Before there was much attention on plus-size fashion in Nigeria, Temi Aboderin had been pushing for recognition and a space for curvy women. Having struggled to find fitting and appealing outfits as a teenager, Aboderin was determined to, someday, create a platform for women like her.
Due to the fashion dearth for plus-size women in Nigeria, Aboderin launched JP Kingdom in 2012, offering styling service, image consulting, and training of plus-size models.
She would later establish a fashion line called JP Kouture, and much recently, in 2017, she launched the Plus-size Fashion Week Africa.
Temi Aboderin on Nigerian Voices, talks about curvy women, plus size women, and the inspiration for her work, challenges and a fashion line which she describes as a hobby.
How was it starting a movement for plus-size women in Nigeria?
When I started in 2012, there was almost nothing about plus-size. We kept going, even when we got laughed at. At shows, you’ll hear people saying, ‘what are these people going to do?’, ‘they’re going to fall’. So at first when we started there was the hostility because people will think ‘oh, you’re promoting obesity’. That’s the primary thing you will always hear. Or ‘can these fat girls walk?’ or ‘will the runway break?’ Over the years it has improved because with our persistence in doing plus-size, suddenly around 2015, everybody and their grandmother started doing plus-size. By 2016, it was everywhere and then other people decided that’s what they wanted to do and they now want to say they are the ones that had started it, which is not the case.
What motivated you to get on this path?
I’ve always grown up being plus-size. And my father James Olubunmi Aboderin of Punch used to call us princess. So that was what gave birth to my initial brand, James Princess Kingdom. Prior to that, my mum has also been quite fashionable so I’ve always had that stylish feel. Obviously, growing older and becoming a mum, I haven’t really kept up with the way I used to be excessive with fashion. But I’ve always had that love for fashion. It was one of my friends in England that told me, back when we were still there, that ‘you need to show people that they can be stylish and plus-size’. That was what gave birth to the JP Kingdom. I was still very much UK-based then. So 2012 was when we did a physical launch over here. The truth is when we started, nothing like that was around. When I was in secondary school in Nigeria, I remember that I could never buy anything from here. I would have to find something from abroad and even then, it was still limited. It really isn’t that case now. Now it’s everywhere. Almost every high street store abroad has a plus-size section now.
Your designs are flamboyant and shiny. Why is that so?
I like things being shiny. I think I mentioned before that this is like my hobby. I’m not actually looking at what is in demand. When it comes to JP Kouture, for me it’s living vicariously through fashion. It’s just me doing what I like. I can turn around and keep doing ankara which I tried to do with that but as you can see I still threw shiny stuff on it. I’ve been told that I need to think like other people but like I said, it’s a hobby. If I was thinking along the lines of it being wearable, then maybe I would do the other stuff that people want to wear. But for me, it’s just having fun.
Why are you just coming out as a plus-size fashion pioneer?
I’m an introvert. I’m not a person that goes out and networks. I’m also very reserved. Permit me to say, in Nigeria, we brag a lot. People brag a lot and even those that don’t have brag. I don’t believe in that. I believe that substance is quiet. I’ve been in England all my life, and having that upbringing is very different to how things are here.
In the UK, nine out of 10 times, your work will speak for itself; end of story. But in Nigeria, one out of 10 times, your work speaks for itself. The rest of it is noise and plagiarism. I believe that what I do speaks for itself but I can see in this environment, it is not enough.
Tell us about Plus-size Fashion Week Africa
There are so many plus-size designers who don’t have a platform of visibility so that is what Plus-size Fashion Week Africa is. Both designers here and even the ones internationally that want to expand their brand can come and showcase. So it is for both international and designers who would not be known if they didn’t have this platform.
That’s the aim of the platform and it has also inspired a new generation of plus-size designers and another thing I liked about our show is that designers who do normal standard sizes — when they saw Plus-size Fashion Week Africa — were excited and they extended their range to the plus-size market. It is important because it is not just about my brand it is about the plus-size community. It is about everyone and that is why at the beginning of everybody’s runway show, you have a video of the designer talking.
What challenges have you faced in your quest to promote plus-size fashion?
Since 2016, I have felt like I wanted to pack up shop and go because, you know, it was like I wasn’t getting any recognition for what I’ve been doing.
That was when I felt like ‘oh I don’t even live here, this is not my country’. It very bad last year(2017). It was a lot of work to put the show together. It wasn’t smooth sailing. The fact that the event happened and it happened successfully is by God’s grace.
I was confused as to how people were easily manipulated to absorb the negative as opposed to the positive. I also felt like I had wasted my time coming back to Lagos. I think that was the breaking point for me.
Another thing I found out when I came back to Lagos is everybody was saying ‘oh yeah if you’re not on the island then it’s not happening’. That kind of mentality also shocked me a bit. Because as a kid, people lived on mainland, island and it wasn’t a problem.
And then certain people will send spies to come here to try and understand what our training program is like and our to copy our designs. Then I thought to myself that if they keep sending people here, it means there is some value here that even I am not seeing. So I have no other choice but to keep to keep going because there must be something here. Instead of backing away, we’re now standing our ground so I’m practising what I preach.
What impact has the Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa had?
A lot of standard size designers are also opening their doorway into the plus-size market. Another standard size designer who just travelled was saying that someone in the US ordered her piece off the runway at Plus-Size Fashion Week Africa.
So the truth is; it is working. Even if some plus-size people want to be petty and do whatever they are doing, the truth is, it’s going to open the doorway for all the standard size people who want to expand.
Why did you start training plus-size models?
I’ll try and say this with all humility nobody trains plus size models like me. That is a fact. Take it and pay into an account I am the best when it comes to training plus size models because it was something I wanted to do myself and because I’m a perfectionist there’s a way that I have mastered that craft. I don’t shy away from any challenges.
At a recent plus-size fashion show, it was only the models trained by my agency that the crowd clapped for on the runway. Not my show, this is another show. There is a difference in how we train our models and how other people do.
Since your fashion line is a hobby, aren’t you worried about plagiarism?
I trademark everything. I’m British. Everything is trademarked and copyrighted. Only the ones that are popular, not every design. You can tell a design that is popular. A design that gets an interest the most. Then you go ahead and trademark. You can’t do it for every single piece that you have. It will be too expensive.
That is not my primary focus and that is the British person in me talking. It is for me to have fun. Even though people are telling me I need to reprogram my thinking when it comes to fashion but for me my business or what I see as the business is this Plus-size Fashion Week Africa. All the training initiatives we want to put in place for the new age of designers and then obviously the modelling competition that was part of the show is designed to bring out a plus-size model from here and take her international stage. This has never happened before.
Did you take a course in fashion?
I went to London College of Fashion. I actually did two courses there. I also went to a couture school, learning how to put pieces together.