“What I offer is ridiculously cheap” – Designer, Mai Atafo speaks on his designs, fears for the Nigerian youth and more
by Wilfred Okiche
YNaija caught up with wave-making designer and man of style, Mai Atafo a few days after the glittering launch of his Dream Wedding collection. He shared with us his idea of the dream wedding, why it is still too early to declare the event a success and his fears for the youth of Nigeria.
Oh! And did we mention he also thinks Waje is amazing?
Let us start with The Dream Wedding Season 2 which you recently put together. From the pictures I have seen, everyone seemed to be having fun. What was the process like for you?
It was a lot of work. I was working all through while they were having fun.
Was it your idea of a dream wedding?
Yes, that is why I tagged it so, it had every element. A dream wedding is every thing you want to do no matter how big or small the dream is. There is no one size fits all. For Dream Wedding, I had a garden indoor wedding with flowers everywhere, that was a dream. People were playing the guitar and violin, you probably wouldn’t see that anywhere around here. You move to the reception and then you have Banky W, Timi Dakolo, Waje, Tosin Martin performing, that is definitely a dream. All the other elements; Events Couture with the decoration, Chef Fregz, good hands to make your dream come true, desert by Cookie jar all in one place. I mean if that’s not a dream wedding, I don’t know what else is.
Your last wedding showcase was 2 years ago. What is the idea behind your doing these extravaganzas as opposed to the regular fashion shows?
Primarily, it is a showcase of my work, Weddings by Mai. Fashion shows could be boring at times, models strutting the runway and all but what I thought to do was to put the clothes in their real environment, in their natural habitat with fabulous people coming together to help achieve this. People that on a regular, you wouldn’t be able to afford. The elements that are a bit more creative, the clothes, everything just fit with the guests as potential buyers.
So the seated guests were people that may want to buy these clothes? Smart move.
Not all of them were potential customers but the hope is that the gist would get to the potential customers at the end of the day and they would see the pictures and engage. I already got some people calling so I guess it is working.
So you would tag it a success?
Time will tell how successful it is. As an event, it was successful. As a business, we would be looking at the Naira and kobo of it and that is not something we can say now. It is like advertising where you don’t see the returns until much later.
You seem to go all out for your wedding collection, maybe even at the expense of the others, is this deliberate?
I have actually neglected my weddings for a while to be honest. I showcased my male collection at Arise Fashion Week. In Ghana last year I showcased both the male and female. There are many platforms for me to showcase my male and female collections but very few for my wedding collection. I think traditionally and culturally, we are lavish about weddings. You know feeding 3,000 people or more so it looks like it gets the hype. No one in the world has done this, it is my idea and now my property so I can do it every year if I want to. Who knows it may turn out to be a revenue generating channel in the near future.
How much did it cost to put it all together.
It depends on how you want to do the costing. If you want to compute the actual cost of everything you saw that day, it is going to be over 50million Naira because there is no way you can pay all these guys, Banky W, Sheyi Shay, Yvonne Nelson to make an appearance without spending some big money. And that is just the celebrities, we haven’t talked about the venue, lights, cameras, set up and all. But did I spend that amount? No. I didn’t because many people came out for me because of my relationship with them. It cost a lot of money yes but not as much as it would have if I was paying for every single service.
So, if I am getting married tomorrow, what would I have to part with to be fitted in clothes from Mai’s wedding collection?
For guys, it depends on what suit you pick but you are going to be looking at from 120,000 Naira upwards. For the females, our wedding dresses are from 230,000 Naira upwards. People have to understand that we are making them for you, anything you want. Now these kinds of services abroad are very expensive so compared to that, what I offer is ridiculously cheap. People buy cheaper online only to come back and make another one here or ask us to refit. We hate doing that but we do it.
As part of the wedding buzz, you released a single, ‘Stay with me’ with Waje and Praiz. Is Mai singing now?
Have you listened to the song, am I singing now?
Well it would seem so.
Music is my first passion and if I could sing, I’d sing. Unfortunately I cannot sing. I would love to produce songs tomorrow, maybe be the executive producer on an album but I definitely know my limits and I don’t even try to push it. But ‘Stay with me’ is my song and yes ,I featured Waje and Praiz.
Even though they did all the singing?
Note that they only sang. I did every other thing and arranged for every other thing to be done. In fact the title of that song should be ‘Stay with me – Mai’s song’ with Praiz and Waje.
These days, Waje says her time is money. Did you pay her to make time for you?
I paid her but not in cash. We are both literally from the same village so our friendship didn’t start today, we have been close since 2008 and in more than one way I have contributed to her career from the outside. Waje is a talent that I don’t think the country has understood yet. I don’t think we get her yet. It’s probably going to take something to turn that around but I don’t think anyone has smelt the power that she has
I agree with you but I think with the release of her album, a lot more people are appreciating her talent.
You know it is her debut and it is amazing from song 1 all the way to song 14. She is working on a concert pretty soon and I will be providing creative content. All I can say is when it comes, it will be like nothing you have seen before.
You provide creative content in addition to being Mai, the designer?
I do creative content. Everything that happened at the dream wedding was all me. People that did not see the show probably wouldn’t understand. 2 guys fought over a bride, the black bride, there was a proposal and a wedding that day. Many elements that you may not see from the photos that I was responsible for. I intend to release it on DVD so people can see. Apart from Waje’s I will be doing scripting and content for Chris Attoh’s show coming up in Ghana this December. I have been doing content for The Future Awards for the last 4 years. I am the strategy director of an advertising agency, events compere, I do a lot of mentoring for young up and coming fashion designers. I want to take it to life mentoring because I have a wealth of experience from different industries.
You are the chairman of the CWC for The Future Awards which recently unveiled the nominees list for this season, what are we to expect this season?
It has been a tough one this season. From the categories to the look and feel of the awards, we have been fighting ourselves. We are trying to grow the next set of leaders in this country so it will be less of a musical journey and more of a serious affair. But it will still be fun.
What does it mean to you, being part of that process of choosing and rewarding the country’s next set of hopefuls?
I wont lie to you, sometimes when I look at the young ones coming up, I get scared, like are these guys ready to take charge of the country when the time comes because I don’t see a lot of young people that understand what is going on in the country. We are in a bad place as an economy, where only the rich can get richer so the poor have to be smarter. If I had someone to talk to me when I was 21, my life would be different, I wouldn’t have had a late development. I talk to some people and they tell me they want to go and eat when I am giving them food for the soul and tomorrow they start hating on their age mate who is successful. Why? You had a chance and you squandered it. There is no excuse now, with the internet, telephones, the world is open. Sometimes I don’t even have hope in my country but it takes a process like The Future Awards to rekindle the flame. We have to learn to create industries that the government has no control over. Look at the musicians, they have made something out of nothing. We are beginning to have guys in their 30s going into government but they are speaking the language of the elder ones. So young people are the only hope and I look forward to that. And that is why every year I say I am not doing it again, I keep coming back.
When you say you had a late development, do you mean the time it took you to get into fashion while you were pursuing the corporate life?
Not at all. I would say God blessed me with multiple talents and I feel like all I have to do is harness every one of them. I did not go to any school of fashion. When I was in the corporate world I did marketing and I did it well. When I say late development what I mean is I was working real hard to be an IT specialist when I could have just consulted in marketing entertainment or something and do more, give ore value. Discovering who you are early on and exploiting it is very important. At the age of 19 you should have a clue as to what you want to do and start studying towards it. I could stop fashion today and discover another side of me and pursue that to the end.