Nigerian born Mary Ononokpono, 26, creator of African-inspired Mononoko designs is currently studying for a BA in Fashion design at Manchester Metropolitan University. Here she tells us how she turned things around from frustrating to fabulous.

One of the hardest parts about getting into the business was finding the funding and managing to get everything off the ground with a young child. As a lone parent with very little support from my daughter’s father, I have been blessed enough to have the support of my family and a close knit group of people who have been encouraging me to continue moving forward. I spent a large part of last year moving from place to place in temporary accommodation and I think it was the instability of it all that has made this quite a slow grind which is something that not a lot of people have known about. I went through a low period where I was suffering from depression but my daughter, family and friends have given me the strength to move through the situation.

The highest point of my career so far was definitely taking part in the Ghana 50 festival at the V&A last year. It was a real eye opener and turning point in making me realise I am more than capable of making this work and taking my business to the next level. Life was definitely becoming fabulous!

Life inspires me. Movement, rhythm and colour, I love all things vibrant. Art is my first love which is expressed in all of my print and textile design. I am also inspired by world history and events with particular reference to African history. Literature and music – in particular that which makes me think on a deeper level also informs all of my design ideas.

Fabulous to me means really living in the magic of life. It means appreciating all the beauty that surrounds us all on a daily basis and enjoying all the little things that make us feel good. Fabulous to me also means individuality and not being afraid to go against the grain.

Transforming her business
I’ve recently revamped my whole business model and I’m taking Mononoko in the direction of being eco and trade friendly. The signs are all around us – the fashion industry is the third largest industry worldwide and is responsible for creating much pollution in terms of dyes and pesticides used in cotton production for example. The whole ethos behind the Mononoko brand is creating sustainable high end fashion with a conscience that causes consumers to actually think about the processes used in the end products that they wear.

My new collection Once Upon a Time in Africa was inspired by the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and the fact that the fashion industry as we know it today wouldn’t actually exist if it weren’t for the slave cotton trade.

This year I will be working very closely with Silk Photography and Jed Techniques (JT2) which are Manchester based companies in the areas of photography and hair styling. We worked together with Miss Black Britain last year and will be putting forward images for this year’s Afro Hair and Beauty Show. I will also have a stall at Alternative Fashion Week where I will mainly be selling pieces from the new collection and from my diffusion line of T-Shirts in collaboration with Token Black.

The next big thing for this year will hopefully be showing my Spring /Summer 09 at Kulture 2 Couture in November.

Check out Mary’s designs at:

Words by Afua Acheampong