Hillary John, 32, came to India from Nigeria four years ago as a tourist.
He was so charmed by the country — its ethnic dresses — that he gave up a career in geology in his country and returned in 2010 to study fashion design at a private institute in Delhi.
In September last year, he launched his own fashion label, Diamond Ark, which has a showroom in Arjun Nagar near Safdarjang Enclave in south Delhi.
The shirts, suits, gowns, cocktail gowns, sherwanis and lehganas showcase fusion — Indian ethnic, Afro-Indo, Indo-western. “The city’s fashion fraternity has been quite supportive,” says the shy, soft-spoken John.
The difficult bit, he says, has been to prove that Nigerians can run a legitimate business in India, thanks to misconceptions about his community related to drug sale, online fraud and suchlike.
When he sought to rent a place for his showroom, many discouraged the landlady. “Thankfully, she trusted me. Now everyone in the neighbourhood is quite comfortable with me,” he says.
John is not the only one. A new breed of African expatriates is trying to shake off stereotypes, venture into diverse businesses in the city: fashion brands, modelling, restaurants, beauty salons, African stores and clothes manufacturing.