Story: Eric Elezuo Photo: Ken Ehimen
Though he called himself an Engineer by default, it is not completely out of place to say that a prolific engineer, who had a thriving career with Hauwei Technologies; one of the world’s most sought after technology companies, could jettison the profession, and tow the line of passion, berthing at the shores of fashion designing. His name is Joe Obi Parson, popularly known by his label, Joe Parson.
I am basically an Engineer by default. I studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Ilorin, and had practiced the discipline for a while with a telecommunication giant, Huawei Technologies. But you know, even as I was in the practice, something else was occupying my attention, and that was fashion.
One would wonder at what stage the idea of fashion and designing creeped into Joe Parson’s mind, knowing that for one to study engineering, he need absolute concentration, giving no room for distraction
“Fashion is something that has been with me for all long time. It all came to the fore while I was in the University. There, I styled my friends and wrote style tips for the university magazines as well as do illustrations. That channeled a lot of attention towards me and my brand.
“Even after school, I discovered that the passion stayed, and I continued to do ‘stuff’ with my fashion ideas. I did that in and out while was working as an engineer in. At a stage, I decided to just quit and do my own thing and that’s all I have been doing in the last two years,” he explained.
As regards his modus operandi in the world of fashion designing and creation, and how he managed to gain entry into the competitive fashion business, Parson said:
“I creatively design different models of cloth, sketch it the way design should be, give it suitable color combinations and identify how to wear them. Thereafter, I meet indigenous designers, whom I sell them to, most times for free because I was still up coming, and they make clothes and it becomes their seasonal cloth, but I never get credit like my name being on it.”
Parson is an engineer by profession, and a fashion designer by passion, and it is common place to see the two warring against each other, but he maintained that focus was his guiding principle.
“Every part of you had a void that something feels. This particular void was filled by focus. I worked really hard as an engineer because I have a degree in Engineering, but when I am not at work, I crave to do something different, and fashion is the only thing I think of. I actually see what people wear before I look at their faces. Fashion comes natural to me, and it happened to be the void Engineering couldn’t fill.”
But did Parson miss the discipline he spent much money, time and effort to achieve since he diversified to fashion. He heaved a short meditative sigh before answering, delving into the profitability of both ways of life.
“Sure, no how I wouldn’t. Sometimes I feel like assisting in doing most things around me, and imagining what I would have done, like programming and the rest. I miss it a lot. Again, monetarily, it depends on the location of practice. As an engineer somewhere like Europe or America, I could be paid about 500 dollars at entry level.
But fashion is like an industry where people make plans and stick to it professionally; they create a need for themselves and they become something enormous. For you to have engineering company, you need to work under people for a couple of years, gather the network, the experience you need to set up something that could stand the test of time. But in fashion, I could, within my walls be very creative, and in less than a year I could achieve great things. It’s about the creativity and the planning.
“Engineering to me seems like a regular thing, and it becomes boring as a result of the monotonous nature of the job. One feels like he has been boxed to a corner, and it makes me feel like am not living up to my expectation so I desire freedom. Freedom is what fashion gave me.
For one who had made the level of achievements Parson had achieved, there is the tendency of growing up with a silver spoon. This he agreed to, saying that much as he could not call his family rich, they had the basic things life could afford while growing up.
“My family of three elder brothers and a sister was average in nature; my mum was a nurse while my father was a business man. He sold clothes and other textile materials. I grew up believing that the only way out of life troubles was education, and my dad loves education. He sent us to one of the best schools in Port Harcourt, and made sure he pays the school fees, no matter what. So growing up was very easy and everybody was humble, and knew every family in the neighbourhood.
“I went to a boarding school and can’t remember ever spending more than three months at home. I had my secondary education at….., then to a polytechnic before proceeding to the University of Ilorin to study Electrical Engineering on a direct entry admission. I served in 2012. My parents provided everything I wanted. I had the best of opportunities. We had this humble average family setting. The ambition or determination to succeed stemmed from the fact that I don’t want to have an average life.”
While refusing to be tied down to his Imo State origin, Parson declared that sometimes one moves to a city and becomes part and parcel of that environment. We were in Port Harcourt for so long, and so, can claim both Rivers and Imo origin. However, my certificates and everything points to my real origin which is Imo State.
Being relatively young at 30, Parson had treaded the path most people much older than him have not dreamt of, and so he stated that self improvement at every point in time has been his guiding principle. He added that each time he appraised himself, he will always discover that there is something to improve upon. He gave credit to the very day he decided to give a chance to the idea of going after his fashion passion.
“Yes, the day I realized I could create my own cloth line, have the business plan I need to become what I want was the day I found myself.”
But obviously, it is one thing to come to realization, and another to take that first step. Parson did and shares the motivation for the first step:
“The first step was really difficult. People, in the business, who were in it for the fun of it makes it look like it was saturated, but it’s not. I am inspired by Mayoratafo, People like Emperor Mike Kanbi, a lot of designers like the Okonoro Brothers, people who do really good stuffs, MC Mecca among others. At 30, I am not really relaxed, but I’m happy for where I am, and I’m even excited for where I’m going,” he said.
The fact that every clothier has his specific clientele prompted the designer to chip in modestly that his clientele cuts across every boundary ranging from the ordinary man on the street to the headline makers.
“I don’t really have all the big names right now because we are just two years into the business. Though designing for celebrities is the best way to be known, I don’t forget my humble beginning which was actually in the church, precisely at House on the Rock. While in the church one day, I noticed that there is something unique about the Nigeria native attire. I considered the population wearing the native and knew that I can zero into the marking of the cloth, and so I decided. But the fact that I was still circularly employed then became a barrier because the job takes most of my time.
But how did he launch out to break the barrier?
I realized that it is one thing to be the designer, and another to be the tailor. So I set out to get a place at Agege, get some people to be tailors while I churn out the designs as I still needed my engineering job to sustain the project. I also found out that the Nigerian market can be like any other market and requires down to earth strategy to manipulate. Since I cannot make ready-to-wear because of the financial implication, I settled for making as they come.
I paid absolute attention on details because it matters a lot. The threading needs to be straight and the folds sharp because people who wear cloths sometimes wear it because of the design. I discovered this void in the fashion industry, and went ahead to fill it.
I promoted myself in two ways; one I wear my stuff, and secondly I posted my designs on the social media, and orders began to flood in to the extent I get about 15 orders a week. Then I knew for a truth there is really something in this. Sometimes we make cloths for a family for free because we wanted to create a relationship, and referrals have also been our great strength. I won’t forget to say that people like P-square,Tu-face, through their managers have some of the names on my label. Again, I dressed models on the red carpet to showcase my brand. All in all, we are moving forward.
Joe parson looks up to personalities like Mayatafe a lot, because, according to him, he has what it takes to make the industry what it should be with special regards to some of his works. There is also Ouch!, a suit designer. I learn from their glories and mistakes.
“I look up to Ouch!, Mayataforo, Jimi Casual: these are the guys who have carved a niche for themselves. On the international scene, I like Jidenna, an American artiste of Nigerian origin, and of course Zinotti,” he said.
On the difference between a tailor and a fashion designer, Parson said:
“The fashion designer does tailoring in the right way, while the normal tailor is random in his work. Otherwise both of them are cloth makers. The fashion designer always have his fashion week and showcases his designs people for all and sundry, but the tailor just sit in a store and people come in with cloth material and style for sewing,”
As an attractive young man who is yet to marry, Parson knows that professionalism must be built on without distractions, especially from women, who are coming in droves. He however, maintained that he has got used to female attention, but has remained focused though naturally, someone is by the corner, and the right thing will be done at the right time.
And for the wanna-be fashion designers, he stated that they should look and search within themselves to know if they actually have a passion for it, and be ready to face the unexpected without quitting.
“A lot of distractions will come, but only those who have the desire and passion for the job will remain. These distractions will come from the unusual of places like your parents, but only you can see where you have to get to, and the truth remains the earlier the better.”
Where do you see Joe Parson as a clothing brand in the next five years, the Boss wanted to know.
“We just want to be getting better and better always; become a brand on the runways, and grab awards after awards in the business. At the moment, we are planning a show in November for our 2016 collections,” he noted.
And has fashion designing made him rich…
“Rich, no, independent, yes! Fashion designing has given me a lifestyle. I am independent. I can pay my bills. I know that if I keep going, I will have a much better life.