A local fashion brand with Nigerian roots

Moriamo Johnson (left) and Latifat Obajinmi hope their clothes are in 100 stores by the end of 2013. (Stephanie Aaronson / Staff Photographer)
Moriamo Johnson (left) and Latifat Obajinmi hope their clothes are in 100 stores by the end of 2013. (Stephanie Aaronson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 13, 2013

S ISTERS Latifat Obajinmi, 24, and Moriamo Johnson, 32, both of Sicklerville, N.J., created the women's fashion brand Aso Damisi (pronounced ah-SHAW DAH-me-see). The clothing line mixes the self-taught designers' Nigerian roots with their contemporary lifestyle. The name of the brand reflects the West African Yoruba-speaking tribe from which Latifat and Moriamo originate. "Aso" means cloth or clothing, and "Damisi" means prosperity. I spoke with Latifat.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Aso Damisi?

A: I was in college and Mo had graduated and we were sitting around one day and I said I wanted to start a clothing line and she had the same idea. That was in 2008. We got support from family and then we just rolled with it.

Q: How's the biz model work?

A: Mo and I work together. I'm the designer and she works more on the business end, but we collaborate. Once the clothing line has been designed, we do all our production in Philadelphia. We visit the boutiques, show the clothing line and cut the orders ourselves.

Q: Where are the boutiques?

A: Two are on the Main Line, Joan Shepp has us in Center City and we have our co-op space [at 3rd and Arch]. We're in stores in Maryland, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey, and two stores in the U.K. and Nigeria will carry us.

Q: Who wears your brand?

A: She's 35 and older, understands the line and is interested in something that's not in a regular department store . . . somebody who owns her own business, does her own thing, likes the arts.

Q: Tell me about the line.

A: The focus is on vibrant prints from African-inspired textiles, but we also bridge that with more-contemporary Western silhouettes. We do skirts, blouses, dresses, blazers and pants.

Q: What's the clothing cost?

A: It retails from $110 to $310.

Q: You were in the first group of designers at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator workshops. What did you learn?

A: The most important thing was how to run a successful business. One was wholesale pricing, another was deciding who you're selling to and what she'll pay.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: Our best year was last year.

Q: What were the revenues?

A: Less than $50,000 but close to that. We're aiming for $200,000 this year based on what we did in the first quarter.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing the business?

A: We've been visiting a lot of boutiques. That's been the difficult part . . . getting people to stand behind the line, understand it and wanting to have it in their stores.

Q: Are the retailers you sell to the biggest part of your business?

A: Yes, I'd say 70 percent.

Q: What's next?

A: We hope to be in 100 stores by the end of the year. We're working on the 2014 spring/summer collection; we'll start selling it in August. We'll add sales reps in Atlanta, Dallas and Florida.

On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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