Obiukwu Nkemjika is a fashion entrepreneur and model who started early in life with her craft in jewelry making to put herself through school. In this chat with CECILIA OGEZI, she brings to bare the challenges in modelling and her competitive edge in her trade
How did you get into the fashion business?
Though I have a degree in computer science from the University of Port Harcourt, I also model and double as a fashion entrepreneur. My brand name, Shoe Maker’s Daughter (SMD) is a combination of a lot of things. For instance I am into jewelry making, make-up artistry, cosmetic and I am also a fashion stylist. I am the sixth of seven children of my parents.
When did you start modelling?
I registered with a modeling agency in 2007 in Port Harcourt while awaiting admission into the university. Before then, I had always worn my hair low and with my height people always encouraged me to model. A year later I entered for the Nigeria Next Super Model (NNSM) in the 2008 competition in Lagos. I made it to the top 10.
Do you still model?
I model my products now. It just a personal decision because modelling does not pay in Nigeria. Modelling here cannot be compared with what is found everywhere else in the world. There is a lot about short changing models in the industry, even at an agreed sum they still don’t pay you and sometimes you don’t see the organiser at the end of an event and they often still want to make it look like they are doing you a favour. With all the strenuous workout, routine and strict diet a model must endure, it is only honourable to pay the models of your products or brand.
Any modelling job I decide to take now will be for good money. Having to ask agencies to fulfill their part of the bargain after a job well done is exhausting, it makes you ask a lot of questions about why you are in the business. So I turn down jobs because I want to be able to say I’m a model and have it reflect in my bank account. It’s hard to see a model who has been modelling for decades in Nigeria. Most of the time they are not in Nigeria. Models like Oluchi and Agbani Darego. That is how you make it in modelling as a Nigerian. If however, you decide to stick with modelling in Nigeria, you soon realise that you cannot pay rent at the end of the year.
In the case of pageantry, after you win the crown, you use your office to help push for projects. But if modelling for agencies is what you do and you don’t get paid, how does that translate into having a career? The much I have been paid for modelling is N150, 000. I worked hard to be the model that I am today and I have never gone for any audition and didn’t get picked.
Would you say stringing beads is profitable?
Yes it is. I modelled to put myself through school, being on the runway makes you know what is trending in makeup, jewelry, bead making. That is how I started improving on my craft in jewelry making. I moved to Abuja in 2013 for my service year and after NYSC, I have only had to apply for a job once and they were going to pay me N80, 000 a month. Knowing that I stringed beads to put myself through school gave me the courage to go back after school to do it as a business. Jewelry making gives me a lot more than N 80, 000. In a month, I do trainings too so with registration fee and all that I make from sales, I put back much more than that into the business. I signed up as a trainer for NYSC with the Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) programme, at a very low price, I also work with NGOs.
How did you come up with the name, Shoemaker’s Daughter?
I chose that to identify with my roots. When you say you are a shoemaker’s daughter people don’t regard you. It’s not a demeaning job but it’s a stereotype. Inspired by my childhood, it was a tough beginning when I started working as young as eight, hawking to help my parents. My dad used to design shoes for Lenards. When the company folded up and his own investment was gone, he decided to do what he knew to do best and that is design mostly female shoes and bags, it was really tough for us those days.
Eventually, I lost my mother at the age of 11 and lost my father five years later. My siblings and I were left to support each other and that was what we did. We worked to make life better for ourselves and today, except for one of us, who is a banker, we are all entrepreneurs.
How has the reception of your products been?
Earlier I had the challenge of people preferring foreign beads than locally made beads and jewelry. That was where the challenge was with modelling and knowing the latest in fashion. I became more creative and even though it’s not easy, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And once I became more creative, it was easier to build my client base.
What is your brand signature?
I would say versatility. I had to make my jewelry wearable to the office and most of my beads are costume beads, something to wear with everyday look. I make jewelry you can wear with jeans and T-shirt and feel really comfortable in.
What is fashion to you?
Fashion for me is a true expression of one’s self.
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