Family business is quite common all over the world. Children follow in their parents’ footsteps, learn the trade, and sometimes take over and do things better. This was exactly what Steve Assim set out to do when he decided to harness his creative skills and become a fashion designer.
His mother, who was and still is a seamstress, belonged to a different generation and did her things differently, Mr. Assim says, but he didn’t want to spend many years behind a sewing machine and remain obscure. So, in 2003, less than a year as a professional fashion designer, the 37-year old native of Cross River State put together all the funds he had, borrowed some, and organised a small fashion show to launch his label, which is now known as Steve Ray.
In the beginning
“Starting up was very hectic. As a creative minded person, I had the flair for designing so I knew I could make beautiful clothes. I asked myself the question, what differentiates my mum from these so-called big designers we hear about, and sought to find answers by speaking to big designers like Monami, who is now my mentor. I hosted a personal fashion show at Alliance Francaise, Ikoyi in 2003 and that is where I launched my label,” Mr Assim explained.
The show earned him the desired publicity he wanted, but the Applied Arts graduate of Yaba College of Technology says the challenge since then has been keeping up with the creative expectations of people and running a business in harsh economic conditions.
“It’s not been easy. At the same time, it’s very encouraging when one knows what he or she is doing because that can’t fail you. It’s only when you don’t know what you’re doing that it becomes difficult. Managing my tailors has also not been easy because as a one-man business, you raise your funds, face your risks, go out there and source for everything you need and at the same time, you have to manage the income. What keeps me going is the passion I have for it.”
According to Mr. Assim, he didn’t get any formal training in sewing and designing, not even from his mother. He said his education in applied arts helped a lot, especially in sketching and pattern designing.
“Fashion designing is an inborn thing for me. I was born into a home where creativity was the order of the day. My mum is a seamstress though she is still into the game but not really in the normal way. She never formally tutored me and I didn’t learn from anyone else. I just experimented a lot until I got it right. Mine is a talent and then it is God’s gift. Without my passion for it, I don’t think I would have gone this far.”
Fighting for clients with mum
Initially, his mum resisted his choice of fashion designing because she wanted a better future for her son and didn’t think sewing was the way.
“It came to a stage that we were fighting for clients. It was really a tough time for me. She thought I was coming to take over from her. I saw it as a relief for her then but she didn’t understand that. I had to buy my own machines because at a time she stopped me from using hers. She just wanted me to read my books. But when she saw how serious and determined I was, she supported me.”
The designer, who specialises in bridal wears, evening wears and contemporary African designs for men and women has made costumes for participants in the Calabar carnival for two years running. He has also designed classic pieces for beauty queens such as Miss African Queen in Ghana, Miss Nigeria 2004, Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2006, Miss Tourism 2006 and 2007, World Miss University 2007, among others. He was also the sole designer for all the costumes used in Tuface Idibia’s African Queen video.
He attributes his success, however, to God and his determination not to be mediocre. “We have the street tailors and we have the designers. The only thing that differs is that these people come out to show their skills and so their level of professionalism is higher than those on the road sides.”
The average tailor on the street, according to Mr. Assim, is quite talented. He only needs to be more confident and expose himself in different ways.