Blessing – Trendy B Designs
Fashion in its purest form is an artistic expression, a statement of who you are or who you want to be on any given day. Blessing Azolibe has explored many paths propelled by others, well meaning expectations but it has been focusing on her fashion label Trendy B that has provided her with the most joy and success in life. Her designs are colourful, unique and strong much like Blessing herself who spent time telling me about her journey thus far, including some challenges and the importance of holding onto where we come from.
The Westies – Tell me a bit about yourself?
Blessing – I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2011 when I was 17, my brothers, sisters and I came to Australia. We first stayed at Doonside and then we moved to Blacktown. My stepmum is an Aussie woman and my Dad was already living here and thought we should reunite and all be together.
The Westies – Were you interested in fashion and design when you were in Nigeria?
Blessing -Yes, when I was young I would sketch a lot. I would ask people if I could sketch them, I had all these drawings and everyone in my family thought that I would be an artist, but they tried to discourage me. My Mum would say “You will not make money as an artist, you need to go do something more substantial.”
I wanted to go to uni but it’s hard to get admission into university in Nigeria. Even if you get good grades, you need the finances, there is a lot of corruption and I couldn’t get in the first time I applied. My Mum said to me “Maybe while you are waiting to see if you can get in next year, go and learn how to sew.” I did and fell in love with it!
The Westies – What did you fall in love with?
Blessing – The idea of creating something that can be worn. I couldn’t stop sewing. I was experimenting to see if it was possible to create something and wear it. It’s one thing to create something and it’s not wearable, but to create something that you can wear is really special.
Mum had bought me a sewing machine and I started making things for her and then for myself. My Mum had a provisions store and the lady that had a store next to my Mum had kids and I told her “Instead of going to someone who charges you a lot of money, I will charge you half the price to make clothes for your kids.” She agreed, lots of people saw it and word started to spread and I had people coming and asking me to sew for them.
The Westies -What is fashion like in Lagos? Is fast fashion as trendy as it is here?
Blessing – No, Nigerians are very extra. If you check which country spends the most of fashion I am sure Nigeria is up there on the list! Nigeria is the quiet spender, they spend so much money on dressing up, people will invest all their money in parties and looking good instead of buying a house. Looking good definitely comes first in Nigeria. It’s not in the Western way, we do the head gear, jewelry, shoes, everything matches. Designer shoes and bags like Prada and Chanel are all in Nigeria. Some people love cars, some people like to go on holidays…in Nigeria people like to throw parties and dress up.
People love to pretend that they are doing better than they actually are; some people believe that if you pretend to be happy it can eventually lead to true happiness.
The Westies – What was it like when you came to Australia?
Blessing – It was very different! I grew up in a middle class home in Nigeria, we were quite comfortable. I had big ideas of the Western world being greener pastures. When I came here, it became a struggle as the finances were no longer there. Back home, my Mum and Dad both had a car, we lived in our own house, it was good. Here it wasn’t as easy as it used to be, we had to try hard to get into school and get jobs, it was very difficult and we missed our friends. Also the way people spoke was hard to understand, there is a lot of slang so it took a while to be able to properly understand.
The Westies – Were you sewing when you came to Australia?
Blessing – When I realised I couldn’t get a job, I asked my Dad about getting a sewing machine and I was really determined to make some money. I was studying at TAFE at the time and I would tell everyone that I could make them outfits for a low price. They would wear them to parties and people would see them and ask “Who made your outfit?” and the word started spreading like it had back home.
The Westies – What were you studying at TAFE?
Blessing – Human Resources
The Westies – Oh wow, quite different to sewing
Blessing – Yes, I have done quite a few things. I did Medical Science at UWS and I studied my Master of Teaching as well to be a Chemistry and Biology teacher, but I never taught. You get to a point in your life and realise that you aren’t really passionate and I decided last year to focus on designing and sewing full time.
The Westies – Why did you study so much?
Blessing – There was an expectation from family in Nigeria they value engineering, medicine, accounting and banking as opposed to fashion, art and music. I didn’t want to let my family down so I went ahead with it but along the line you realise it’s not about trying to impress your family – you have to do what makes you happy.
I was so stressed and the study load was so much that it was really getting to me. I was running my shop and I had so many assignments, studying for your Masters is not easy. I had assignments where you had to write ten thousand words and I had never had so many things to do. I was writing assignments and I had customers reminding me I was making their bridesmaids clothes. One night I started screaming because the stress had gotten to me so much and I said, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to wake up one day in pain or die from stress.” So I put my studies on hold.
The Westies – What has happened since you’ve focused on Trendy B?
Blessing – A lot! I have grown so much and have had space for so many ideas to come. I have been doing fashion shows every year since 2011 and can really see the improvement now that I am focusing on one thing. I am really happy. I wasn’t a happy person when I was trying to do everything, I would be sitting there and listening to someone, but my mind would be somewhere else. I was so stressed. Now I laugh and crack jokes, a lot of customers say “What is it, what changed? You’re so much better.” Now that I am relaxed, I am sewing much better.
The Westies – Why do you think it is important to use African designs and fabrics in Australia?
Blessing – It’s our identity and you can’t move away from it; it is unique to us . When you blend in, you can’t stand out. It’s easy for me to wear Western clothes and blend in with other people. There’s nothing special about me. I am Australian, I am a citizen but African is written all over me, it’s part of me and my fashion makes a statement without me saying a word.
You can check out Blessings designs at her annual fashion parade – TrendyB Mama Africa “Reine M`ere” on December 29th, it will be a night of creation, colour and energy with a focus on the divine female curve. Get your tickets now, if you want to join The Westies table email firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James
Edit: Samantha Hamill