Leading Lady of African fashion

Founder of The House of Deola Sagoe

Country: Nigeria

Sector: Haute Couture Fashion

Deola Sagoe, founder of Deola is the leading lady of African haute couture fashion from Ondo State in Nigeria. Deola has been at the cutting edge of high fashion since 1989 and became the first black woman to present a collection at AltaRoma, Rome’s celebrated fashion week, back in 2004. Her globally appealing style has earned her an enviable clientèle that ranges from Africa's first ladies, to society girls like Lydia Hearst, top model Alek Wek, and famous personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith.

Deola, a mother of three, studied at the University of Miami and University of Lagos and earned a Masters in Finance and Management. She was appointed Nigeria's representative to the United Nations World Food Program 'Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food' with the goal of raising money towards halving the number of hungry people in the world, particularly children, by 2015. Deola frequently exhibits her couture collection at Cape Town Fashion Week and has been an invited guest of New York Fashion Week in the past.

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Deola's Startup Story 

With top models, A-List celebrities and famous society personalities making up her clientele lists, Deola Sagoe, founder of haute couture fashion house Deola, is an entrepreneurial success story of note, putting the Nigerian fashion scene well and truly on the global map.

Deola Sagoe has entrepreneurship in her blood, coming from a prominent family of Nigerian entrepreneurs and owners of the Eilzade Group, originally started by her father and late mother, and today run by her brother. It was only whilst studying business administration at the University of Miami in Florida in the mid 1980s that she developed an appreciation for the world of fashion.  

After graduating in 1987, she returned to Nigeria to begin her Masters degree in Finance, with her father encouraging her to join the family business on completion of her studies.  When the time came for her to return to the business, her mother had in the meantime grown a small tailoring business of her own into a major fashion label in the country, producing predominantly traditional embroidered menswear.  Deola asked to join her mother’s business and work on making these traditional designs more contemporary for the new marketplace.  However, her father still asked that she work for the family group of companies whilst continuing her fashion work....

Read more about Deola's startup story →

Deola Sagoe is the epitome of an African woman entrepreneur who, through hard work and a great sense of style, trends and originality, manages to build a haute couture fashion empire that has global cachet.  She is a trailblazer for other aspirant woman fashion house builders of the future from Africa. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief

What's the essence of Deola's style?

"I try to fuse African cultural style with a modern approach to design. I love the dynamism of creating modernity out of something that is steeped in history. I think it’s what gives my collection such a cultural mix.”

“I didn’t choose fashion, it chose me, ... I think the only way I’ve managed is because I know fashion was my destiny. African designers face so many challenges, producing collections and working hard to rise above the manufacturing infrastructure problems. For me, it’s about rising to the challenge and I think it’s made me a better designer. I feel I produce more intelligent clothing as a result.”

"African bespoke is different from European bespoke, in that Africans are very much more endowed in very specific areas. My challenge is that I work with a lot of lumps and bumps, which almost turns me into a type of cosmetic surgeon. Except that I’m not cutting you up or anything, it's just that I do a lot of things with fabrics and accentuating, to create that perfect hourglass shape.”


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Awards & Accolades

Deola's awards and honours include:

  • Appointed to represent Nigeria in the United Nations World Food Programme’s international 'Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food Campaign'
  • 2006 - Winner of the Platinum Quality Award at the 10th International Star Awards in Paris
  • 2000 - Winner of the “African Designs” and MNET/Anglo Gold African designs award