Founder Cynthia Otiyo-Abila talks to us about Cynthia Abila, a brand that spotlights its African heritage when designing for the modern woman.
Tell us about your brand
Cynthia Abila is an eponymous brand founded in 2016 by Cynthia Otiyo-Abila. We are passionate about African cultures and storytelling, interpreting these wonderful traditions through our pieces by reinventing them as modern silhouettes made for the travelling woman.
Based in Nigeria, we inspire locally and design, source and produce materials by engaging artisans across the country. Our influences are rooted in the tribal ways of the South South and southeast Nigeria.
In doing so, we also provide vital work opportunities and essential training to local communities. Our beaded and adorned pieces are also worked by hand and finally machine-finished. With the adoption of flexible work policies, women represent 70% of our workforce, which enables them to support their families.
Our mission is to display the timeless nature of African heritage and its application to the aesthetics of modern clothing.
What drives you?
Different African cultures, folklores, historical events and traditions.
Describe your design style
It is ethnic, elegant and individualistic.
Who are you designing for?
I design for the woman who wants to explore the world beyond her walls and still holds firmly and passionately to her roots. This is the fashion-forward woman who loves an ethnocentric touch and is not afraid to be different.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration when creating?
My biggest inspiration is my father because he relates to my work and has a way of coming up with patterns and colours that suit the narrative of every collection. He is also my support system.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
The Naza two-piece from the A/W 18/19 collection. It depicts a modern way of translating the longstanding African silhouette. The look was inspired by a traditional way of wearing the fabric/material of which the piece is made of and has remained our bestseller to date.
Share with us the sustainable steps that you are taking
By artisanally and locally weaving our fabrics, we promote local production and preserve centuries-old techniques of handmade fabric production, which are passed from generation to generation. This approach also provides vital work opportunities for women.
What do you hope to achieve with the brand in the next 3-5 years?
We hope to expand our product line, increase our sustainability efforts, increase our customers’ experience and also achieve brand relevance.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a brand?
Good support structure; finding the right staff, retaining them and getting them to buy into the vision of the company; funds; marketing.
What has being a brand owner taught you?
I’ve learnt that building a community around your product/brand is essential for relevance, sales and visibility. Also, as a clothing brand, connecting with influencers is a powerful tool because it humanises the product and makes it relatable to customers.
Finally, as the general overseer of a brand, decision-making is a key aspect of running a business. This has taught me that a CEO must not only make good judgments, but also trust and grow the decision-making abilities of their team – especially in the areas of their expertise to enable smooth and efficient running of the organisation at all times.