With over 10 years experience on the international fashion scene, Veronica Ebie Odeka, CEO of Vane-Style, has to be one of the most respected voices on fashion and style. It’s not a point she readily flaunts, though. She shares her thoughts on the local fashion industry, her outfit, the MTN-sponsored talent hunt and fashion show with AZUKA OGUJIUBA
What is your background like?
I’m from Agbor in Delta State; I was born in Houston, Texas and I schooled there, and later moved back to Nigeria. I then attended the Nigerian Navy Secondary School. I later relocated back to the United States and finished high school at Elsik in Houston and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from the University of Houston.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion to me means life. It’s really about telling this evolving story of expression through culture, art and style.
For how long now have you been an enthusiast?
My whole life has been in fashion for as long as I can remember. I do know that I’ve loved clothes and how they make one feel and allow you to express your mood since I was young, so I’ll say I’ve been involved in fashion since I was eight years old.
Can you tell us how it all started?
From very little, I chose how I was dressed and chose the clothes to wear. I even went as far as picking out my dad’s ties. At 16 I worked in retail, offering customers advice on purchases and what to wear. I became a professional fashion model at 19 and for 10 years walked many runways for designers and did commercials and print shoots. In 2010, I relocated back to Nigeria and set up my business, Vane-Style. My services include co-ordinating fashion shows, personal styling, wardrobe consultations, personal shopping and building capacity in the local industry by organising style seminars.
Why did you choose fashion styling as a vocation or did you dabble into it?
I love to see women and men look smart and style themselves according to their personalities and made the decision that once I stopped modelling I’ll focus my attention on offering services that would interpret one’s individuality.
As a panelist in the ongoing MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week, how would you appraise the crop of young designers, models, stylists, makeup artists that entered for the contest this year? Were there any wow factors for you?
It was an honour to be asked to sit on the panel for MTN LFDW, and I was very impressed with the talent that came forth. Quite a number of contestants that auditioned showcased pieces that were well thought out and constructed. These obviously are young lads with a lot of promise, and a platform such as the MTN LFDW is just the right boost required to encourage them to aspire for greater heights.
How would you appraise the Nigerian fashion industry today?
The fashion industry in Nigeria today is still at the teething stage, on the verge of something big. We are learning to trust each other in an industry where we all need to contribute collectively in order to establish a proper platform of validity.
Tell us a bit about Vane-Style
Vane-Style offers services such as celebrity styling, personal and luxury shopping, styling for fashion shows, wardrobe detox and rebuilding, wedding style consultations, designer brand consultation as well as corporate etiquette and grooming seminars.
What are some of the peculiar challenges you face in the industry and how do you tackle this challenges?
There are several challenges such as a proper protocol between stylist and designers. Many of them refuse to loan their clothes to stylist to dress clients they feel are beneath their standards. Instead, they prefer to loan to less known celebs abroad in hopes of international press. Now while I understand a designer has the right and it’s more about sales, it says something about our growing industry that if we don’t take care of home first, who will? Another challenge are the proper outlets in which to loan pieces for the client’s needs, we lack retail stores and the boutiques we have loan at ridiculous fees causing even the up and coming stylists to shy away from the business. My way of tackling it is by establishing a solid rapport with the designers and forging relationship with up and coming designers who I know need the exposure.
What exactly does being a professional fashion stylist entail?
As a stylist my job entails researching the latest trends and reporting them to all. It also requires me to work on mood boards, make lots of phone calls and collaborate with photographers, magazine editors, journalists and bloggers. It also involves planning and prepping photo-shoots, visiting designers and boutiques, consulting with clients regularly and working on upcoming projects.
Fashion is a billion dollar business in some parts of Europe and America, how close are our local fashion industry players to turning their outfits to huge business empires?
A lot of the fashion insiders are already there. If you take a look at some of the biggest names at the top of their fields from designers and photographers to make-up and hair artists, I’d say their resilience and success is encouraging.
Do you agree that designers, stylists, makeup artists and models are not getting the respect they deserve from members of the public?
Not really, I understand that one has to fight for what one believes in and no one is going to just respect you for being yourself. Once you pay your dues and work hard on your passion the respect will come. I personally don’t look to see what people think of me, I let my work speak for itself and that for me is where all the respect comes from.
Some corporate organisations like MTN are coming out to support the Nigerian fashion industry, an example of which is the MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week. What in your opinion will such corporate sponsorships bring to the industry?
Corporate sponsorship brings in financial funding and the much needed awareness on a national and international level.
What role can government play to help?
Our government can institute paid seminars and inaugurate a national board of the arts to help support this growing industry. I know I would have loved to have seminars to attend, with experienced speakers to help encourage me when I was living in Nigeria. If they set these up in schools nationwide then the youth have something to assist in their development and passion for fashion.
What are your hubbies and what do you do for relaxation?
I love to read books, watch movies, travel and experience different cultures and spend time with my family.
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance considering how busy your work schedule is?
All my life I have been a very organized person and multi-tasking runs in my blood. I guess it’s the Virgo in me. Everything in my life is on a schedule, from the moment I wake up.
And I spend time with my sons, and attend necessary meetings, work functions. I also try to enjoy my weekends and holidays. I’m thankful that I work well under pressure and I’m not someone who needs a lot of sleep usually 5hours is enough for me.
If you weren’t a fashion stylist what would you be doing today?
If I weren’t a stylist I would be working either at a major fashion magazine house, or working in fashion merchandising as a buyer.
How important is mentoring in the fashion business and are there a few protégés you have or are currently mentoring?
This is the most important of all things in this industry to me. I am most passionate about building capacity especially in the next generation. I’ve often yearned and wished I had someone I could soak up information from especially at the budding stage of my career. So to answer your question, yes I’m always open to the idea of welcoming young stylists to train under my tutelage and internship. Currently I have four young adults who work with me on styling projects throughout the year.
Where do you see the Nigerian fashion industry in the next 10 years?
My hope and vision is that in 10 years we have established government programs to encourage, textile warehouses to produce, corporate organisations to collaborate with and more local talents. In order words I expect we’d have more Public Private Sector Partnerships (PPP), corporate sponsorships, endorsements and involvement in the industry. In 10 years our fashion industry should be internationally recognized and acclaimed as the fashion capital for Africa and respected worldwide.