INTERVIEW WITH UPCOMING NIGERIAN T-SHIRT
DESIGNER TOSIN INYIOLA
In Nigeria today it’s a common place thing
to see the strong influx of western fashion and clothing
flooding the country’s boutiques and clothes markets.
Nigerians, mostly the young at heart over the time have
been obsessed with designer couture and would gladly spend
money to amass any of the latest outfits in town. Just
like their craze for acquiring the latest automobiles
just a few days to its release into the international
market, Nigerians equally have the same penchant for fashionable
clothes. It’s gotten so serious such that many foreign
based Nigerians at times end up having complex when they
come into the Nigerian community to see the rate of madness
of the fashion craze which dwarfs what they brought into
the country. To make it worse, African fashion is now
being combined with western fashion thus making a creatively
But there’s a powerful change coming into
the country’s couture mode. Over the past few years, some
dynamic young Nigerians have switched the fashion mode
into the Naijacentric mode; that is to say classy urban
outfits which are exclusively made-in-Nigeria are now
storming the fashion scene and behind this sudden insurgence
are a host of budding youths who are eager to turn our
urban dressing culture into one that fully original in
every sense of the word.
Tosin Iyiola is one of such individuals
who are set to revolutionize the Euro centric mind set
of Nigerians towards Naija urban fashion.
Tosin runs a clothing line known as HAI-ROI
which is actually a powerful acronym that ascertains that
the young man relies on inspiration from God to drive
his creativity to the max. HAI-ROI (which stands for ‘Having
An Idea-Relying On Inspiration’) is fast becoming a popular
urban clothing name and is well known amongst the Nigerian
Like every aspiring young entrepreneur,
Tosin never actually had it easy building his outfit.
He had to go through so many challenges; enough which
would have killed the drive but he held on and has survived
the odds over the time.
He has been opportuned to clothe a number
of Nigerian celebrities and equally has been picked as
an official clothier for a number of Nigerian shows which
have run through this year.
HAI-ROI was established in 1998 with a running
slogan that says ‘style speaks’. The outfit specializes
in making quality, top of the range shirts (tee shirts,
casual shirts, office shirts, amongst others) with simple,
but classic designs. HAI-ROI also customizes shirts for
its clients and has various designs to suit individual
styles, tastes & budgets.
Lolu Kushimo (Afronuts) spoke with Tosin
in this interview he granted in between his busy schedule.
NE: Can tell us tell about yourself,your
family and general background?
HAI-ROI: Umm…I’m Hai-Roy. My real name
is Tosin Iyiola. I'm an undergraduate and a designer.
I’m from a family of six. I'm the first born so you understand
the kind of responsibility I have. I had my education
in a military school then went on to the university for
my tertiary education.
NE: What university do you attend?
HAI-ROI: Well…I’d like to keep that for
NE: Would you call this pre-occupation a
gift or an acquired skill?
HAI-ROI: Actually it’s a God-given vision.
Right from my early Childhood I liked colored shirts and
T-shirts a lot. I had a passion then for the Lacoste and
Ralph designs. I was so thrilled by their designs that
I thought about doing something like that but which must
be different in its styles. And so I relied on God-given
inspiration which helped me to discover myself.
NE: How did you come about the name ‘Hai-Roi’?
HAI-ROI: [laughs] well…it’s a long story.
NE: You can summarize it.
HAI-ROI: I came about the name one particular
evening while I was reading my Bible. I was praying to
God about my passion to go into designing and that I needed
a name that would ring a bell, that would become a household
name and one to reckon with. While I was doing that I
was just thinking randomly and doing some sketches because
I draw a lot. From there I thought about having an Idea
which when you abbreviate it, it becomes ‘HAI’ which didn’t
sound appealing enough. Two days later, I was walking
along the streets of Lagos somewhere in CMS and I saw
somebody wearing a shirt with an inspirational statement
on it. I can’t really remember what it was but when I
got home I kept thinking and meditating until the word
‘ROI’ just came to my mind. I tried to etch out what ‘ROI’
meant and that was how I broke it down to ‘Relying On
Inspiration’. How it came is actually beyond my own understanding.
NE: You mean it just dropped like that?
HAI-ROI: Yes. And as time went by I found
out that it wasn’t something I just worked out by myself.
Later on, a friend of mine opened a particular scripture
of the Bible and I saw Hai-Roi there.
NE: It’s in the bible? Wow.
HAI-ROI: Yeah. I can’t remember what
particular scripture but it was there in the Bible.
NE: So how long have you been in this business?
HAI-ROI: 8 years now.
NE: What was it like when you first started
HAI-ROI: You know how it is in Nigeria.
When you want to start something that seems very big and
different from what others do, people will criticize you
and try to discourage you. It wasn’t easy. I started with
making one shirt in 3 months and I had to encourage myself
by modeling my own shirts, do the marketing and convince
people that this was what I believed in. It took a while
for people to believe in me.
NE: What is the nature of your designs?
HAI-ROI: My designs are focused majorly
on T-shirts and Polo shirts which are categorized into
three segments; Ruff & Rugged, Gravitate and Afrocentric.
Ruff & Rugged is like an all-weather gear which is
rugged in nature and built to last. Gravitate is combining
three or four different fabrics to make a complete Polo
or T-shirt while Afrocentric is a blend of T-shirt fabrics
with traditional African fabrics like Kente, Ankara, Aso-Oke
and the likes.
NE: Which of your designs trips you the
most, your favourite?
HAI-ROI: Umm…that would be Gravitate.
HAI-ROI: Because its fun for me combining
different fabrics and seeing the outcome. I’m like whoa…you
actually did this? Its fun for me.
NE: Which of them has been the most challenging?
Hai-Roi: That would be Ruff & Rugged
‘cause it takes a lot of thinking and process before I
can come up with an eventual design.
NE: Do you have any role model in the industry
you pick inspiration from?
HAI-ROI: Right now I don’t really have
any role model because I try to just do it my own way
and not imitate anybody, just for my own style to speak
for itself. But I have other Role Models who are not into
designing but have really inspired me.
NE: But if you were to pick the first three
designers that appeal to you; both locally and internationally
who would you pick?
HAI-ROI: well…I’d pick NEXT followed
by Sean John and in Nigeria it would be Deola Segoe.
NE: What do you see your outfit becoming
in the next five years?
HAI-ROI: I see Hai-Roi becoming a household
name, especially in Nigeria and probably in Africa as
a whole then gradually moving into the European market.
NE: Who are the artistes or celebrities
you’ve been privileged to cloth or costume?
HAI-ROI: So many. I was the official
T-shirt designer for Owen Gee’s comedy show. I’ve worked
with Rooftop MCs, Bookie, Holy Mallam, Koffi, A.Y, Renym
Entertainment, Dom Lawson and a whole lot of individuals
NE: What obstacles have you had to face
breaking into the industry and what challenges do you
HAI-ROI: Well I guess it’s the marketing
segment. Most Nigerians don’t see much in a T-shirt. They
believe its just a very casual and ordinary thing to wear.
But of late they are beginning to change that mindset
with shirts that have to do with combining fabrics because
of the unique quality and look they bring out. The major
challenge I’m having is convincing Nigerians that T-shirts
are not just outfits you wear at home but outfits you
can wear anytime, all-purpose for any use.
NE: How can people get in touch with you
if they need your services or need supply of your designs?
HAI-ROI: My address is No.64 Oyebanjo
Solarin Street, off Ketu, Lagos. And my phone number is
NE: Any special woman in your life right
HAI-ROI: [laughs] Yeah…there is but I
wouldn’t want to mention.
NE: Could you tell us about her even if
you don’t want to mention her name?
HAI-ROI: [Reluctantly] Hmm…she’s someone
I really respect a lot. She inspires me in all ways. She
believes in my dreams and believes I can achieve it.
NE: So she’ll be that woman behind your
HAI-ROI: For real.
NE: Any advice for those coming into this
HAI-ROI: My major advice would be to
them to concentrate on what they want to achieve. They
shouldn’t derail. They should focus and try and be creative
because it will really speak more about you.
NE: Alright. Hai-Roi it’s been nice talking
to you and I wish you the best and hope that the sky or
rather, the galaxy becomes your limit.
HAI-ROI: Thank you very much.