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Designer Profiles: BellaNaija Style Meets KÍLĖNTÁR, A New Brand with Aristocracy In Its Design DNA

BellaNaija Style

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Written by Ntianu Obiora

The 19th century upper class cemented their place in the style books with their elegant and
ostentatious manner of dressing. Long-sleeved blouses, frills, blouson skirts and corsets were the order of the day as the elite competed to impress and outdress. The upper echelon revelled in luxurious fabrics, tailor-made clothes with impeccable cuts and accessorised with silk, gold and precious furs. The era was defined by excess and womenswear was a celebration of the female silhouette with corsets and décolletage the very definition of femininity.

Fast forward to modern day and style has changed somewhat with women opting for more
understated looks but there is one designer whose pieces are reminiscent of a time gone by.
Michelle Adepoju, the Creative Director of KÍLĖNTÁR got her start in Marketing before
segueing into fashion design. Inspired by Nigerian designers like Lisa Folawiyo and her love
for embellishment, Michelle designs for the confident woman.

Impressively self-taught, the tenacious creative developed her eye for style into a fully-fledged label. She explains, “I originally started off by buying clothes to sell online. I would buy cropped tank tops and customise it. I would also shop at my local charity shop and thrift stores where I would find awesome pieces that were often complimented. Whenever I bought clothes either from the charity shop or to resell, I always wanted to add to the design. I imagined what it would look like with maybe extra sleeves or if there was a slit on one side of the dress for example. I enjoyed playing around with clothes and recreating them for myself. I knew that I wanted to start KÍLĖNTÁR three years before I actually launched it in October 2019. I didn’t have any formal training before launching my brand; I did a lot of planning and research and I am still developing new skills and learning from mistakes.”

“I originally started off by buying clothes to sell online. I would buy cropped tank tops and customise it. I would also shop at my local charity shop and thrift stores where I would find awesome pieces that were often complimented.

Michelle drew heavily from her Yoruba ancestry when it came to creating the label and explains the origin of their unique name. “The name KÍLĖNTÁR comes from KI LEN TA which is Yoruba for “What are you selling?” I knew I wanted to start producing my pieces in Nigeria, I also wanted some of my designs to still have an African feel to it. I wrote a list of different things that I wanted my brand to stand for and wrote a very long list of things that I wanted to sell on my website. At the time I felt that my list was too long and could make people question “what are you trying to sell?”. It’s pretty random but that is literally how the name came to mind.”

Femininity and Women’s Politics

Much like that of the aristocrats, KÍLĖNTÁR’s identity is rooted in its honouring of femininity and their use of luxe fabrics with native African elements creates an interesting dichotomy that adds to the label’s distinctiveness. Michelle says, “Our aesthetic defines femininity in a very flattering way, with corset style tops and dresses, puffy sleeves, and interesting prints. We are modern, sleek, and artistic. I wanted to create something that was affordable but also adds a luxury feel to the wardrobe. I also love playing around with Adirè, and cowries, which gives some of the pieces that African feel that I wanted.”

“The name KÍLĖNTÁR comes from KI LEN TA which is Yoruba for “What are you selling?” … I felt that my list was too long and could make people question “what are you trying to sell?”. It’s pretty random but that is literally how the name came to mind.”

In today’s charged political climate, it’s often difficult to divorce artists from their personal
politics. I wanted to know how the unfolding of so many narratives in Nigeria, many of which
affect women’s lives, both negatively and positively, directly affected her design ethos. What
does it mean to be a female entrepreneur? How does she understand the power that lies in
her hands as a designer of womenswear and what empowerment means to her. “To me
empowerment is being confident in who you are and what you stand for, bringing people up
instead of down and not being afraid to have your voice heard even if it is not the most
popular opinion in the room.”

As a womenswear designer, someone invested in the essence of what it means to be a
woman and the lived experience, Michelle’s stance on women’s issues; something that has become increasingly pertinent for the modern Nigerian woman is readily apparent. Her stance on feminism and how she uses design as a vehicle for that conversation is simple buy powerfully effective. She explains, “For me feminism is treating and putting women on the same
level as men. It is appreciating that we are fundamentally different and understanding that
we are all born into the same world and should be treated equally and given the same
opportunities as men to thrive in whatever field we choose. There can be a kind of stigma
behind women that they need to conform , and as a woman I design what I want and don’t
think about if it needs to conform to what society expects a woman to be.”
For many, fashion plays a pivotal role in female empowerment that goes far beyond the
superficial. It’s important that designers, specifically womenswear designers, create
collections with conscience and use their platforms responsibly because there is power in
the collective voice. Fashion, which has always reflected the culture and society of its time,
more than ever owes it to the very woman it is created to serve, to serve them in more
tangible and vocal ways.

Navigating the Nigerian fashion landscape

The Nigerian fashion industry, one very much still in its infancy, hasn’t made it easy for
emerging designers to thrive. Aside from a few admirable initiatives, young designers don’t
have access to the necessary mentorship opportunities and financial schemes that it would
take to grow their labels. I wondered in what ways the industry has personally failed Michelle
and where she saw opportunities for improvement for budding entrepreneurs like herself.
She replied, “I feel that we need more reputable manufacturing companies in Nigeria to
produce clothes for designers. Most designers in Nigeria work with an in-house team to
produce their garments. A good and reliable manufacturing company in Nigeria will empower
and create more job opportunities for skilled artisans and tailors. It will also save Nigerian
designers the stress it comes with finding tailors, pattern cutters etc in Nigeria.”
The lack of these companies means the pressure to produce weighs heavily on the
shoulders of young designers who often work alone or with small teams. It can often prove
too much to bear and many young designers have been forced to close up shop due to the
stress, lack of support and with no relief in sight. I asked Michelle if there was a significant
moment where she felt like giving it all up and how she overcame those intrusive thoughts.
“KÍLĖNTÁR is still very upcoming, I have never loved doing something as much as I love
working on my brand. It took me months to have the courage to launch my first collection
because I thought no one would buy anything. I had doubts before the day I launched
because I just didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t felt like “giving it all up” because I am still
growing with my brand. For me right now, my focus is just about continuously being forward
thinking and to keep developing new things.”

The New Normal

For a brand that is just over 6 months old, the COVID19 pandemic is an almighty spanner in
the works as the world grinds to a halt to assist global efforts in combating the virus. In the
blink of an eye, life as we knew it has vanished and been replaced by this new normal. In
just a few weeks, the way people shop and consumption in its entirety has transformed. What does this spell for Michelle and her young brand and how does she imagine a post-COVID world for the fashion industry as a whole? She says, “Right now, it is hard to say what the
world would look like Post – COVID 19, because there is so much uncertainty. I feel that fast
fashion in particular will slow down and there will be a larger opportunity and need for a
more sustainable fashion. Store traffic will continue to decline drastically post COVID19, and
although we have witnessed brands become more digital over the years; I feel that brands
will now have to redefine their culture and operations more digitally than ever. I also won’t be surprised if designers begin to showcase their runway collections digitally only; Armani’s fall
2020 fashion show for example was streamed live online, with literally no press and
photographers. I feel that this could become a thing post COVID-19. Locally in Nigeria I think more brands will look more into sourcing and getting their materials made in Nigeria. Which would actually be great because we have amazing artisans and prints made in Nigeria.”

As for her own label, despite the uncertainty of world affairs, the future holds a myriad of
possibilities for KÍLĖNTÁR as Michelle shares her excitement at being in a position to create
through it all. “I love working on new pieces and the process of sourcing for fabrics and
seeing ideas come to life. I am a small business owner so right now I do a lot of the running
around myself. Eventually I would love to grow a bigger team. However, I am still enjoying
the process of developing and learning from juggling different tasks. I plan to continue
releasing exclusive and sustainable pieces for women, and I will also continue to grow my
brand by continuously releasing pieces that will make women feel amazing.”

I stumbled across KÍLĖNTÁR on Instagram and was immediately struck by how different
everything was. In a time when a lot of fashion feels uninspired and homogenous,
KÍLĖNTÁR’s vibe was a pleasant shock to the system.

Michelle speaks about how instrumental Instagram has been to the early success of the label and how the ability to self-market online has allowed her label to be discovered more easily. “Social media has been so helpful. I remember many years ago when we used to collect magazines to study fashion trends or find emerging designers. Now social media has allowed room for your brand to
become recognised, it has become a quicker way for small brands to become embraced.
Instagram has helped me understand what my customers like and want. I like to engage with
my followers on Instagram, so sometimes I can put up polls and ask them questions related
to pieces I am working on which has helped me make some decisions.”

“Social media has been so helpful. ..Now social media has allowed room for your brand to
become recognised, it has become a quicker way for small brands to become embraced. Instagram has helped me understand what my customers like and want.”

In times of fear and unpredictability, one thing remains steadfast and that’s the comfort of art
and the healing that comes with creation. Global unrest can mobilise the creative hand and
lead us into unexplored territory. That’s why I write this series, to shed light on all
the things that ‘are’ and the magic of ‘what could be’. Thanks to labels like KÍLĖNTÁR who
continue to innovate and expand what we believe Nigerian fashion could be beyond our
wildest dreams, we are stoking the embers of artistic creativity and preparing ourselves for
the beauty of new life.

Contact KÍLĖNTÁR

Website

Instagram

The fun doesn’t stop here, visit www.bellanaijastyle.com for more on African fashion and lifestyle now!

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