Titi Belo is living her best life as a women’s wear designer

In 2014, Titilayo Belo was introduced to the world as a fashion designer when she was chosen to to be a part of the Lagos Fashion Week Fashion Focus programme, a year that had some of the most exciting Nigerian designers working today. Since then Titi has become a regular fixture in the Nigerian fashion industry, pioneering a customer first approaching to designing clothes.

It’s been 8 years since that turning point in Titi’s career at her eponymous label, and so much has changed from that first outing in 2014. We sat with Titi Belo to discuss her work, her career in fashion and the challenges that she has overcome in her journey to build a profitable, sustainable brand.

Please introduce yourself (you can reveal as much and as little as you are comfortable with)?

My name is Titilayo Belo. I’m a 34 year old women’s wear designer based in Lagos, Nigeria, and my business has been in operation for about 8 years now.  

What did you want to be growing up?

When I was in primary school, I wanted to become a doctor, because everyone seemed to want to become a doctor. But by the time I got to secondary school, I came to realise that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to work in design and architecture seemed the most accessible way to do this, so I studied architecture in university. 

What career path are you in now?

I am a fashion designer and I am the founder and creative director of Titi Belo, a women’s wear and accessories label.

How long have you been on this career path?

I first became interested in fashion in secondary school around 2003. I went to Queen’s College Lagos, one of the most prestigious secondary schools, attracting female students from all parts of the country, and even the world.

We all had to wear a uniform as part of the school’s rules and the girls found interesting ways to express themselves through their clothing. Just being around so much creativity made me interested in exploring fashion as my life’s work.

How did you get into this field?

Architecture was a compromise for me. I knew I wanted to work in fashion, but there were no fashion design schools in Nigeria when I graduated, just tailoring schools. Fashion schools abroad were too expensive for my parents, so architecture at the University of Lagos was one step closer to my dream of working in fashion.

During my NYSC in 2012, I was deployed to Zamfara state, and eventually got redeployed to Ogun state. Nothing much was happening there, so I decided to work with a stylist, Toyin Lawani, who was just starting her fashion line, Elegante by Tiannah Styling. I also a few fashion blogs, one with a friend Desola Mako, and TheImperfectVerbalista, where I documented my personal style from 2011 to 2015.

I eventually became the assistant creative director at Tiannah Styling in June 2012, before I left to start my own label Titi Belo.  

What’s a typical day in your work life like?

Because I run my own label, my schedule is very flexible. I sleep very late and I wake up very late so my day starts at 10am. I have my own design studio and a small factory so most of my work day is spent there. When I get in, the first order of business is sorting out and sending out the day’s client deliveries.

Then I do a stand up with my team at Titi Belo, talking through the day’s tasks and dealing with any challenges. From there I deal with administrative tasks, like emails, financials and customer service. That usually takes a few hours, then I check back in with my team and close for the day. Depending on how much work we have to get done, work can end much later than our official closing times. 

What’s the culture like for women in your field?

The Nigerian fashion industry has more women’s wear brands owned by women, so its not there is a lot of acceptance for women. But a lot people still don’t see fashion as a respectable profession. 

What is the thing you like the most about what you do?

I really enjoy every aspect of creating at Titi Belo, from conceptualisation, to execution. Even the more stressful parts like customer service and finances are all exciting to me because they all add to the big picture and allow me to continue to do what I love. 

Day by day, I’m discovering that there is so much untapped potential in fashion and that is really exciting for me as I expand my women’s wear brand. I’m very fulfilled as a designer and a business owner. 

What is the thing you like the least?

Generally it would be downtime, when there aren’t a lot of orders but salaries and recurring expenses need to be paid. That can be very frustrating. 

Personally, the promotional photoshoots have become my least favourite part of running my brand. I made the decision in 2020 to model most of the Titi Belo designs, because I want the brand to have a more personal touch. I love curating the edits and even trying on the design prototypes, but being this involved in the process of creating content for my brand and modelling the clothes myself can become very draining. 

What is the one challenge you think women in your field face the most?

Finding the right talent to work with our brands. Nigeria doesn’t have any vocational schools where pattern cutting and tailoring is taught professionally, so we have to train a lot of our staff. Its a huge investment and we have no guarantee that investing in talent will yield results. 

This is a problem that cuts across genders, but as a female designer, I also have to deal with the added problem of finding male workers who respect the authority of their female bosses and do not feel emasculated by working under a woman. It is a problem that forces many women to hire only female tailors, pattern cutters and associates. 

Is there any way being a woman in your field gives you an advantage over your co-workers?

In other parts of the world, all the big positions in fashion go to men, except for a handful of women. The Nigerian fashion industry has more women’s wear brands owned by women, but that doesn’t mean there is a lot of acceptance for women.

Most of the big name Nigerian designers here are women, Tiffany Amber, Ituen Basi, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, Nkwo, Lisa Folawiyo, but people still don’t see fashion as a respectable profession. 

Is there any personal anecdote that you have from work that you think best illustrates what it is like working in your field as a woman?

We have still not gotten to the point where people can differentiate between designers, tailors, alteration specialists and pattern cutters. I find myself having to make this clarification to potential clients who want me to copy the designs of other brands, and educate them on the differences between brands.

Getting them to respect the work that I do, and understand what value proposition I offer is a serious challenge I face.

Do you believe in work buddies? 

Yes, and I have seen what having a positive work experience can do for a person’s productivity. Take my studio for example, my tailors and pattern cutters are all women, and I have watched them support each other at work and outside of work. They have such a close bond that when one of them got married, she asked all her co-workers to join her bridal train because she wanted them to be a part of such an important milestone in her life. 

A healthy, positive work environment has greatly helped with the productivity of my staff and I try to encourage it when it happens naturally.  

Can you give us a tip you swear by for successfully managing a work/life balance?

Because I am my own boss, I control my hours, but even then it takes a lot of intentionality to ensure that I don’t make my work my life and burn myself out. I like to have a good time and I make sure to prioritise having fun and go clubbing with my friends.

Lagos is too stressful to not make out time to let off steam once in a while. I make time to go out for drinks, partying and now that I’m a little older, weddings. 

Do you have any advice for younger women who want to do what you do? 

My advice would be to follow your dreams earlier. Start where you are, and start small. Everything you do, is an investment in the future you want to build for yourself. So start small and always be honest with yourself about where you are and what you have the capacity to manage at every point in your growth as a creator or business owner.


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