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03 Mar Written by  Maryam Isa

Interview with Ms. Ruqayat Giwa of Covered and Chic

Growing up, Ms. Ruqayat Giwa wanted to be a medical doctor, and somewhere along the line, she ended up falling in love with rocks. With a lost passion for medicine and a new found love, Geology, delving into fashion was never something Ms. Giwa imagined she would do. As she put it, she was introduced into the fashion world ‘by proxy’.

 

As a teenager, her mother wanted her to cover fully as Islam ordains Muslim women to but Ms. Giwa didn’t like how most decent clothes were dull colored and unstylish. Determined to please her mother and herself, she found one of the trendiest fashion companies in Abuja, Covered and Chic, which aims to make chic modest wear for Muslim women.

 

Metropole sat with Ms. Giwa to find out what her plans are for her company in a competitive fashion world.

 

What is Covered and Chic?

Covered and Chic is a fashion company that targets people who want to cover up and still look fashionable. It was born out of my need to dress up and feel stylish while still fulfilling my religious obligations, which is to wear the hijab.

 

How did you get into fashion?

 

Most of the things that were available while I was a student in University of Ilorin were just regular random stuff that weren’t really fashionable, like those hijabs from China. Yes they make hijabs in China (laughs). I was a teenager, I didn’t like them. They were in very plain colors, not stylish, not trendy, I didn’t see myself wearing them.

 

I come from a family that is religious; my choice of clothing was not something my mom really liked. It got to a point where I was like ‘I have to please my mum, and I have to please myself.’ So I’d go to a tailors place, tell him to cut this part out, use it for sleeves, and that’s how it all started really. I got into fashion design by proxy. I didn’t choose it.

 

What kind of clothes do you make?

Most of our clothing are Western inspired. We do a lot of skirts, dresses, and tops. Our designs are always maxi length, they’re always long sleeved, but we do have some fitted outfits. In addition, we just started our bridal range, and it is bespoke.

 

What year did you start?

2012, but it wasn’t until mid 2013 that it really took off.

 

What is your price range?

A top ranges from N5-12,0000. Our dresses start from N12,000. Bridals start from N50,000. Skirts range from N7k-11,000. We like the idea of doing very affordable, but then the logistics for business in Nigeria is making it almost impossible to make it very affordable.

 

Do you sketch your designs?

I’m learning. I’ve been learning how to illustrate. I use an app, it’s easier than sketching.

 

Tell us about your bridal line.

The whole idea of Covered and Chic bridals is to wear full hijab clothing that will give you a slate to know that you can be fully covered on your wedding day. Whether you want to or not is a different case. So the idea is for people to know that ‘I don’t have to take off my hijab on my wedding day.’

 

What made you come up with the Covered and Chic Bridals?

On my wedding day, I had this really nice neckpiece on. The jewel was so pricey and I was like, ‘am I going to use hijab to cover this?’

 

So I put the veil and moved it in a way the jewelry showed. But I asked myself, does a woman have to do that simply because she’s getting married?

 

Your wedding day should be the day you want to do it in the best way you can according to your faith, so why should you deviate from something you’ve already attained on a normal day?

 

What’s it like working with tailors?

(Laughs) I have no idea where to start from. They can take you to both ends of sanity. A tailor once told me that they have different gimmicks of dealing with either bosses or clients. He said if he has a lot of work to do, and he knows a lot of people are coming to meet him, he’ll pour a little bit of alcohol on him so they’ll think he’s drunk and leave him.

 

Lack of skill, lack of understanding of how things should be properly done, to the problems inherent in them of how they were taught when they were apprentices, to the fact that you’re a woman talking to them, are all problems. I’ve had

tailors who would rather talk to my husband than talk to me.

 

What’s your take on fashion in Nigeria?

It’s a lot of hard work. The industry for a fashion designer is really hard. Elsewhere in the world you have illustrators, pattern makers, dress makers, fashion marketers. But here as a fashion designer you have to do everything on your own.

 

There, you know about all these stuff but you don’t have to do it yourself. Most of the people in the industry are not very supportive of each other, so Abuja market is totally different from the Lagos market. Tailors in lagos for example, are everywhere. In Abuja, they are few, the good ones. Some really big fashion houses pay their tailors very high because they have a lot of money, maybe family money and stuff like that. You pay a tailor 10k to make a dress then charge customers really high. And you as a fashion designer who’s trying to do affordable clothing, it’s not going to work when you pay a tailor 10k to make a dress when you’re going to sell it for 16k.

 

Who inspires you?

My mother does. I don’t know how she brought up five kids, worked for years, and we all turned out really great. She’s the most patient human being I’ve ever met. If I had a quarter of her patience I’m done for life.

 

I got my discipline and business acumen from my dad. He’s really hardworking, and focused. While my mom ties everything else together: she’s gentle, patient, and a good teacher.

 

What challenges have you faced in the fashion business?

There’s lack of human resources, and there’s never enough capital. But Human resources is the first thing, capital is secondary.

 

And then there’s electricity! You have to produce your own electricity most of the time. It adds a lot to the cost of production. And then proximity to raw materials— the fact that we have to buy everything abroad; 70% of our fabrics is sourced abroad. We do buy ankara, and regular chiffon here in Nigeria, but the people I source them from also import them. All our accessories are imported.

 

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

When you make something for someone, and then you do your final fitting— it could be first, it could  be final— and then it fits like a glove and the person is all happy and giddy and jumps up and down.

 

When do you think you’ll feel the most accomplished?

I’ll be happy when we get to a point where any woman who wants to dress modestly walks into Covered andChic and is happy to find whatever it is she’s looking for. A lot of the time you find out that people who don’t wear hijab don’t feel comfortable around people who do, we want to eliminate that.

 

We want to sell outfits to people who don’t wear hijab, people who do, and also to people who wear niqab. We want everyone to come to Covered and Chic and feel comfortable. We haven’t gotten there yet, and that’s our ultimate goal.

 

 

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