This is one of my best interviews. I know I keep saying that with every edition of the #CelebratingWomenCampaign, but each time I mean it more than the last time.
Today, we celebrate the brains behind the Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week and Creative Director of Style House Files, a business development agency, Omoyemi Akerele!
Venturesafrica.com describes her as ‘charming, soft-spoken, laid back, and with an interesting and positive persona that always come through in her voice, perhaps even on her most tired days’. I find this to be absolutely true, as I find her to be kind and approachable, with a gentle and quiet spirit.
The most amazing thing about Omoyemi Akerele is her passion to help bring the Nigerian fashion industry to the forefront by creating a platform for both existing and burgeoning designers to showcase their collections in order to create avenues for retail and export, thereby contributing to the Nigerian economy. Omoyemi started out studying law at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and worked at a prestigious law firm before venturing into image consulting and business development for the fashion sphere. She was also Editor of True Love Magazine.
I catch this 5 time named Business of Top Fashion 500 Entrepreneur in the middle of the busy day at Fashion Week and she is doing so much with palpable passion, but is still gracious enough to grant this interview. I have so many questions to ask; I mean when you are in the presence of the one who literally is fashion in Nigeria, you can’t keep calm.
I ask, ‘ I feel like the Lagos Fashion and Design Week is such a structure and you are the creative force behind putting that in place. What questions did you ask yourself or what was the creative process that resulted in birthing this idea?’
Omoyemi replies, ‘At the time, it was very important for the industry to have a platform that would not only present the work of designers but that would contribute as well to a bit of capacity building and skills development on a scale that would help change the conversation and the perception of fashion as a form of entertainment to something that is even more serious; as a source of business that would contribute to Nigeria’s growing economy. So it was important to have a platform like that, that would play that sort of role for the Nigerian and also maybe the African fashion industry’
I ask her to speak about the structure law put in place for her to be able to deliver consistently on the fashion front in terms of #LFDW and Style House Files. Given the fact that working at one of the foremost law firms would have built in her the capacity to take on pressure and still deliver her targets in record time
She explains, ‘I don’t know if they are linked. I can’t tell you for sure that that’s why. I can’t even tell you for sure that I have all these things you claim. But what I know is when you have this vision in your head. Regardless of anything, yeah maybe law would have contributed to that structure in terms of the way I reason and think. But when you have a vision, passion as well contributes to helping you to shape what you have. That thing that keeps you up everyday, in the middle of the night, combined with hardwork. That idea, that character trait, that you will not let something go till you’ve exhausted all the options that are available to you, whether it is problem solving i.e. creating opportunities for designers, you know. Anyway, when you know that your driving force is to succeed, combine that with unending grace and mercy, surely, it’s not a bad foundation, what do you think:) ? So you have the right vision or a vision that is unique to you, in terms of knowing what you want to do, you’re passionate about it. It’s a dream that is so large, larger than you that it keeps you up at night, either with fear or with excitement or anything. And you’re like ‘How do I bring this to life?’. The execution, the hardwork, the tenacity, you know? You keep going day and night. So law, if you think, maybe it is, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t …you know, that’s where we’re at. And don’t get me wrong, it’s very tiring. Everyday, I wanna give up. As we speak now, I’m half asleep. I wanna run away into one corner and close my eyes for one second.’
I laugh and ask my third question, ‘Imagine that you did not understand the business of fashion in its entirety or near entirety. How do you imagine that #HLFDW would have manifested?’
And she answers, ‘I don’t understand the business of fashion in its entirety. We only try. I think the most important thing is to try. And when I say try, not necessarily learn about the business of fashion, but learn how to build a business, you know? Because most of us, especially businesses that are related to the creative agency, we have to make conscious efforts to build businesses and not just things that hop.’
On her personal style, she confesses,
‘I wear the same thing over and over again. I wear a lot of shirts. I like a bit of structure. My personal style is me and what I feel like wearing.’
I ask about Omoyemi her definition of success in Africa’s fashion space, and goes past musing to say this,
‘Success in Africa’s fashion space means we ensure we are creating sustainable fashion brands that travel. And when I say travel, it’s not just bound by space and geography. We must create brands that outlive each and everyone of us, that will still be here in the next generation and the next generation. That means that we have been able to create brands that last.’
On the qualities one needs to make it as a fashion entrepreneur anywhere in the world and particularly Nigeria, she doles out these nuggets,
‘You need to have your vision. You need to be passionate about what you do. You need to be focused. You need to be consistent. You need to surround yourself with a team; a very good team: hardworking, resilient and so many other things.’
Finally, I ask how she relaxes after a busy day planning fashion, and she answers simply,