Words by Ntianu Obiora
The first time I saw Fruché was at Lagos Fashion Week 2018. I was sitting in the second row, slowly fading as I battled the onset of catwalk fatigue when the relatively unknown designer showed his SS19 collection.
I sat up.
Fruché is undeniably one of the most exciting new designers to come out on the scene and the collection was a stylish interpretation of the modern Nigerian women, the metropolitan muse who infuses her heritage with her contemporary taste .
The collection was inspired by Bini women and the embellishments were representative of their rich culture. The brand’s Creative Director Frank Aghuno explained, “Powder blue to represent water, feathers to represent the bird of creation, burgundy from the traditional…velvet wrappers tied by Bini women.” Since then, Fruché has continued to delight with their colourful creations.
A Story Worth Telling
Frank Aghuno has been creating since the tender age of 11, cutting up his mother’s wrappers and hand-sewing his own pieces. Self-taught in every sense of the word, Frank is a sum of all his experiences. He says, “I haven’t had the privilege of attending fashion school yet. Most of my knowledge comes from doing a lot of research and mentorship from Mother, a former fashion designer. My school being on strike while studying finance at the University of Lagos really pushed me to start something. My cousin taught me to operate the machine and from there I bought fabrics and made my first collection with just N5000. My twin brother Dricky Stickman painted the backdrop for that collection and my younger sister and classmate were my models. We put it up online and luckily for us Bella Naija posted it. The collection was well received and we got a lot of offers to purchase the pieces. I was very naive but thankful I was doing something I loved.”
Fruché, a combination of Frank’s English name and one of his Igbo names, Uche, is a stunning combination of Nigerian craftsmanship with a feminine sensuality that is luxuriously modern.
Frank explains, “Over the years I’ve experimented a lot with different techniques and my design process is still very experimental because I am self taught so I do enjoy challenging myself and think of new ways to push the boundaries of design and find different ways of telling our story.”
Speaking of storytelling, social media has become essential for creatives to reach out and connect and resonate with their audience. Having successfully harnessed the emotional power of stories, they are finding ways to translate their art through the screen and building a loyal following with just a smartphone and a vision. Frank speaks on the way social media has enhanced his brand and allowed him to reach a much wider audience but stresses the importance of talent above all else. “Social media is important these days but I think the first thing you need to have is an excellent product. The internet is the world’s first introduction to your brand and it is easily accessible to consumers all over the world. Budding designers should take the time to learn and find out who they are as designers. What makes your work unique? Research is important. The internet was my teacher growing up. I was obsessed with the late Lee McQueen. I still love his work so much and was inspired by his designs, his process and his career trajectory.”
Restoring the Balance
Being a relative newcomer on the scene, Frank is more than happy to pay homage to the women who paved the way for the industry to be what it is today and women who have personally inspired him on his design journey. “I am very much inspired by Deola Sageo, Maki Oh and Lisa Folawiyo. These women have been at it for years and show no signs of slowing down. I love their drive and creativity.They’re pioneers of our industry and they contributed tremendously to the rise of African fashion and have put a global eye on the Nigerian fashion scene.”
‘… I try to discuss topics like feminism, gender inequality, sexuality and the environment because I truly believe my purpose isn’t just to make clothes but to tell stories of progressiveness even within our culture…’
Talking about who the Fruché woman is, Frank describes her as “free spirited, adventurous, and full of depth and committed to living her best life.” Frank is impressively vocal about what that woman represents and how he tried to infuse his personal politics into his designs. “With each new season/ collection I try to discuss topics like feminism, gender inequality, sexuality and the environment because I truly believe my purpose isn’t just to make clothes but to tell stories of progressiveness even within our culture. Our ancestors from precolonial times had so many practices and beliefs that are misconstrued to be “western culture/ influences” when in fact our people have engaged in these practices for eons.”
Frank touched upon Nigerian culture and how what we perceived to be Western influence was actually steeped in our own beliefs of divine feminity and the power of female energy. Whereas many may claim ‘feminism’ has come along to ‘spoil’ our traditions, in essence, it may just be restoring a long upset balance. For Frank, you cannot divorce feminism from Fruché as it is at the heart of everything he designs. “Feminism plays a huge role in my life and brand aesthetic. I’m very inspired by my mother, who is a vocal feminist. She never subscribed to the traditional gender roles. I think it all stems from watching her from when I was a child. There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism. Feminism really is common sense, it’s women asking to be treated justly and as equals, girls given the same opportunities as boys. Literally your fellow human being saying give me my right to freedom. I think once society grasps that women just want to live freely everyone would see feminism not as this big scary word but as a driving force for greater justice. We have two shirts from our last collection that says “Freedom is my birthright” and this is what I truly believe.”
For Frank, subscribing to these beliefs is the key to the future success of Nigeria. For him, empowerment means hope and that hope is something we hold on to in the hope of creating a better future not just for young women but for the next generation collectively.
The Fall and the Rise of Design
The common theme between Nigerian designers is their collective frustration at a system that appears to work against them at every opportunity. Logistically, producing in Nigeria is a double-edged sword and one that often spells the end for young designers. “I think that moment of wanting to give it all up comes once a week. There are so many challenges you face here as a young designer that most don’t go through in other parts of the world. If there were more internationally renowned fashion schools, production houses and constant electricity, manufacturing in Nigeria wouldn’t be as tedious.”
Fruché is undeniably one of the most exciting new designers to come out on the scene
Throwing yet another spanner in the works is the current COVID19 pandemic which has seen the world brought to a standstill and causing entire industries to reevaluate their purpose, value and how they fit into this new normal. For Frank, the one good thing that will come out of a post-COVID world for designers is the onus on sustainability, something that African designers have been championing forever. “I think post-covid we will start to see a shift in the global fashion industry, even now designers are looking at more sustainable ways to produce, making less but paying workers more. I think the luxury market would do even more work to ensure that there is less consumption and less impact on the environment. Nigerian and African luxury designers have used sustainable practices for years. I don’t know a single African that throws away or burns perfectly good clothes all in the name of brand preservation. For years our ancestors have passed articles of clothing from generation to generation. One could say sustainability is a part of our culture. Post- COVID, I think fast fashion brands have a lot to learn. Workers need to be paid fairly and sustainable practices need to be adapted at all levels of manufacturing. The less we produce, the less waste there is. Nigerian luxury brands for instance would never produce 100 – 200 pieces of the same article of clothing. We use our local adire, aso oke, akwete, akwa ocha fabrics which are basically couture techniques that we’ve learnt to make from our forefathers. It’s about creating jobs but most importantly it’s about conscious production and appreciating our own culture.”
The world having its eye on Africa, specifically his brand, is not something that is new to Frank. Thanks to its profound debut, Fruché has attracted a considerable amount of international interest, something that Frank hopes to leverage on for future seasons. “In the coming seasons we will be looking at international showcases and retail options. With sponsors on our side I’m sure we can make this happen. Hopefully we can continue to tell our stories and inspire the new generation. Currently, our pieces can be found at The Folklore, Industrie Africa, Ditto Africa and Zazaii but in the future, the sky’s the limit.”