In Conversation: Mary Shittu
Mary Shittu is no stranger to the fashion world. A model since her teens, she is a fashion designer and owns Mary Shittu Couture and Ma’ Kushi Jeans. She is also the founder of M Management, a company which covers different grounds within the fashion industry. Shittu has been recognised for her talent and garnered accolades, including Young Entrepreneur of the Year, from the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners. Most recently, she was honoured for her work in fashion alongside other Nigerians for their contribution to the British society by the British Foreign Office and the Nigerian High Commission. In her own words, Mary Shittu and her passion for fashion.
Belinda: When did you realise this is what you were made to do?
Mary: Fashion is something I have wanted to do since I was a little girl. I remember always getting dressed up, looking at different fabrics and colours. Fashion is my passion. I upgraded my natural talent by studying at the reputable London Institute a sister college to London College of Fashion. I then furthered my education in Fashion by pursuing a three – year Marketing and Business Operation degree. I graduated at North London University, with flying colours. I was always making clothes for myself and this caught people’s attention, the rest is history
Belinda: You were once a model, how long did you do that and in what ways did it prepare you for the fashion industry?
Mary: I have been a model since the age of 16. (I Hope that does not give away my age, ha! ha!). I love fashion so much that modelling gave me an avenue to get into the fashion industry and to experience the ‘ins and out’ of it. It has helped me tremendously, to learn about the logistics, planning and the different aspects needed for a fashion show. I was very lucky to have had that under my belt before becoming a designer. I got into modelling when I was spotted by a designer, who loved my look and I was able to take part in one of his major fashion shows the next day. I was voted the Best Model at the show which was very outstanding since there were other experienced/star models on the show. That was my very first time on a catwalk. This boosted my morale and I have never looked back.
Belinda: You started your company in 2006, but how long have you been working on the clothing lines you have?
Mary: I have two labels, Ma’Kushi Jeans and Mary Shittu Couture. Ma’Kushi Jeans was created much longer than Mary Shittu Couture, which was in operation before it officially launched in 2006.
Belinda: Your other baby, M Management comprises of different elements, what are the different strands of the fashion industry that you cater to and are involved in?
Mary: M Management covers a number of grounds in the fashion industry. The main objective is to offer a client every aspect of what is needed to execute a successful fashion show, shoot, product launch or event. Hence, getting models, artists, make-up and hair artist, choreographers and event planners, and Studios; we really take the stress out of it with our expertise and go beyond the expectations of our clients.
Belinda: How do you manage these different aspects and create balance?
Mary: Fashion, designing and modelling are inter-related. Having got the natural talent with added educational background, coupled with years of experience, we have been able to successfully manage different aspects to the best of our ability and to our clients’ satisfaction. We understand the industry and what is expected, and we manage to create the type of balance needed. Everything we offer goes hand in hand.
Belinda: What inspires and influences your designs and the different lines you have?
Mary: I get inspiration from people, different cultures, fabrics, colours and from my travels to various countries which I do frequently. I bring all the acquired experiences into my designs.
Belinda: You have the evening wear and jeans line, what does the Mary Shittu Couture cater to? And what’s different about your jeans designs to what we see on the high street?
Mary: Mary Shittu Couture is the evening wear line which caters to the elegant, confident and glamorous side of the women. Ma’Kushi Jeans is the Denim line and the difference in my denim line and high street denim is the unique patchwork that features on my denims. They are all hand created and put together individually. As well as the causal denims I do, I also glamorize denim by mixing the patchwork with leather, trimmings and glamorous fabrics like silks and satin. These make the pieces very unique and outstanding, I basically say its denim but you can wear it to glamour events too.
Belinda: Where does your passion to dress people up come from and of course, what is it about dressing people up that you find fulfilling?
Belinda: My passion to dress people up comes from my childhood, dressing friends and family members and myself at a very young age. I just love making people happy. Seeing the satisfied looks on the clients’ faces when they have my designs on and the transformation gives me great fulfilment. It makes it all worthwhile.
Belinda: How do you source your materials and what must they have for you to know it will work for your line?
Mary: I do a lot of travelling and fall in love with different fabrics I come across. The texture and vibrant colours really capture my attention in a way that I can envisage the end product of my design. Sometimes I know they will work for my collection because I already have a specific design in mind. This comes naturally as I look at the fabric. I source my fabrics from different places and countries. I also love using traditional fabrics for contemporary designs such as African lace etc. Finding and picking fabrics is a fantastic part of designing.
Belinda: In which countries do you work as there is an international feel to your work?
Mary: I was lucky to have been travelling from a very young age. I have that embedded in me. My work from my modelling years took me everywhere. I have also lived and spent a lot of my time in the US. It was only right that my designs reflect my experiences in different countries. I have been very lucky to work in some of the most beautiful cities in world. I thank God for that.
Belinda: Is there anyone, you would like to style their wardrobe or even for a day?
Mary: I would like to style women in general. I am open-minded and like to help people make that transition and achieve the look they desire. It is about the individual and what they want. My role is to make it happen. Without a doubt, I would like to dress the current first Lady of America, Michelle Obama. I love her elegance and poise. My designs will look amazing on her.
Belinda: What makes you the maestro at what you do?
Mary: I feel I have been blessed by God with this natural gift. I love fashion and every aspect of it. This has helped me to perfect my accumulated skills and wealth of experience over the years.
Belinda: What excites you the most about your work?
Mary: This might sound a cliché, but I enjoy every aspect of my work. I get such a joy from it. From the beginning of the designs to getting it on a client, my fulfilment is experiencing the joy of a satisfied client.
Belinda: What’s best and fun part of what you do?
Mary: The best and fun part of my work is creating something from scratch and seeing the end product. When I see my vision come to life from a mere imagination, it is like giving birth to a new creation. The joy of seeing it alive for the betterment of womanhood gives me a great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
Images courtesy of Mary Shittu
An article about Mary Shittu and her work, titled Self-Taught Glamour was in the 5th edition of the New African Woman