Nigerian fashion designer Ogechi Jennifer Okolie is steadily making her mark in Nigeria and beyond with her brand, Gechi Signature. Her standout custom-made dresses have become the buzz on the international scene, as glowing reviews from her clientele fill her Instagram stories and posts with photographs of the girls donning her creations at prom or memorable dates. Their smiles—and those of their partners—convey volumes about their satisfaction with the fashion designer’s expertise in making their fashion desires come true.
Ogechi Okolie started her fashion journey as an apprentice in a fashion school in Ikeja Lagos in 2018, where she spent 12 months under the tutelage of a madam who owned a fashion school in one of the busy areas in the city. As one of the students who had to transition into the fashion industry out of financial necessity, Ogechi felt both challenged and inspired. “Everything was overwhelming at first, she admits, “but I followed my heart. I came to a point where I had no way of turning back because all I wanted to do at that moment was learn fashion.”
After her industrial training at the fashion school, she moved to Ibadan in 2020 and found a fashion workshop where she interned for three months. She needed more experience to get better. Ogechi shared that her challenges as an intern at Anike fashion school were due to the high cost of transportation and the fact that the fashion house was far from where she lived. Adapting did not come easy for her, but she did graciously, unaware of what the future held for her.
Starting as an independent professional felt like a dream come true as she got her first client upon opening her first store on Etsy. She sewed as her clients trickled in steadily, bringing in a wave of other people to experience her expertise.
While she relished the successes on Etsy, Ogechi soon faced hurdles that threatened to derail her entrepreneurial journey. Navigating the online marketplace, especially as a Nigerian vendor, was riddled with complications. PayPal, a prominent payment gateway on Etsy, posed a significant barrier. Payments were inaccessible to Nigerian merchants, forcing Ogechi into cumbersome workarounds: “I had to pay to link other people’s PayPal accounts to my Etsy shop,” she recalls. Her challenges were exacerbated when Etsy imposed restrictions on Nigerian sellers, abruptly severing her from her growing clientele.
Yet, every ending marks a new beginning.
Enter Afrikrea, an online marketplace tailored for African-inspired fashion. The platform emerged as a beacon of hope for Gechi Signature. Starting from scratch, Ogechi had to navigate this new space, grapple with its unique challenges – including a monthly subscription, high sales fees, and withdrawal fees – and work diligently to rebuild the trust of her previous customers while attracting new ones. However, Afrikrea aligned with her roots and offered a fresh opportunity to showcase her creations on a platform that celebrates African craftsmanship.
Reflecting on how she felt when she received her first review, “Over the years, I have gotten so many positive reviews from my clients. They always feel happy and beautiful when they wear their dresses,” Ogechi says with pride, “and that makes me really happy. It always gladdens my heart when I see my clients happy because the goal for me is making happy clients.”
Ogechi continues, “My designs significantly impact my customers mostly on how I make them look after wearing a dress I made. The positive reviews on social media attest to this, and I make a point of reading through these comments. I’m glad that they not only enjoy wearing my clothes but also appreciate the creativity and effort that goes into each piece.”
When asked about the driving force behind her work, Ogechi doesn’t hesitate, “My passion.” Drawing in her breath, with the passion she spoke of clearly afire in her eyes, she continues, “My passion is to make people look beautiful through my craft.”
Ogechi envisions her brand, Gechi Signature, evoking “elegance, style, and beauty,” adding, “When people think of Gechi Signature, I want the first thought to be ‘Stay beautiful and confident with your fashion style.’ That is my brand message.”
Having an assistant has been helpful for Ogechi by taking off some of the workload from her. She has had to deal with overwhelming bookings, which led her to reject orders at some point.
Acknowledging the designers before her, Ogechi shares that her inspiration comes from other passionate designers who remain true to their originality and vision. She promises to keep the faith to keep her creative juice flowing so she does not lose sight of her purpose and mission.
We asked Ogechi for her advice to those starting as fashion professionals, and she shared, “Keep gaining knowledge. Don’t think you have learnt enough because fashion is a trend that keeps moving forward.”
Commenting on how her fashion journey has changed her and her plan for the future, Ogechi says, “This journey has been fantastic. Reflecting on how I started, it never occurred to me that I could gain this much confidence in portraying my gift to the world. Finally, I plan to keep learning and adding more creative innovative styles to the industry.”
Creatives Around Us granted permission to feature photos by Gechi Signature