Never once enthusiastic about designing, third-year Texila American University student Bukola Esther Teniola found herself in a situation where she was forced to make her own outfit or spend Christmas wearing an old one. She took the task on of making one and has since found herself creating more, from simple to exquisite. luwabukola Esther Teniola is her full name given to her by her Nigerian parents back in her hometown Lagos. Oluwabukola means ‘God added to wealth’. Teniola is a name that speaks of wealth also and the name Esther is royalty, the name of a famous queen mentioned in the bible. Esther certainly has been living up to her name with her wealth of talent.
Esther’s dabbling in designing began a few years ago during the Christmas season when she took her selected piece of cloth to her sister’s seamstress to have the perfect outfit made. However, when she turned up on Christmas Eve to collect it, she was in for a surprise. Her outfit had not been sewn, because the seamstress was running behind schedule. But her sister’s outfit, the material for which was handed in after hers, had been completed because she was a friend of the woman. Collecting her material, she went back home and decided to make a simple dress for herself; a style she was sure she could manage. Her mother, Esther explained, would make sportswear for various schools and she had grown up seeing her at the sewing machine. Yet, her mother had never sewn any outfits for her. Nonetheless, it was her mother, she said, who first influenced her in designing. So, for the very first time on that Christmas Eve, Esther measured herself and sewed her very first outfit.
During this time, she worked as the Human Resources Officer for a company and at nights began working on some other items of clothing, which she gave to a friend with a boutique to sell for her. She made all sorts of things including t-shirts with logos that were hand stitched. Later, her friend would recommend Esther as the ideal person to do wedding outfits, inclusive of the traditional wedding dress and dresses for the bridemaids.
A little over two years ago, Esther’s dreams of becoming a doctor led her to Guyana after her application to the Texila American University was accepted. She had no plans on taking up designing again until a particular incident occurred. After making a purchase of a tablet, she found out the same evening that the gadget had technical issues and returned it to the company the following day. Esther said she was rather surprised when the sales girl did not bother to check it out while she was there, but instead returned her money. Cash in hand, she headed for Courts Store and before she could browse for her choice of tablet, a sewing machine caught her eye. It was a nostalgic moment for her, she shared, and not because she did a bit of sewing back in Nigeria but more so because the sewing machine looked like her mother’s except that it was automatic. Without hesitating, she paid for the machine and took it home. She confided that she did not get around to purchasing her tablet until almost six months later.
For a while, the sewing machine sat in a corner until she began making clothes for herself,
including uniforms to wear to school. Before long, friends learned of her talent and soon began requesting Esther’s designs.
Overall, she has created more than 20 designs with more than 50 pieces coming from them.
When asked about some of the challenges she would have faced, Esther said she really has not had any, though she loves a challenge. However, she is taken aback by persons showing up with the approximate yards of cloth they figure they need for the style they want. This seems to be a Guyanese thing, she said, as Nigerians would first consult with their designers before going out to purchase the material.
“I like sitting with my [clients] first, figure which style it is they want. Not all material is suitable for the styles people would want…. So, when it is not planned and persons show up with only so much cloth and the material isn’t suitable for the style they want…. The challenge is having to figure out how to manipulate the material into getting the style done. [Maybe] a client might need a particular design, maybe a dancing piece but they show up with a one-way stretched material when they really needed a two-way stretched material and they don’t have the sufficient cloth and I need to make it work. I either need to get more of the same cloth or add another material into the design or give them a style that works with the cloth. I love challenges. I know what I’m capable of,” Esther shared.
One of the most difficult materials to work with for her is the nylon/spandex fusion that can be so stretchy it has a mind of its own and not having the right equipment doesn’t make things any easier but Esther’s determined personality always finds one way or another to create the next new jaw-dropping piece.
Esther’s favourite subjects were always Science and Mathematics. “Mathematics! I can’t do without it!” she exclaimed. When it comes to her favourite colour to work with, it usually is any white piece but that’s usually only when it comes to creating an outfit for herself. Otherwise she enjoys playing with colours when it comes to her customers.
One of her greatest inspirations is designer Olivia Ogbara. Her work, Esther said, captures the essence of fashion so beautifully that she can do nothing but admire it.
Esther has many things she cherishes including the time she spent with her now deceased grandfather, Abraham Teniola. If she could bring someone back from the dead she said, it would be him. “My grandfather had lived to see 120 years and still was very active. He always dressed nicely and was a very clean person. We were always together; we took evening walks together. He would tell me stories about when he was a boy and African tales. He called me ‘Bukky’, short for Bukola,” Esther smiled as she reminisced. If he were still alive, she was sure he would have been one of her biggest supporters. She acknowledged her family and friends who are always encouraging her to follow her dreams and added that none of this would be possible without God.
The designer is sure that another decade from now will find her fulltime in the medical field while having a mall that displays all her designer pieces. She excitedly shared that there will be a salon where she will have her braids up for sale, another talent of hers and another section that allows for her very own private practice.
The ambitious Aries has no specific hobby unless it includes taking up a new challenge. Since her arrival in Guyana she has mastered her own cooking challenges and has learnt to prepare cook-up, chicken/beef curry and a mean chicken cabbage stew.
She is currently working on her first collection, which she plans to launch by mid next year. She is also working on some spectacular pieces for a wedding.
To contact Esther or for a look at her designer pieces, check @firstwavedesigns on Instagram or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org