West African fashion is more than just reproducing traditional dress -- important though that maybe. Designers are beginning to make an impact in different styles and materials, and perhaps the most exciting development of the past year or so has been the emergence of Patrick Kevin Designer Wear with its emphasis on tracksuits as a major feature at London community fashion shows.
It may be surprising, therefore, to learn that Patrick has no formal ground in fashion.
"I had thought about being a fashion designer for a long time because I was always altering my clothes," he told New African. "I thought about it for a long time but I never thought about owning my own company When Sean John and Fubu starred doing it, they then became my inspiration. I knew if I did it, I could do something different. So the idea has been in the back of my mind for the past 6 to 7 years".
That idea became reality with the setting up of the Patrick Kevin Designer label in 2000 and its official launch two years later. The designs made a major breakthrough with its good response from the media and public at last year's Afro Hair & Beauty Show in London.
The product was aimed at the young, independent, fashionable urban market, and whenever the fashions have been presented they have attracted the greater attention -- whatever else may be on the promotion.
Patrick owes much of his highly-individual approach to his earlier career in IT (Information Technology). The company, of which he is the chief executive, comprises four fashion consultants who handle the business aspects of the label.
LittleOneEnterp rise deals with public relations and works closely with the team in respect of promotion and marketing. The first sales were made from the samples which the team themselves wore in the community. Very soon celebrities -- based primarily in South London -- became associated with the designs.
Danny Williams, the British and Commonwealth heavyweight boxing champion, and Dane Bowers of the RnB group Another Level were the first public figures to lend their support. The list has been extended to a catalogue of celebrities across a wide range of sport and entertainment activity. The label maintains also a vigorous and regularly updated website. Patrick is in the process of supplying to The Gambia and Nigeria, and is looking towards Europe and the USA -- though he admits "our suits are a more tailored fit that caters to the UK market; unlike our US counterparts, we do not really go for the very baggy look".
Patrick believes that his ambition has been fired, and made harder, by his African heritage. "The lack of black designers in the UK was another reason for setting up the company. It is always hard starring a business but can also be harder when you are black There isn't enough support for black designers here in the UK."
He was born in April 1972 in South London as the third of three children to the Nigerian poet and journalist, Henry Nwigwe, and his wife, Rita Uluma Onyeji. (Rita came to England from Nigeria when she was just 18 years old). It was not an easy childhood for Patrick in an area that was going through considerable social transformation, illustrated by the much-reported inner-city disturbances when Patrick was still nor in his teenage years.
Emma Perry wrote in Pride magazine last July: "Becoming a clothes designer isn't the typical career move for someone who was in it for 11 years--but then Patrick isn't the average guy. …