When I saw the Ms. Ray Couture collection at Africa Fashion Week NY, I knew I had to meet the designer behind the collection. Using white material as the starting point, Nkem Emegha created a beautiful collection of dresses with a regal theme. The African fabric she used didn’t overpower the white, but added to the simplicity by adding color. Read on for our exclusive interview with her about fashion and her life.
• What was your inspiration for the collection you showed at AFWNY, and what is the message that you want relate?
I wanted a collection that would embrace the female body in various ways but also a collection that would not only speak to the petite females like myself but also to women with different shapes. While doing so I decided to work with white as the main base. I believe the color white has a classy feel and look and to add that extra edginess I complemented the designs with African Prints.
• Describe the women who will wear your (season) Collection.
Ms. Ray is more about allowing a woman to love her body and be proud of it. If God gave you lovely hips and thighs work them! We live in a world where they claim that the ideal woman is a seize zero. Being petite myself and having a lovely mother who is fully shaped which I think is very beautiful, I aim to let women celebrate their body with my designs.
• What was your academic and profession background (if other than fashion design)?
After rounding off high school I made the decision to study law at the University of Amsterdam and become a Human Rights lawyer one day. I always had a thing for African Fashion, music and movies, but my education was and still is my number one priority. A part from being a student and a designer I keep myself busy with several part-time jobs. I have never been to a fashion school all that you see in my designs are just mere imagination filled with a lot of creativity.
• How and when did you decide to enter apparel design?
I developed love for African prints because of their uniqueness and the story they tell. I found out that every African print and color says something about Africa, but I had to stop daydreaming about all this due to my law course. Having a degree has always been my main wish and distractions were really not on the menu. To quench the hunger for fashion I told myself that one day when I grow up I would start designing on my free time.
It was during the contest of Miss Africa Netherlands in 2011 I finally told myself that it was about time to bring out my creative side. Contesting for a pageant was neither an easy nor a cheap experience. We had to look for sponsors to sponsor us with our outfits. Just like every other pageant we had to buy different outfits for different rounds. It was difficult for us to find a tailor who would make our African outfit especially living in a country like Holland where African fashion is really unknown. Up till a few years ago Holland was not involved in a lot of activities concerning African fashion. But we did manage to find good tailors to fix us very nice African dresses.
The birth of Ms. Ray Couture was after winning the pageant in December 2011. I was crowned the first Miss Africa Netherlands 2012, it was not only a shock because I was not the tallest amongst the contestants neither did I find myself the most beautiful contestant so it was all new and strange for me. I had to adapt into the whole being a ‘ Miss’ thing. I never liked crowns ever since I was a little girl but I did manage to love them in the process. Knowing that I was the first Miss Africa Netherlands I decided that my reign should not be in vein, so I combined being a law student with being an ambassador that was creating awareness for Female Genital Multilation, Breast Ironing and Education for the girl child. For some reason God found in me not only a student but also a Miss that was to be the voice of a lot of female Africans in Europe and back home in Africa.
Knowing that I had created enough publicity for myself, I decided to launch my own clothing line dedicated to my late Father Mr. Raymond. My dad has always been an important part of my life and knowing that he was gone forever, I needed something that would still connect me with him. So I went for a name that means a lot to me. After coming out with a name everything went pretty fast.
• What were the influences that inspired this season’s collection?
After getting to know the signature style for Ms. Ray I decided to bring out a collection that captures all the element of my style. I decided to work with a lot of white and focus on the various shapes of the female body.
• Describe the woman that you design for.
Simple, Classy and sophisticated women, who are not shy to flaunt what the lord gave them in an appropriate way.
• Do you have any plans for expanding your brand into other countries?
Expanding my brand is definitely part of my plans, I plan on capturing a lot of countries outside Europe. I am not just focused on Africans alone but as a lover of different cultures, traditions I would love to see people from various countries and background wearing my designs.
• What can we expect to see with your (next season’s) collection?
I cannot say much about this but all I know is expect to sexy sophistication and class.
• What techniques of the trade do you feel you have mastered and which do you feel you are still learning?
I love to learn new things and learning brings me a step closer to my goal. I have learned that even though the road may be hard and uneasy to follow, you just got to press on. Obstacles might come your way but it depends on you to know how to handle it. The most important thing I have learned so far is making something yet simple but eye catching. I have learned that knowing your own style is the best way to push you forward. Knowing my own style has made me who I am today, because at the end of the day whatever Ms. Ray puts on the table tells a story about her way of being.
• Which designers (established of emerging) inspire and challenge you artistically?
I respect all designers for their creativity and hard work they put into their brand. But to say that I am challenged by other designers would be a lie. I do not think I am the best out there but I do know that there is a certain place I want to end up with my brand and this might be different from other designers. I love to see the artistic work of many creative and talented designers but at the end of the day I am the biggest challenge to myself. I try as much to bring out the most creative and artistic part of myself in my designs and if I fail then I have myself to blame. But I do get inspired by designers such as Adebayo Johnson and Tom Ford because I simply love their way of work and the end result is just mind blowing.
• How has it been for you, with regard to building your career as a designer?
As a young lady in this big world, I told myself that if I really want to make it in life being lazy would not be the solution. I grew up with a single mother who went through a lot and still did not give up and that was and still is a great motivation for me to follow my dreams. Coming up with my own clothing line was not an easy process because it is easy to believe your dreams but it is more difficult to make others believe in your dreams. I had to realize that as long as I can dream it I can achieve it, despite what others have to say about it. I used to think pleasing everybody was the key to success, which is not true because there is no way you can please everybody around you and not leave yourself out. Though I still have my education to focus on, work and being a Miss. Some ask me how I manage to pull through, I just reply by saying it is all God’s work. God will never give me something that I cannot handle and not only did he see potential in me, he also blessed me with people around me who are very supportive.
• What were some of your greatest accomplishments?
I believe everything that has been happening in my life has been great accomplishments. From being A miss to a law graduate to a designer. Traveling country to country to showcase my designs for the audience to actually like it and compliment me, is something I totally cannot describe. All these developments make me feel like my whole life has been a great accomplishment.
• What thoughts would you like to share with students and young designers entering the industry?
If you dream it, do it. Don’t do it because you see others doing it, do it because it is something that you want to do. Do not feel intimidated by others who have been in the industry for long, do not feel intimidated because your style is different. Despite how your style is, people will notice you and feel attracted to what you have to offer. If you can believe then make it a reality.
• What would you like to say to your loyal and new supporters of your brand?
I wish I could speak all the languages in this world, because I owe all of them a big thank you. Thank you for your support and motivation. It is your positive spirits that keeps me going. I feel highly favored.
Be sure to follow her on Facebook here and support her at Lagos Fashion and Design Week.
Check back tomorrow for another exclusive feature part of our September Issue.