For Me, Fashion is an Enduring Passion

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Interviewed by Funke Olaode

Can we have an insight into your background?
I am Joan Okorodudu (nee Elumelu) founder of Nigeria’s Next Super Model which is in its 10th year. I am also the originator of ISIS Model, ECOWAS Fashion Week and African International Fashion Week.

I come from a great family, the Elumelu family of Delta State. It was interesting growing up because life was comfortable for us. Unfortunately, the civil war started and my family lost everything. It was a trying moment for a family used to good things of life. My father had a driver. I remember my father’s car plate number ‘LG 69’. At age seven, I learnt how to make ‘garri’. I know how to plant yam. That era really shaped my view about life because it taught me a lot of lessons.

How did your family pick up the pieces after the civil war?
It wasn’t easy but we coped. We ran to Nigeria but my father was in Biafra. After the war he came back and life started again and the rest they say became history. I went back to school. I had my early education in Nigeria and moved to the United States for further studies. I enrolled at Boston University in Massachusetts where I studied Political Science. I came back to Nigeria and engaged in a bit of politics with the late Ambrose Alli and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

You come from a relatively privileged background, which creates a burden of expectations. Do you sometimes feel the pressure to excel?
Yes. My grandfather was an amazing man and likewise my father. Coming from such a great family, puts you on your toes. My grandfather’s house is still a sight to behold after many years. He was educated. I had an amazing life. Yes there were expectations from us to succeed in life and I am happy that we have not disappointed.

Having studied political science what influenced the decision to dabble into fashion?
It is an enduring passion for me. During my undergraduate days, we always dabbled into fashion. I went to school with the former First Lady of Edo State, Eki Igbinedion, daughter of renowned Lagos lawyer, Bimbola Cardoso (nee TOS Benson). We are the three musketeers on campus. I am happy that we all came back to Nigeria and are doing well for ourselves.

When did you kick off your career?
When I came back to Nigeria in 1982 I joined Sunday New Nigerian Newspaper as a writer and after that I met my wonderful husband, Air Vice Marshal Okorodudu during youth service and we got married. I have been married for 32 years and life has been good.

At what stage did you go into fashion and modelling agency fully?
I had a shop abroad called Euro Afrik and I used to come to Nigeria, make some clothes and ship it abroad. This was about 20 years ago when Ankara was not popular. I was also a model when I was much younger. It was a roller coaster for me when I decided to float a modeling agency because I was once an entrepreneur and model. I am giving away the 10th car this year courtesy Studio 24 that has been supporting us since 2012. This is my way of giving back because when these young girls started they didn’t have anything.

Today, they can stand tall among super models in Nigeria and globally. You have to build a model for three years before they start making money. I have my models in Milan, London, New York and London now. It has been a wonderful journey for us. Beyond money, I am happy that I am able to impact a life in my small corner. One of my models, Bunmi Ademokoya just did a campaign for Adidas and some have worked for renowned designers.

Fashion and modeling industry weren’t popular when you came out, what gave you that conviction that you were going to succeed?
In this life, determination, perseverance, being focused have a lot of role to play in one’s career endeavours and it is not limited to fashion alone. I was determined to succeed by working harder and being focused. With modesty, I have always succeeded in whatever I lay my hands on because God’s grace is sufficient for me. I had the full support of my parents. They didn’t have a problem with it. They supported me on the condition that I would focus on my education and earn a degree. Then if I decided to go to the moon, all the best

You recently dabbled into wine business…
Yes. I am an adventurer and my adventures are not limited to my comfort zone. I recently spearheaded a campaign of a newly introduced wine into the Nigerian market. It is called Friend Fun Wine, the first of its kind. It is a wine that comes in cans. It is a wine that relaxes; it has a lot to offer: It is youth friendly, it is fun friendly and it is age friendly. It is basically a wine you can give to anyone.

Can you say you are fulfilled?
I am fulfilled and I have been very lucky. My background has helped me and likewise my marriage. I have been married to a man who has supported me all the way. He is a man who would always want to help his wife. I am happy that I have him as my husband, partner and supporter.

What lesson has life taught you?
Life has taught me to be apprehensive of people. Sometimes people who don’t really understand you would want to pull you down. And when you find yourself in the midst of haters, strive hard to succeed. That is your only revenge.