“I suddenly realised a while ago that my initial vision when I started out @styletemple was already accomplished. My vision to build a global brand, worn by women all over the world…accessible from anywhere in the world…had actually happened since 2016, with women shopping on styletemple.ng. I had also dressed almost all of the women on my wishlist. So I set a new vision for the brand: to build Africa’s first global fashion brand valued at USD 1 billion.”
In a world filled with motivational phrases and examples of people who have literally changed the world, it is not out of place to see businesses and people breaking new boundaries. But it is not every day you hear a bold and assertive statement such as this; which is why when you do hear it, you can believe that whoever made it means business.
“I’ll say I’m a go-getter. I think I’m ambitious, very ambitious. And then… I’m curious. I’m inquisitive, I want to know, I want to learn, I like to explore. I want to see everything,” says Og Okonkwo, Founder and Creative Director of Style Temple.
You may not know Og, but you would have heard of Style Temple or at least seen an ST piece on some of the best-dressed female celebrities in Nigeria and even abroad. When we sat down to talk with Og, one of the things we wanted to find out was the idea behind her bold new vision.
“No, I never thought about it,” explains Og when we asked if she had always known that she had realised her first goal before she announced her newest vision for Style Temple. “You know, it’s what I keep saying about being present. I had a goal: I wanted my dresses everywhere, I wanted women to wear the dresses, and I was caught up in building a brand, that I didn’t realise that this goal had been realised, not until my strategy team said Ok, so what are your goals? What is your mission, vision and I am like shit, this is done already. So I think I was so busy, that I did not realise that what I wanted so badly years ago, had already been achieved. I was so busy, with life and work, that I didn’t realise what I hoped and prayed for all this time had happened.”
Fashion is my religion
“I have always made clothes growing up. I made clothes for my dolls, for my sister, so for me, Style Temple is like the actualisation of a dream. So yea, I think that is what I am happiest about, and what I am most grateful for, that I get to live my dream.”
“I started the business from my home towards the end of 2011, and in 2012, I registered my company. So officially, I started in 2012. Fashion is my religion. Fashion is something I have done all my life, so Style Temple is kind of like a play on religion, fashion and style,” says Og, explaining the reason behind her business name and how it all began.
Some years after Style Temple was birthed, critics accused Og of creating pieces that catered only to slim women. “Majority of my clients are from size 12 to 18, so no, I don’t think so. The styles are usually flexible, and can mostly work with anybody, most body types. I am so huge on the feeling as against the design. I want women to feel seen, I want women to feel powerful. And sexy, I want women to feel feminine, and powerful, and strong and sexy. And I want women to feel seen. In our funny society, guys don’t see women, especially like, you know, if a guy walks in to a setting, they shake all the guys and go past the women.
You can’t miss a woman in Style Temple. That’s the feeling that I want.”
On Style Temple’s signature style, Og says, “I think [it is sexy]. I am huge on that; I like feminity. My design style is statement piece, sexy, and structural. Yes structural, I’ll like to think structure and movement as well. So most of my designs have either a lot of movement or a lot of structure. And then underneath all of that, it has to be sexy.”
I don’t have a process.
“Every Style Temple piece – from maxi dresses to free-flowing shirt dresses – is so structured that it immediately takes on the personality of its wearer. We asked if there was any particular process in her designs.”
“Maybe because before our Ready to Wear business, I had started out doing a lot of bespoke for my clients, so I interacted with a lot of women who were already my clients. When I design, it is more or less what they want to wear. So I’ve taken all the feedback from what I’ve gotten doing their bespoke – they would have this wedding and they wouldn’t have what to wear and I’m thinking, I need to create stuff for people to wear to weddings, I need to create stuff for people to wear to parties. So that’s the theme. I think filling the need is, you know, that’s it. It just comes. I don’t have a process per se. I see a fabric, I like a fabric, and then I am thinking like how can I make this beautiful because you know, my clients want beautiful clothes. That’s it. There’s no process per se. I just create as the spirit leads. I do believe in energies, so yes, when it is time, it comes.”
My pieces are like my kids
Most designers do not have any favourite from their collections, and Og Okonkwo is no different.
“They are like all pieces of me. Like I put my soul into every design, so I can’t say this is my favourite. I love all of them. They are like my kids and I love them all equally.”
But definitely, there are some designs that have stood out above the rest. Og agrees, saying that the Bow Skirt is the most popular piece from all her collections. “ I think every Style Temple woman owns that.” Then there is White Kimono with the tribal belt which “everyone is still buying.” Also, the Sunshine Shirt Dress which was part of the Autumn/Winter 19 collection. It was so popular it found its way to Beyonce’s website.
In the end, if she were to choose one piece from all her collections to wear every day, it would definitely be the “White Pants with the buttons all the way up… It’s a white pair of pants with the buttons from the feet all the way up to the waist. I could wear it every day. I love the pants.”
There’s no fabric I particularly like
It is easy, as a designer, to fall in love with a certain type of fabric or textue for whatever reason. But Og does not seem to have a favourite when it comes to fabrics. “There’s no fabric that I particularly like, I mean, as long as it speaks to me, I’m using it. I’ve used organza, I’ve used crepe, I use chiffon. I use whatever. I would always use the fabric that works best for the style I’m trying to create.”
How then does she get all her fabrics? “From everywhere- locally, internationally. From Abuja, Lagos, Aba, Istanbul, Dubai, China – everywhere. I do a lot of research. So I physically go to the market cos I like markets and fabrics, and I get a lot of inspiration from there.”
What about accessories? Is there a favourite here at least? “Lately, I’ve been obsessed with buttons. They always look dainty, like wedding dresses always have these tiny buttons. I’ve been playing a lot with buttons lately so I’ve been using a lot of buttons.”
You have to believe impossible is nothing
As we talk, Og, dressed in white, is constantly active (my mind is constantly working and thinking, and the only way I unwind is by sleeping). And while she may not require this same energy from everyone that works with her, she does demand that they see impossible as nothing. “You basically have to believe that impossible is nothing, You have to not have the limiting belief that oh no, this is not possible. Everyone I’ve worked with is basically like me, they believe that nothing is impossible. If not, most of the things I’ve tried to create, people are like, oh no, that’s not possible. And I don’t like to hear that. So yea, I think for me, you have to believe that impossible is nothing. That, or I make you believe it.”
And has she been lucky enough to get such people to stay with her? “Yes, I currently have a team member from 2012. She was the first staff that was hired. She was like my first staff, she was hired as a cleaner basically, but now she’s in charge of procurement. I have another person who was hired in 2014. She left to go to school and then got married, but now she’s back. I also have tailors who have been with me like forever, since 2014, 2015.”
In addition to designing clothes, Og also runs trainings every three months. This is where she usually picks up her mentees. “I have to walk them through [even after the training].” She also has mentors which include Mai Atafo.
How did the pandemic affect Style Temple, and how was it able to bounce back? “There was this phase where everybody was confused, like what are we wearing now; we are not going out? So these really dressy dresses, where am I going to wear them? I had like a whole month trying to convince my clients to… I mean you can still all dress up. Trying to explain that you can still dress up. You’re going to have weddings and events, which is what most of my dresses are for.”
“Things are picking back up. I introduced a new range of kimonos which is easier to wear and less stuffy than all my other designs. Now I am creating more transitional pieces, cos life isn’t what it used to be. People are staying at home more as against going out a lot, so you have to design bearing that in mind.” In addition, she is working hard to ensure her dream of building a fashion brand worth USD 1 billion comes to pass soon. “I have been told this is too ambitious, and with Africa’s lack of structure and low productivity, there are a lot of reasons why that can’t happen. But I think I am going to try to prove that it can absolutely happen. I hope in the next 5 years I would have achieved that”
Does she have any brand she looks up to for inspiration? “Locally I’d say Deola Segoe, Lisa Folawiyo. [In fact] all the brands that have been there for decades, for over 10 years, I am inspired by them. Fashion is not known for longevity especially in Africa, and Nigeria to be precise. So I think with all the older brands, I am inspired by them. Despite everything, and all the bottlenecks running the fashion business in Nigeria, they are still at it, years later. So yea, I think they inspire me.”
“Internationally, I do like Elie Saab, I like the play of fabrics, it is always very detailed. I love that. House of CB is another one that I like but not so much the clothes, as the business model. Her business model is different for fashion, but it is working. And then, I like Dior. I am obsessed with Dior.” However, if she were to ever collaborate with another designer on a collection, it would be with LVMH, “so they fund the collection!” she laughs..
As we round up the interview, we wanted to know what’s next for Style Temple and Og. “Well, we have a new vision now. So the future is trying to achieve the vision, trying to get listed in Nigeria’s Stock Exchange. I want to prove that fashion is serious business, and it can be serious business in Nigeria. [For me], I’ll design till I’m ready to retire. I’ll probably still be designing even when I’m retired. And have fun while at it. Just that.”
Interesting facts about Og
The most expensive thing she has ever bought herself is a Rolex.
She cannot work without food. “I can’t function when I’m hungry.”
Her favourite piece of clothing is lingerie. If Style Temple were to have a spinoff, it would be“probably lingerie. Most likely.”
She never leaves home without her phone. “Cos my phone is an extension of me. I mean, emails, everything is on my phone.”
If she did not have Style Temple, she would be a professional makeup artist, or a painter, or some professional in the arts.
She used to do makeup professionally.
If she could end one fashion trend, it would be “Peplums and tutu skirts. I’ll end them.”
She studied Medical Laboratory Science in University.
Her three absolute favourite cities to travel to: Zanzibar, Ghana, Cape Town. Out of Africa, it would be Istanbul, Mykonos (I plan to maybe retire there) and Bali.
If she were to dress two people for free, it would be Melania Trump and Michelle Obama. Locally, “I think I have dressed everyone I want to dress.”
A typical day for Og: “Get up, meditate, go to work. So work could be production with my tailors, it could be consultation with my clients, it could be shooting, like photoshoot and product shoots. I don’t design till I get back home. My home… is really a blank canvas cos I bring work home… My home is an extension of my work. I think my home says, workaholic.”
You can shop Style Temple pieces on www.styletemple.ng or via their Instagram page @styletemple. You can also follow Og Okonkwo at @og_styletemple for new and exclusive styles.