When did you know that you were going into fashion designing?
Fashion designing is something that I started from childhood. I started while in primary school till tertiary institution. It is a natural talent, I never studied fashion; it is an inborn thing that flows in the family. I basically learnt it from my mum although everybody in my house is a fashion designer but I am the most creative. I have strong passion for fashion since childhood. Because growing up was so mysterious, my mum sees me as a weird child that always does things different from every other person in the house.
Briefly tell us about your background.
I am Raymond Stephen Assim, from Cross River, and my mum is from Lagos. I am the second of a family of four children. I studied Fine Art/Applied Art in Yaba Tech and now doing what I know how to do. I have been doing a lot of things from my childhood, things that have to do with creativity theatre and all that.
What was growing up like?
I actually launched my label in the year 2000 and since then I have been up and doing. Steve Ray was launched on Worker’s day; that was first March 2000. Growing up was not easy though, but I am a very curious person, always positive but a bit sensitive, I don’t like overstepping my boundaries and being noticed. I like to be behind the scenes. So many people complain that they have heard a lot about Steve Ray and that the name rings a bell but knowing the person behind the name is a problem.
As a designer, what kind of clothes do you specialise in?
In the area of specialisation, I can do a lot of things but I don’t go into corporate because it is a different market on its own when it comes to the industry but I love the couture, bread and butter iceberg, evenings and costuming.
What current things do we expect from you this year?
I am cooking up something new. I am trying to see what I can bring into the fashion trend and I am working on how I could enlarge my market sales through mass production of what people can readily afford in the market. I know it is not easy because you need huge investors to do that but in this country it is not encouraging because of lack of investors. I am always grateful to God for His support.
What inspires your creations?
As a person, I discovered myself right from when I was 8-years old. I do things that I love doing and want people to make comments. Inspiration comes naturally and I think the love for doing things in an extraordinary way inspires me a lot too. The things around me also inspire me, like pictures, environment, and references from today’s trend. I don’t like doing things the way other people do so, I try to create my own trend.
Who are your popular clients?
I have a lot of them such as Mercy Johnson, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, managing directors of banks and all that. It restricts me to just celebrities but right now I am thinking of going into mass production. I do costuming basically. I have costumed a lot of celebrities, beauty queens and all that. The first celebrity that my job pushed out was 2face Idibia, I costumed his video (African Queen) far back in 2003. That was a major job for me. I also costumed EneLawani, Miss Nigeria 2004. I costumed Mama G video and I design a lot for carnivals yearly like Calabar Carnival, Abuja carnival and I consult for other states.
Who do you look up to in the fashion line?
I think I have to be a bit critique about this. The fashion industry in this country is a bit limp; looking up to anyone here is discouraging, I am sorry to say that. When I was growing up, Mon Ami was the first man I met in the industry that really spurred my morale and he encouraged me because, the first job I did then went into ovation and it was well appreciated. I was amazed and that was how I was prompted to come out. Mon Ami is a Nigerian designer that I give kudos to but for now, there is none. Outside Nigeria I love MK, Versace and late Alexander since I am also a couture designer.
What is your personal style?
My personal style is classy, chic, weird and sophisticated.
Are you married?
I am not married, been in a relationship that broke up and I am now on my own but I am not willing any more (laughs), come on its fun. I am so relieved now because I used to think it was a final bus stop once you settle down in marriage. I am very religious and skeptical about raising a child in a home where both are struggling to make things happen so I rather stay by myself than play games. I have a child, a boy and I am happy to have him. I am settled. It is my life and I definitely cannot pretend to be who I am not. My child is a year plus and I don’t want to talk about the mother.
In what way did your background influence what you are doing now?
I will say the negative part of it did influence what I am doing now, I have never said this in public though, when my dad and my mum got separated, they are still alive but I am closer to my mum than my dad, as a child I got threatened by my future when they got separated but being a very sensitive and a Sagittarius person, I was so calculative that after my primary school days there was no money for mummy to take care of us the way she would have loved to, we all had to support her and that was where my curiosity came into the aspect of sewing. Then if she wants to design anything I will sit down and sketch for her, whatever she proposes to her clients they will reject it and go with mine and that was how the whole thing started. At a point she started asking me how she will achieve a particular design. I used my female friends as my models and dummies to practice my creativity level too.
How do you feel when you see your clients in your design?
Sometimes I get confused, I am not always contented with what I do but when I see people appreciating it, I console myself that I actually did well but I don’t feel great about it because there is this feeling that I can do better. Every time I see African queen video celebrated, even though 2face Idibia denied me of my rights in the video, I still feel happy till date of that project.
What do you mean when you say you were denied of your right?
Yes I was denied of my rights because after all I did, 2face could not celebrate me as the designer behind that video. Even his wife Ann Macauley was my model back then in 2003. 2face stole my joy, he cheated me. There are so many others, I don’t just want to mention them because they are prominent people in the society now and so they tend to look down on me. I costumed African queen video and they did not acknowledge it till date. It has been a cry I have been holding till now. We met in August last year at Senator ItaGiwa’s daughter’s wedding ceremony, when I inquired to know what was going on, all they could say was ‘’bros let us talk and we exchanged numbers, they never called me but I called them once and decided to forget it so that it will not look like I am a pest in their life. I am still depressed about African queen video because I went through a lot to costume it free of charge. Acknowledging it was all I expected from him but he denied me till date. I even opted suing him but along the line, the game was too much for me because of his manager Kennis. So, I went through the press media but it still did not go far. The case is just like a child that is raped, I feel terrible.
What do you have weakness for?
I have never been afraid of anything but human beings. That is my weak point and that is where I am mostly hit, I am a very simple person and open minded, I can easily give myself to friends but they wouldn’t give themselves. I sacrifice a lot, I am a humanitarian and with that it became a weakness on my part and people take that for granted; it hurts though.
Tell us about your perfect holiday.
I think the last one I had was in Ghana last year, I could relax and watch fashion shows just to feed my eyes and gather some ideas. It was a perfect one.
What should a fashion designer focus more on?
In the industry, we don’t have a regulatory body that directs our creative mindsets when it comes to fashion in Nigeria. I still see people wearing patches of Ankara which is meant to be out of vogue by now. Since 2010 that someone came up with the idea which I know my grandmother did when we were in the fashion industry so why should other designers still live in it for 3-4years? It doesn’t make any sense; we should be looking at something different like colours, fabrics, and style so that people can follow it up. I advised that they should go for sensitive colours from ocean drive. I am a bit tired of African print Ankara, there are lots of other fabrics but the industry is not smiling at that. Meanwhile, designers are the ones who make things happen so, why should one die for a particular fabric when you have varieties. Let us see your creativity level in whatever you are doing and once it is out of the market please, take it off; it does not necessarily have to last 100years. I studied Fine Art and I know what fabric is.
Do you think that the government has done enough for the industry?
No I don’t agree to that and if at all they are doing something for the industry then, may be the regulatory body is not circulating it or there is something pulling it back because it is not getting to everyone. In Nigeria, we believe you must be in the clique to have it and I don’t believe in clique before I could make my money. I also believe that the industry is big and large enough for everybody to explore creativity and make money; one person cannot do it all. Why not create a forum that we can mass produce and export it with our label. Many of us go to Dubai to mass produce and bring them back here. Why can’t we do the production here, instead of spending that money out there? If we can mass produce in Nigeria, it will blow the economy and create job opportunities for many. The production in carnival making alone is something else, in Nigeria the rich play the carnival, the poor watch because for you to take part in a carnival band you pay almost half a million. If that is for a person, it simply means there is huge amount of money in that angle not to talk of something people wear day-to-day.
What do you think the government should do to help the industry?
They should fund the fashion industry, create an industry whereby machines will be installed for different purposes then if there is need for designers to pay a certain amount before using it, we will gladly embrace it and pay tax from sales. The money will still go back to the nation’s economy and the economy will blow, people will also have jobs to do. If we have such an industry, imagine what we will produce in a day, weeks and months, which is a lot of money beyond the oil money because everybody must clothe. A baby born today must wear something.
Is it true that your clients have to pay through their nose to get your service?
I don’t think so; it is just that I am very selective. I have faced a lot of clients and why I have to narrow myself down to this status now is because of the things I have gone through, but it is not weighing me down though. There is a difference between being a tailor and a designer, I may decide to be a sketch designer and that is where couture comes in. If I am clothing a particular celebrity on a red carpet show and she wants to make a name with the dress she is wearing and she is paying me 600,000 (six hundred thousand naira) it is a fame for that celebrity but in this part of the world, celebrities don’t even mind going to a road side tailor to make the dress and then deny that common tailor of the rights. We are supposed to be celebrated because if we don’t clothe you, you will not be a celebrity so, I see myself as supreme to the celebrity. Before anyone can be celebrated a designer is involved. Now tell me where the future is for designers in this country?
What is the highest amount you have ever charged clients for your service?
When it comes to an individual, it is around 50,000 to 60,000 naira; some will even have to fight with you before they pay as small as it is. I intend to make my market liberal in the sense that, I will not say because I am a known name I will not design for someone who can afford 5000 naira but I will tell you specifically what your 5000 can get for you so that you don’t expect to look like Beyonce in 5000. To some, I do charity work and I do give away clothes that I showcase but the problem is our mentality in this country is very low and we need orientation generally in our life, styling and all that.