My path was very rocky. I made a lot of mistakes and it took me at least 3 collections to finally find the essence of Eki Orleans. I learned it was not just about creating beautiful pieces but instead conveying an artistic story to your audience.
- Name: Hazel Aggrey-Orleans
- Current title/ company? What’s your motto? Creative Designer/ The quickest way to failure is to please everyone.
- Year you launched the company: 2007
My ComeUp Story
- Educational background? Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design? My background is languages and marketing. Self taught.
- What sparked your interest in fashion? Describe the journey of creating your first piece?
I was never one of those who knew from an early age that I wanted to design clothes, however I always had a passion for standing out in colours and having something sewn for special occasions. I entered into the fashion market out of a desire to play around with textiles and colours. This all happened when I was pregnant with my first child. Your hormones are all over the place and I guess that was when my creative juices kicked in. I initially played with silk fabrics from India and Ghana, designing scarves. This led to the appetite for designing my own textiles and then creating collections, with no experience whatsoever.
- How did you start believing in your own work and talent? What made you take fashion more seriously and make a career out of it? It took me a long time to call myself a designer because I never felt I was worthy of that title having never been to fashion school but as the years passed on, I learned that there are all sorts of designers out there. I come up with a print concept, which is unique to Eki Orleans and then evolve it into a collection. That in itself is worthy of design work, as it is a creative idea in my head. My path was very rocky. I made a lot of mistakes and it took me at least 3 collections to finally find the essence of Eki Orleans. I learned it was not just about creating beautiful pieces but instead conveying an artistic story to your audience. When the press and buyers started approaching me as well as when we were being invited to shows, I thought to myself I must be doing something interesting enough to capture their attention as we all know the fashion industry is saturated and you really have to stand out to catch their eye.
- What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company?
I have learned that I cannot please everyone with our designs. I used to get so caught up in peoples’ opinions on our brand. Although I do listen to feedback and criticism, at the end of the day I know the brand best. I know what it stands for and where I want to take it. It is so easy to get swayed away but you can very quickly loose your true essence if you don’t stick to your own story telling.
- Breaking into the fashion industry isn’t an easy feat. What advice would you give to up-and-coming designers? Marketing tips?
Create your own USP. Have your story to tell and stick to it throughout your designs. It is so easy to get side tracked or want to follow the trend but it is vital to remain consistent. You will have to adapt and evolve with time but make sure your core is always present. It is important that you do not confuse your clients because the minute they start to get lost in your designs, they may leave you. Your USP needs to be so strong that when someone walks into a room with your designs, it will be recognised.
- Do you recall any embarrassing moments you had during your come up? I’m quite a reserved person, so walking out on the catwalk is something I have had to teach myself to do, because it does not come naturally to me. I have so often managed to embarrass myself.
- Tell us about a time you were faced with insurmountable odds, yet persevered to overcome? Around 3 years ago we were dragged into a scam, where an agent to participate in a Mercedes Benz fashion show approached my company. Even though there was quite an extensive financial commitment on my side in getting involved, the association with Mercedes Benz sounded very appealing alongside all the other exposure we were promised. To cut the story short, it was all a lie. Mercedes Benz was not aware this event had been promised to several designers and I ended up loosing the entire fee. I was very depressed and angry during that period but what really got me going again, was when I read up on numerous entrepreneurs, who all said the same – ‘If you have never made a mistake in business, it means you have never taken a risk’. I used this as leverage to get back up. We did fight the cause and although I never got the money back, I did get exposure with an interview on BBC.
My Daily Behind the Scenes
- What is your typical week day and weekend like? What do you do when not working?
My mornings start with a 30mins work out routine and then I get my kids ready for school and drop them off. Once back, I prepare for my assistant and then we start work around 10am. Around 3pm school runs start again, followed by homework, dinner and bath time. In the evenings, I will sit down for a little catch up and prep for the next day. Occasionally, I go into the studio to check the production. Some weekends are filled up with children activities, however when I do catch that moment to myself, I love to sit in my little corner, completely switch off and watch a good movie.
- Where do you find your inspiration? I seek inspiration from nature, travels and the African continent.
- How did you initially source materials and manufacturers? We sourced them through a lot of trial and error. Testing around until I found the right suppliers and production houses. In hindsight I should have gone with recommendation but sometimes fellow designers can be a bit cagey with sharing their manufacturers. We now have a studio in China that deals with all our printing. We also have extended our services to other designers, so any designers struggling to get their designs printed onto silk can use our facilities too but don’t assume as the silk is sourced in China, it is cheap. We work with natural fibres and silk is a luxurious fabric anywhere in the world.
- How do you produce and distribute your designs?
Production is done in the UK, in a small studio in London and currently our designs are distributed via our website and word of mouth.
- Once you have the product, how do you get the word out?
Social media, sending press releases and by keeping the brand up to date and relevant and looking at ways to re-invent ourselves and get involved in different projects to create noise for the brand. You constantly have to be at the forefront of peoples’ minds.
- Do you scope out the competition, or are you so tailored in your aesthetics that it isn’t necessary?
I do look at what our competitors are doing from time to time, however it does not dictate my world. If you spend too much time looking back or sideways to see what others are doing, it completely distracts from your end goals.
- What songs do you listen to that psyches you up and makes you feel strong?
I love music that makes me want to get up and dance. It’s my way of releasing all the tension from the day or week, so I like up beat modern tracks. I’m a big fan of Chris Brown and I always love Salsa.
- What is one thing you do when you’re feeling stuck creatively?
I walk into nature or I type anything African into Google.
My Now, My Future
- What would you like to achieve before the end of 2016?
I would like to have expanded our distribution of textiles. I would also like us to start getting our reputation out there as the ‘Africa on silk’ Designer.
- What is the most meaningful project you have done? What would your dream project be?
I would say collaborating with Jose Hendo, a designer known for her eco sustainable fashion. This collaboration really threw me outside my comfort zone. Egos were put aside, as we had to work together as a team and incorporate both aesthetics. It was an enormous learning curve for me. My dream project would be to collaborate with DVF. I have always admired her work and her love for silk jersey and prints. She has been able to create such a strong brand that has sustained and reinvented itself over the years. To introduce my prints into her collections would be an absolute dream come true.
- What’s one dream you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why? One thing I am most proud of, is how I was able to take an idea in my head and see it through, especially as I had no experience whatsoever in fashion. All I had was a passion for combining colour.
- Name a charity you are passionate about & explain why it matters to you. How do you show your support?
Our ambassador is Noella Coursaris and she has founded a school for girls in Congo purely based on charitable donations. She has brought attention to my designs, as she is such a public figure and we have had the privilege of dressing her for important functions and presentations. I am a strong believer in supporting young girls and women, as we generally have to fight harder to get acknowledged and so to team up with a public figure like Noella was perfect.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
Live with passion. Each of us has a very unique talent. Make sure you tap into it.