all started, it went on like that until I did a fashion show which took so much of my time and I told myself that if this is what I am really passionate about, then everything I want to do should be put into it.
I got jobs to do for people and I increased my efforts and price as well, so I took it seriously and told myself that I could always do music if I wanted, after all, it's right there at the backyard.
How were you able to source for materials since you were more interested in using African fabrics?
My mum sent them to me, not directly, but she makes me BouBou and when they come, I will loosen them and make them into something else just like that. When she sees them she will say this wasn't what I sent you and I will tell her that it was the material I needed not the style.
You didn't ask for materials directly...?
No, not in the beginning. In the beginning I was just making do with whatever she will send to me, I will split them to pieces and make what I like not because they were cute, but because they weren't mine. I just wanted to wear my own designs, if she sends me trousers, I will simply reconstruct it into a skirt.
Did you think if you had told her earlier she would not have allowed you to do it?
No, I wasn't thinking in the direction of becoming a fashion designer, I was still in school and I was doing all these for fun, not for money yet. Instead of lazing away after school I engaged myself with dress-making.
What about your father, how did he take it?
My father wasn't a very strict person, he allows you to do whatever you wish to do best, after all, he didn't go to school - I mean he didn't finish primary school. But most people wouldn't believe it because he was very well spoken.
He will only advise you to work hard on anything you chose to do, he wasn't too hard that you must go to school, finish college and so on. He will always tell you that it is true that school is great, but it is not for everybody, “ I didn't go to school so it will be hypocritical of me to force anybody to go to school.”
Were you able to make clothes for him?
Yes, I made some of his clothes, but he didn't believe that I was serious about it because I told him I wanted to sing. He always complimented me that those dresses I made were cute. Generally, most of the people didn't take my work seriously until I came back home two years ago and when I came back, I bought an industrial sewing machine here in Lagos.
One day, my father came into my little room and saw materials scattered everywhere, some clothes that I had already made hanging on the wall and the machines, he turned to my mother and said “Ah!, where did she learn all these? (laughing), I thought she was playing.”
Even when I was bringing in the machine, he felt it was one of those toys until he actually saw me working with clothes cut in pieces.
One would wonder why you came home to settle because you could have made it big in America?
The truth is that the opportunities here are bigger and better.
I don't have to sell my body to make it big like Versace.
Does it really happen in America?
Yeah. Hollywood is a big mess, but let's leave it to them because I am talking from my own personal experience and I'm not saying that nobody makes it big in the honest way. I know I'm a beautiful girl so it makes it more difficult for me over there because most of the people you meet that can actually put you up there are men, so when they begin to demand for what I cannot afford, it makes it difficult for me .
Nigerian men and women are considered very fashionable, is it true also in America?
Absolutely, compared to anywhere else in the world even in America we stand out. I can say the Americans envy us, they beef over what we have because we have what they don't have. Naturally, Nigerians have this“I'm too much” attitude (shakara), we carry it wherever we go.
Are you saying the Americans don't have this attitude?
Americans are like mad at the world, but we are black and proud people living our own lives, and we feel fabulous and okay in our style.
What has it been like since you relocated?
I've always loved to be home, I will say my birthday wish every year was to come back home, but my dad will say no for one reason or the other.
Business-wise, I will say I have accomplished so much in the nine months I have spent here than I had done in the many years I lived in America. Secondly, it has not been very difficult here because I have to do everything myself.
I have not achieved anything under my father's influence because I have always believed in my work. As soon as I understood that God has blessed me with this career, I told myself that I have to go home and show my people what I've got.
People have not walked into my shop because I'm Sunny Okosuns' daughter. When I wear the dresses I make to places, people will always love them and ask what I do and when I tell them, they ask me to make some for them, that's how I have been getting my jobs. When I first tell them that I am a tailor, they will tell me I don't look like one. Some will say tailors are bigger than I am and all that.
Why do they say that to you?
I am tiny, most people don't expect me to know how to use the machine. And they don't even believe I am as old as I am because I am tiny. They don't know whether to call me Aunty or my name.
You should have told them that good things come in small packs...
(Laughing) Yeah, that's one thing they don't know.
Some people think your clothes are weird and crazy- - - - - -
Yes they are because they are daring. They are weird and crazy because they are different and there is nothing wrong with that, I dare to be different, it must not be the typical everyday dressing.
How do you combine colours?
I look at the person and look for the colours that will match the person's complexion and it suits them well. I like the African print because I'm black and proud so I use the African print to design clothes. I am not coming to create another African print but I concentrate on the styling which is the work of a designer.
When will you have your exhibition here in Nigeria?
I have already featured in Mon Ami's show. City People Entertainment put the show together.
If you have an opportunity of clothing a celebrity in Nigeria, who will it be?
I will start with Genevieve, but I know she has a clothes line now so, I don't know how possible that will be. I like her body type, in fact, looking at her, I can think of so many designs and I must say she is my favourite actress.
Then 2face, he is very stylish, but he doesn't know it, he needs someone to be designing for him. He is so stuck on the Hip Hop dressing but I have seen him on other dressing, maybe when he is attending an award ceremony, and he is good in them.
Are you in any relationship presently?
No, I'm not.
Are you just going to be doing this fashion thing without getting hooked up with someone?
The problem I have is that young, intelligent men get intimidated coming close to me and so I end up getting the super model kind of men but the problem is that they don't have brains.
The super models feel within them that they are the ones who deserve to be around, forgetting that what I want is different from what they think they've got. I want somebody who's got character and intelligence.
What's your daily routine like?
When I get up in the morning, I pray and meditate, then I stretch my body a little to keep my body fit. I brush my teeth and take a shower.
What cream do you use?
I use shear butter(ori).
For how long have you been using it?
Ever since, I have always loved to be African in my doings even in America and as a child, my mother bought creams for me but ever since I grew up and decided to live my life, I use only shea butter because sometimes when you really go through the chemical content, you find out they are not all good.
What perfumes do you use?
I'm not big on perfume, but I like Rose oil and C K I but now, if I have to choose my favourite perfume, it will be Gucci Rash.
I noticed you are not wearing any make ups and earrings...
Yes, I don't use make up at all, as for earrings, my mother tried all she could do to make me love them. When I was still small I always ended up losing one and coming back with one and make up excuses and, at a point, she just gave up and said maybe I was supposed to be a boy.