Princess Kelechi Oghene first hit our screens as one of the very beautiful Orange Drugs Ambassadors and Delta soap model. Armed with a strong passion for fashion and the zeal to excel, Princess Oghene went into fashion and today, she runs GMYT Fashion Academy, one of the foremost fashion academies, poised to changing the face of fashion institutions in Nigeria.
The alumna of Lagos State University, Lagos Business School, London College of Fashion and Harvard Business School, a few years ago, set up GMYT Foundation, a platform that trains and empowers young men and women in the industry.
In this interview, she gives us insights into her career, her humble beginnings, overcoming business challenges, and more.
How did you begin your career in fashion and what was the motivation behind the establishment of GMYT Fashion Academy?
My motivation came from my mother. She was my role model as she was also a serial entrepreneur. Since my childhood days, from watching my mother run several businesses and doing them well, I realised that fashion is what I could do best. So, I decided to go into it while I was still in school.
I started small by having a mini boutique, and expanding it over the years into a bespoke fashion house.
You were first famous as one of the Orange Drugs model. At what point did you decide to go into fashion and why?
I was one of the faces for Orange Drugs until I retired as an Ambassador. Being an Orange Drugs model was just a hobby because I have the face and skin for what they wanted; it never disturbed my business. My business was already blooming. I started my business in 2005 and had been running it for some years before I joined Orange Drugs in 2009. Even though I did it from 2009 to 2016, it never affected anything as I was also a student at the Lagos State University then. I have learned from my mother from day one, to multitask and balance tasks. I also realised at some point that fashion is a sustainable business. So, I decided to take it seriously and that was when I resigned as an Ambassador to structure my business better.
As you know, I’m also a philanthropist. I knew I could give back to the society by empowering men and women, and that was what initiated the Foundation from the couture business. Today, we can boldly say that we have trained hundreds of men and women for free, who are now doing very well in the fashion industry. We also have the GMYT SME support scheme where we have supported young entrepreneurs that are facing challenges with their business with millions of naira. It’s just grace, passion and the spirit to give back.
What has the evolution been like over the years?
It has been a challenging but amazing journey. We have not only evolved in our teaching structure and upgraded curriculum, we have also been able to acquire our own world-class and up-to-standard facility with en-suite classrooms. Change, they say, is constant. We are not stopping because we are determined to get better. Looking at where we started from, we can truly say that we are doing well.
As with any fashion school, keeping up with the latest trends is a necessity. How do you analyze new trends and even determine whether a product is marketable?
We analyze the statistical data and record market behaviour over a defined period of time, generating valuable insights by strategising and forecasting future business plans. We are aware that one group of people that set trends are the celebrities. For instance, when Cardi B or Beyonce rocks a particular outfit, it sparks up the creative ideas in designers to replicate them. Even the media helps in promoting these trends.
What we teach our students is to be inspired by these celebrities, create trends and not just follow trends. This is why part of our programme is fashion illustration; where our students get to understand the history of fashion and trends, how to create collections, know more about colours and fabrics and also, how to create portfolios. At the end of the day, we are grooming them to be unique enough to create their own designs and get a celebrity to model them. The media then comes in to hype it, and before you know it, a lot of people are wearing it; which then makes it a trend. However, weather and culture also play a major role in trends. The kind of weather that exists in the western world is quite different from the one that exists here; and that is why we advise our students to be creative with their styles and also know what is in vogue in our country.
For instance, things like sweat cropped cardigans, candy colour sweat pants, puff sleeves, pocket hats that are trendy in the western world, are not so worn in our part of the world. In a nutshell, we teach our students to create and set their own trends.
What does it take to be a fashion student?
You don’t need to have any fashion skill to go to a fashion school. We thoroughly groom our students from the scratch. Our best graduating student last year had no single knowledge of fashion before joining us; but now, she is doing amazingly well. Ninety percent of the students in our academy had no knowledge of fashion, but you would be surprised at what they were able to do in just three weeks.
It’s a very competitive industry, what is the job market like for students after graduation?
I’m so excited to tell you that our students establish their brands and even start making money before they graduate. We equip our students with everything they need to be an independent fashion entrepreneur. The school, however, outsource jobs to both students and alumni thereby exposing them to top potential clients.
The fashion market landscape is ever revolving and some times, it’s not easy for starters, which is why, one of the benefits of being a student of GMYT fashion academy is mentorship. We follow up with our students to ensure they are on the right track. Our students already have all the structures put in place for them to survive in the fashion world. So far, it’s been working for us and our students are doing amazingly well after graduation.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
Managing people is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Managing the students and the team. These are people with independent minds coming together to work and they are very opinionated. So, it’s not easy making sure that they see my goal and key into it. However, over the years, we have been able to work as a family. Now, they all feel they own the business and they don’t want it to fail because if it fails, it then means they have literally failed.
But, we didn’t get to this stage today. It took years; I have lost some key staff along the line.
Again we run a lot of daily expenses which runs into millions, finance and power supply is a problem. But the most is managing people and making them have the same objectives as you, so we can all achieve same goal at the end of the day.
What stands the GMYT academy out from other fashion institutes?
We are a world-class fashion institute; and we were ranked the third fastest-growing SME in the fashion industry in Africa by Businessday in 2018. One very unique thing I can proudly say is that, we identified unemployment as the constraints in the society and tackled this by empowering men and women with initiatives worth millions of naira. Again, we have thousands of alumni community all doing well in various fashion sectors; bespoke, ready-to-wear, men’s wears, children’s wears, bridal, haute couture and avant garde.
Where were you born, what was growing up like for you?
I was born in Gusau but because of the nature of my mother’s job, at some point, I lived in Delta, and later moved to Lagos. Growing up, I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success, but because the act of striving is in itself, the only way to keep faith with life.
What inspires you in life?
Creatives inspire me because I have come to realise that over the years, when people come to the academy and you ask them why they want to go into fashion they tell you they are passionate about it. That for me is a big deal because I realise that every one of them have that unique sense of creativity. All they need is a little push and a little assistance, and I thank God for putting me in a position to do that. At the end of the day, I listen to their testimonials of me bringing out the best in them and that truly is all I need to keep going.
What is the best lesson you have learned as an entrepreneur that has helped you over the years?
I have learned never to give up. As an entrepreneur, you have to know how to take calculated risks and not be scared of falling. Because we are constantly making decisions on a daily basis, I fear that most times, it will backfire; but at the end of the day, it turns out good. I have learned that it won’t be easy but it will get better as we progress. The most important thing for me is to create value and so far, I think it’s been working out.
What’s your number one fashion rule?
My number one fashion rule is when I have nothing to wear, I wear black and it makes me happy because black makes my skin-pop. I try to do me any time regardless. Above all, simple for me is classy.
When you are not working, how do you relax?
I have a flair for golf game and I have won over 20 trophies and home appliances like, refrigerator, microwaves and business class flight tickets to any African country of my choice. I have won cash prizes and golf items as well and above all, I have won me. You might be surprised but, aside from playing with professionals, I like competing with myself and get better over time.
What in your opinion would you say is the biggest problem facing the Nigerian Fashion industry and how can it be addressed?
The major challenge in the fashion industry is lack of support from the government.They should recognise and support those who are creating value in the fashion industry. Grant one digit loans to creatives with stress-free collateral. Give stable power supply as we are constantly burning diesel to give the best to our students. Tax should be reviewed and reduced for us creating jobs and values in the society, just like doctors saving lives, we need to be encouraged.
Basically, the government should invest in the fashion sector because it is lucrative and will help boost the economy.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career in fashion?
Don’t just go into a business because someone is into it. Have the passion for it first. Start small; just like I’ll tell my students, you don’t need millions of naira to start a fashion business. Learn to save or, go into a partnership if you can’t afford to do it alone.
Bear in mind that entrepreneurship is not easy; don’t assume that just because someone is carrying it well means it is easy. Entrepreneurship is hard work. If your strength is a 9-5, build on it, invest in yourself to develop that and be the best at it. Everyone must not be an entrepreneur.