Evelyn Okere, founder, St. Eve West African Fashion Week and publisher of the quarterly publication, St. Eve Magazine, in this interview Mary Ekah, says that with Olajumoke, the bread seller turned supermodel, as the face of this year's St. Eve West African Fashion Week and also a model for the event, the focus will be on discovering creative talents from the streets around West Africa and giving them a platform to shine
What informed your choice of Olajumoke, the bread seller as the face of this year's St. Eve African Fashion Week?
We chose Olajumoke because of her street to stardom story. Remember that she is known as the bread seller. As we all know she is a representation of the street and all that it embodies. And also a lot of top designers/models come from the street. In line with this we created the theme, 'Fashion on the Street'. So who else portrays this better than her and we felt that since Olajumoke came from the street to stardom, she fits prominently into our theme and as the pioneer of someone who went from grass to grace, she will help those who have lost hope to believe in themselves that they can also make it and become stars despite their challenges. So, Olajumoke is the face for this year's edition of St. Eve African Fashion Week, which intends to tell the Nigeria story on one hand and the Africa story on the other hand - that Africa has the potential to develop. She gives the young people hope that they too can make it in their lives' endeavours. That's why we came up with this new niche in fashion industry to make the young people know that they can be whatever they want to be if they believe in God and themselves. So we ask them to register en masse to be part of this iconic event and be crowned as a star. In God we trust to make it happen for them.
What are your expectations?
We want to let the world know that St. Eve African Fashion Week is at it again. This is the fourth edition and we are bigger and better this year. We are making it more interesting and more interactive this year. We want to create young entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, most especially, to give opportunity and platforms to those people that cannot have their voices heard in fashion and creativity, for them to be able to show the world what they have and also to begin to build big brands in the Nigerian fashion industry. You would agree with me that the Nigerian fashion industry is becoming very interesting. We are trying to tell the whole world that St. Eve is making it bigger and we are creating something new in the fashion industry now and so let the youths come out and participate, have the opportunity to grow their own talents. So this year we are making it more interactive. All you need to do is to get a registration form online with #5000 and you would be auditioned and if you are good with your creativity, we would give you and others who are also good, equal opportunity without being bias. Nobody is picking anybody to come and become a super star. Now we are having a project fame kind of project in fashion and we are doing it in five categories: photography, modelling, makeup artistry, hairstyling and fashion designing. The event is going to last for three days. On the first day, there would be opportunities for different speakers who would come and talk about entrepreneurship, hair styling, photography and other things. The second day would be when we would pick the winners and the third day would have awards and also fashion show by established designers.
Are you focusing on just the up and coming?
We felt that it was important to begin to train the new generation in the fashion industry. Everyone here will agree with me that the Nigerian fashion industry is growing tremendously, so this year we are saying all the young people, all the young at heart, who love fashion should come out and show their talents and we would give them the platform. So many people have had the dreams to have their collections on the runway and we are creating the opportunity for everyone. So just for the minimum of #5,000, you would showcase your design, we would build and rebrand you even after the event and through this we would encourage the young entrepreneurs. We are also giving the opportunity to established designers to show the young ones the stuff they are made of. The show is just meant for designers alone but those who have creative tendency like those who make bags, shoes and all that can also participate. What we are looking out for particularly is creativity. We want creative people who can showcase the Africa craft and culture. So it is opened to a larger spectrum of people who are very creative for them to showcase their creativity.
How would you describe the previous editions of the St. Eve African Fashion Week? Were you expectations met?
When you start something, most people won't really associate with you until you go on and on and begin to have a history. The past editions were good. We had the first one at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island while the other two were at Eko Hotel and Suits, Victoria Island. We have always picked choice areas for our fashion events. The events were well attended and we really got kudos for the designers that we had. It is like a learning stage but at the end of the day, you begin to get a grip of what you are supposed to be to the whole world.
Has the participation increased over the years?
Yes, of course it has. And now we looked at it and said look, every time we called established designers to showcase what they have but this time, let's get the younger people. Nigeria belongs to the future - the economy of Nigeria and the industries belong to the future and who is the future, the young people coming up. It could be a 14-year-old girl who is so talented and has that skill, we would bring her out and if you are 50-year-old and you think you have what it takes to be on the international runway, we are giving you that opportunity to come and showcase yourself.
How many participants are you looking at from the various categories you have mentioned?
A lot of people have registered already right now. So we can't really say but we want the whole Nigeria to take part in the show and to take this seriously because we have something like Project Fame in fashion. Like they have project fame for the next big movie star, and then project fame for the next big artiste. That is not the only people that matter in the society; we are the fashion designers who make the artistes look unique in their clothing for whatever event they want to attend. So we are looking at about 15,000 participants because this is a Pan-Nigeria and we are doing audition in every zone in Nigeria.
Are you looking at specific qualifications for one to be part of the show?
You don't need to go to Harvard University but if you did attend Harvard University for Fashion and you want to come and showcase, that is fine. We are not looking for some form of measurement, school or beauty but if you have talent in any of the five categories, come and audition with us and we would give you the floor, we are unbiased. It is open for all and if you are the star, you would be made the star.
What is at stake for the winners?
They are going to win prizes and right now we are talking to a lot of sponsors and partners. They are going to win money to start up their brands. The first overall winner has a prize of N500, 000 (five hundred thousand), the second overall winner has N250,000 while the third overall winner gets N125,000. We have to stop at these because we wanted to be as realistic as possible and with a show of this magnitude, we didn't want to depend on the sponsors to get funds and so with the project running itself, we are depending on the proceeds from the sales of the forms to redeem the prizes for the winners.
You are doing this for the fourth time, so what have been the challenges?
There has been a lot but somehow God has a way of assisting us to make things happen. We have been running things on our own finances and God has always made a way. We never had anything to start with but miraculously He just does things for us. The biggest challenge is finance, which is where we need supporters, sponsors and partners. We really need companies to come up and support us on this venture. I mean, everyone is going SME now and this are people that do most of the employment and so the small-scale entrepreneurs could tackle the unemployment issue that we presently have in this country to a large extent. So it is important that we have a lot of sponsors assist in this project or ours.
Have you been talking to sponsors?
We have talked with a lot of companies and individuals but everybody is saying the recession and all that but we are hoping in God that we would get somewhere.
When is this year's edition taking place and where?
It is going to hold from May 27 to 29 at the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos. It is going to be everyday of wow on the runway. I am calling on every one to come and see these young talents floating the runway and they would be amazed at what they have in stock.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a person that is so passionate about fashion. I started designing at a younger age. When my mother will cut out fabrics after making our Christmas cloths, I will join them together and make blouses. And when I wear them, my mother will think I took her money to buy new cloths, she wouldn't know they were cloths I made from the pieces she cut out from making other dresses for us. So I am a fashion designer, a publisher, I'm a health expert; I am the creative director for Rose di Omimi, which is one of the St. Eve brands. I am just a simple person who loves to encourage people.
What advice do you have for young talented people, especially those who have passion for designing?
I bless God that there is a huge awareness for Nigeria now and Africa in general because of the new technology that is available to us now. We have the mobile phone and anybody can get whatever information they need from it. It's a bit cheap in the sense that you can get any information just at the click of a finger. So you can't hold down your dream now, you can be what you want to be but always go to the right way to be the best. Most people do things trying to cut corners. Don't cut corners, if you want to be a good fashion designer, learn the way to be a fashion designer by creating a perfect finishing, so that we can meet up with the standard of the West. That is what it takes. If you have a dream, wake up from the dream and start planning on how you want to achieve the dream.