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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Creating Economic Sustainability through Fashion - Princess Kelechi Oghene

A former model, Princess Kelechi proves that beauty comes with brain and excellent work ethics as well as discipline. In this interview, she reveals what her top notch fashion academy and foundation—HOUSE of GMYT, is doing to assist women in creating fashion enterprises.


MAY WE KNOW YOUR NAME?

I am Princess Kelechi Oghene

GIVE US A BIT OF AN INSIGHT INTO THE PROFILE OF GMYT?

A: GMYT is coined from God’s Might. So it is actually pronounced ‘Gee-Might’ but we spell it as ‘GMYT’. House of GMYT is the parent company of GMYT Couture, GMYT Salon, GMYT Fashion Academy, GMYT Modeling  and now we are about to launch GMYT Foundation.

At GMYT Couture we do head- to- toe- bespoke couture. We take briefs from clients and create the apparels of their dream. We also bead apparels and customize them for clients, enabling them to stand out in the crowd.

The GMYT Salon came about because most of the times, we had our clients trying to meet appointments with their stylists and at the same time having to come and try out their outfits. So we decided to create the salon, complete with make-up and pedicure. So all our clients need to do is have their bath and come over, we fit them out from head-to-toe and give them the look they want for all their occasions from weddings to their anniversaries and red carpet events.

GMYT Fashion academy is trying to create the Next Generation of Fashion Entrepreneurs. We have women come in, pay and we teach them. There are two types of fashion design, you have free hand design and you have patterned design.  We teach both of them, so our graduates are proficient both in free hand and pattern design as well as illustration. We also teach the business management aspect of fashion to ensure that our graduates become properly rounded entrepreneurs. After training, we also retain our students as staff fashion designers, illustrators or instructors for the company, we place them in employments through our referrals and then we also empower them to start up their own enterprises. The best three graduating students each year are given money, machines and other equipment to set up their own businesses. We go as far as helping them to build clientele by referring customers to them. Then we celebrate them and give them visibility as well, so that they are assisted in building their own brands and fashion labels. We are committed to creating well rounded fashion entrepreneurs.

Then we have the GMYT events and modeling company. This came about because I have been in modeling for a long time, being one of the faces of Orange Drugs Delta Soap.  I have met several young girls whose passion was modeling. But then they tell stories of woes concerning their ordeals with people who operate modeling agencies. So I decided to create an agency for them. We bring them under our roof, train them, manage them, give them the right exposure and set them on a career path and we do this absolutely free, we do not charge any agency commissions at all. We do not give them money, but we impart something in them that will help them succeed in life.

Then the GMYT foundation is the new one. We are launching it on the 25th of June. The objective is to raise resources through philanthropy and use it to train women on scholarships at the GMYT academy.

WHEN DID YOU START AS A FASHION ENTREPRENEUR?

I have been in business for eleven years now. I started with a boutique. Then I was reading Management Sciences at Lagos State University as a part time student. So I was running my business and studying at the same time. I did that until at a point in time after school when I decided that it was time for me to introduce my own brand and label. So I started the GMYT Couture and it gradually expanded until it got where we are today. Last December I launched House of GMYT officially to serve as a parent company to all my businesses after 11 years.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO INTO FASHION BUSINESS?

I grew up with fashion in my background. My mother was a fashion designer and my siblings are involved in fashion business as well. Growing up, my mother made it compulsory that we all must go to school and at the same time also learn a skill. We all had to learn how to make dresses, how to bake, how to style and braid hair, my brother was taught how to make suits. We were equipped because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Then growing up, I started with selling accessories, then I went on to running a boutique, then I advanced to this. It is also the grace of God. It was the skills I learned growing up that is sustaining me now, and that is what has led to this. So it is something that my mother put in us. Beyond encouraging me to go into fashion, she also imparted her work ethics into me. I adopted her routine of going from home to work, work to church and church back home. I hadn’t much of a social lifestyle, but if it involves work, you will see me there.

YOU ARE ONE OF THE MOST SOUGHT AFTER FASHION DESIGNERS IN LAGOS TODAY, HOW DID YOU GET SO SKILLLED?

At the starting stage I was completely dependent upon the skills and knowledge from my basic training at my mother’s workshop. My mother was a workaholic. She owned a supermarket, a boutique and fashion business and she was into bead making. Her great attention to detail and her perseverance rubbed off on me. So I go all the way in getting close to perfection when I am making apparels for clients. So far I have taken every course in fashion design and even though I may not have time to go on the machine and sew, I can easily do that if the situation arises. I am the creative director of my business and my staff knew that there is no aspect of the business at which I am not proficient. I create designs for all clients, supervise the making of the apparels and ensure that quality standards are not compromised. I have the inborn gift of knowing how to actualize the images envisioned into final fashion creatives, from the design paper to finished apparel complete with the most exquisitely patterned beading. And I am still learning, I learn from anybody, inasmuch as I am teaching people as well. Currently I am advancing my business skills with a program at Lagos Business School.

My clients are top notch high net worth individuals, from age 30 to 60 and above. For them to trust me with their final designs and with their extremely expensive fabrics and materials, that is a calibration of my skills and knowledge. Like I said, it is all the grace of God.

WHAT ARE YOUR OBJECTIVES IN SETTING UP THE FOUNDATION?

As much possible to empower women and enable them to create wealth. It is about ending poverty in as much a capacity as I can. I have the couture, salon and other businesses, yet running the foundation gave me satisfaction. Money cannot buy that. I am happy training people and watching these people create designs and earn a living for themselves from these designs. Knowing that these are my products and that I have helped transform their lives and that it will spin off in the lives of other people that they will train, gives me a great joy.

So that is why I set up the foundation. It admits under privileged women into the academy and trains them on scholarship. Initially I spent 10 percent of my earnings in funding these scholarships. But it is getting bigger. This is why I want to create visibility for what I am doing. I cannot do it all alone; I need support from people who are of the right disposition and interest. I have the capacity to teach a hundred students on the foundation. But I will need help with their kits, materials and equipment. If you look at the structure of the classes, to maintain the standard, it costs a lot more than tuition fees. So that is why we need help.

WHAT ARE THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE FOUNDATION SO FAR?

So far it has been good; I have two foundation students that will be graduating in this June, alongside sixteen others from the academy. We have four students now studying under the foundation and we have 10 more on the waiting list.

We are looking at producing a hundred students from the foundation before the end of this year. We are also thinking of introducing a program called “Learn to Earn”. This will enable them to work in the afternoon and attend school in the evening. So they can start learning and after the first three months they start we start paying them as they start working with us in certain capacities, even while they are still learning. For me it is leaving a legacy.  It is about empowering women. I believe that when you empower a woman, you empower a nation, because they will empower their children and also empower each other and in so doing, there is positive social reconstruction.

WHEN IS THE FOUNDATION BEING OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED?

On the 25th of this June at the Oriental Hotel.

GIVE US A GLIMPSE INTO THE GUEST LIST? WHO AND WHO WILL BE COMING?

We have a fairly robust list of Class-A philanthropists and high achievers coming. It is going to be an amazing show. It will coincide with the graduation and there will be a pop up fashion show at which the graduating students will demonstrate their skills. They will showcase some out of the world creations, donned by some of the most beautiful models you have ever seen. It will be a show that will not be easily forgotten.

GMYT FASHION ACADEMY IS REPUTED TO HAVE TRANSFORNATIVE IMPACT IN THE LIVES OF STUDENTS THAT FINISH FROM IT, HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE THAT?

We have an excellent structure in place. We did a detailed research before we are able to create and implement this structure. We do ‘one-on- one’ training with every student. My students are people who already have a lot of disposable income. Most of them are highly accomplished and have their own homes with a lot of experience and responsibilities. They are highly exposed and knowledgeable, in one phrase: “cream of society”. So we had to build a curriculum that fit into their system. We teach them at their own pace. We ensure that they get value for money and that we do not give them the feeling of having gone back to school. Most of them came thinking that they are coming to learn just an extra hobby, but when they encounter the detailed curriculum and the highly personalized coaching system, it takes over and they realize that it is a most serious business and eventually it becomes a way for them to grow.

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR CURRICULUM, DID YOU DEVELOP IT OR ARE YOU BENCHMARKING ANY SCHOOL ABROAD?

No my curriculum is different from that of any other fashion school. We have courses carefully packaged to impart total skills that will transform our students into well rounded fashion entrepreneurs in terms of skills as well as business management. We teach each student individually as if it is a one man class and they are enabled to learn at their own pace.

When you come in you fill your course forms and on daily basis, you sign your log book with your instructor, detailing what you are learning and you do not progress to the next lesson until you have perfected the current skill you are learning. so when I see a student’s course form and their logbook, I will know if a student is coming to school, I will know if they are learning, I will know at what pace they are learning, I don’t have to be there, I will know if my instructors are doing their jobs, just from that logbook.

We have a vast curriculum such that even when our students go abroad to do a higher degree in a particular aspect, they would already have been familiarized with it here in Nigeria.  Because the E-Textbooks that we have are actually from abroad thus the standards of the lessons are very cosmopolitan. The designers that we train can compete with their contemporaries anywhere in the world.

WHY DOES YOUR TARGET SEEM TO BE MOSTLY WOMEN?

I deal with women because I can handle them and trust me that is not easy. I am talking about women who have class. So you have people who come to learn from you and they end up trying to teach you how to run your business. So you have to bring them back to the earth and let them know that they are the ones that are there to learn. At every point in time you have to stick to your policies. You have to let them know that it is not always about money. Rather it is about what they put in the business; the discipline, the passion and the sacrifice. Sometimes you have to run without profit but you have to keep going. Then I am also always giving. I give out every knowledge and assistance that I can muster. That is what attracts these women to me, and when I give I always receive.

IN TERMS OF CAPACITY, WHAT NUMBER OF STUDENTS CAN YOUR SCHOOL TRAIN AT THE SAME TIME?

So far we have about a hundred students and we do not have evening students. So we are introducing two batches, morning and evening students and we can have two hundred students, a hundred in each batch. We are about the fastest growing fashion school in Nigeria, and the students are seeing results because of the ‘one on one’ training.

SO YOU DON’T HAVE STRATIFIED CLASSES, EVERYONE IS RUNING THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMS?

Everyone is running their own individual programs, guided by the course forms and logbooks. If you come to the school now, you will see some students on brown paper, some on Ankara, some on calico, we teach you at your own pace. We teach them how to teach! It is compulsory in my school that after three months you will teach a student. Because you do not know what tomorrow will bring. You might decide to start a fashion school.

HOW LONG DOES A COURSE LAST?

A course lasts from three months to six months and twelve months. But the minimum for you to start your own business is six months. Now most of my students, even though they are still learning, already have their own businesses in Lekki.  So I am proud of them, but I still insist when they come, that they sit  and learn this business, calm down and learn how to manage your business. I must make sure that I am imparting the right know how and work ethics. I even allow them to pay in installments. You can pay in three installments, it’s okay.  What is important is that you are equipped to start your own business. I also like to know my students personally, so that when I know about them, I can get to tell them what to do and how to manage their time. I also give them visibility, even give them clients and enable them to stand on their feet.

WITHIN YOUR CAPACITY YOU ALSO GIVE THEM VISIBILITY?

I give them everything. Yes I give them visibility and I network them with clientele.

GIVE US A GLIMPSE INTO THE FACILITIES YOU HAVE 

They are top notch. I have every industrial machine in the book available at my school. The classrooms are ensuite, there are toilets and bathrooms complete with toiletries and they are spotlessly clean. Every room is air-conditioned and the generator is running round the clock. I try as much as possible to make the facilities up to par with what obtains overseas.

ON THE BIGGER PICTURE, WHERE DO YOU SEE THE NIGERIAN FASHION INDUSTRY IN THE FUTURE?

Going from my situation, where we are so fully booked, we have sometimes one person coming with five outfits to be sown, and begging to have one ready in two weeks, I think fashion is taking over. There is so much to be done, it is overwhelming. I think everyone should go into fashion. The kind of clients I attract are such that when they come, they want to make one outfit for a hundred and fifty or two hundred and fifty thousand naira , and more, because of the stones. Sometimes they have up to five of them. These outfits take time to make. So I also need more hands. Fashion is big. There is a very bright future in fashion for Nigeria.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE CHALLENGE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY IN NIGERIA?

Power supply is a major problem. We burn so much money on diesel. Thank God for the vision of having so many businesses in one building, that enables me to maximize my costs. Otherwise, we are spending too much money on diesel. We spend a minimum of five hundred thousand naira a month on diesel. We also need a lot of skilled hands. There are jobs. Sometimes I call people I trained to come and work with me and they refuse because of the way I work.  There is work to do, We need a lot of trained people with good work ethics.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE AWARDS YOU HAVE GOTTEN SO FAR?

I came out last year and within three months I have gotten eight awards. And none of them is a competition award, all are recognition awards. I got an award from LA MODE, I was ECOWAS designer for the year, eight of them, people just call me and they say, we are giving you this award. I didn’t fight for any of them, I was just getting them based on recognition of my efforts and my contribution. It is my work that people are seeing.

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