PRINCESS OGHENE: I’m Creating Economic Empowerment for Women Using Fashion

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SUPER SATURDAY STORY

An entrepreneur par excellence, Princess Kelechi Oghene represents a new pedigree of female entrepreneurs that will champion the economic advancement of future Nigeria. In this Interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, she reveals how her establishment, the house of GMYT is transforming the lives of Nigerian women, from the richest to the less privileged through fashion.

What’s GMYT all about?
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 customise 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.

GMYT Fashion Academy is trying to create the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs. We provide classes on free hand design and you have patterned design. We also teach the business management aspect of fashion. 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. We are committed to creating well rounded fashion entrepreneurs. Then we have the GMYT events and modeling company and the GMYT Foundation. We are launching it on June 25. 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 11 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. Last December, I launched House of GMYT officially to serve as a parent company to all my businesses after 11 years. 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 went to school and at the same time also learnt 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.

At the starting stage I was completely dependent upon the skills and knowledge from my basic training at my mother’s workshop. 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 sew, I can easily do that if the situation arises. I am the creative director of my business. I create designs for all clients, supervise the making of the apparels and ensure that quality standards are not compromised. Currently I am advancing my business skills with a programme at Lagos Business School.

Why did you establish GMYT Foundation?
To empower women and enable them to create wealth – it is about ending poverty. I have the couture, salon and other businesses, yet running the foundation gives me satisfaction. Money cannot buy that. I am happy training people and watching them create designs and earn a living. The foundation is for less privileged. Initially, I spent 10 per cent 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 in 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 just paying tuitions.

I have two foundation students that will graduate this month alongside 16 others from the academy. We have four students now studying under the foundation and we have 10 more on the waiting list.

When do you intend to launch the foundation?
The GMYT Foundation will be launched on June 25 at the Oriental Hotel. We have a fairly robust list of top philanthropists and high achievers who will grace the event. The official launch will coincide with the graduation and there will be a pop-up fashion show at which the graduating students will demonstrate their skills.

What has kept GMYT going?
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. So we had to build a curriculum that fits 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 personalised coaching system, they realise that they are in for a serious business.

Did you base your fashion curriculum on local or international fashion schools?
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 and business management. We teach each student individually as if it is a one-person class. 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 conversant with that.

Why are your students mostly women?
I deal with women because I can handle them – and trust me that it 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 down to 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.

What is the capacity of your school in terms of number of students to accommodate?
So far, we have about 100 students and we do not have evening students. So, we are introducing two batches, morning and evening students and we can have 200 students; 100 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. Everyone is running their own individual programme, 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; and some on calico. It is compulsory in my school that after three months you will teach a student.

What is the duration of a course programme?
A course lasts from three months to six months – and up to 12 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. So I am proud of them. But I still insist that they should learn the business in detail. I must make sure that I am imparting to them the right technical know-how and work ethics.
Can you tell us about your facilities?
They are top-notch. I have every industrial machine in the book available at my school. The classrooms are en suite; there are toilets and bathrooms complete with toiletries and they are spotlessly clean. Every room is air-conditioned and the generator runs round the clock. I try as much as possible to make the facilities up to par with what obtains overseas.

Where do you see Nigeria’s 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 sew, 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 N150,000, N250,000 and more. These outfits take time to make. So I also need more hands. Fashion is big. There is a very bright future for fashion in Nigeria.

Any challenge in the industry?
Power supply is a major problem. 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 N500,000 a month on diesel. We also need a lot of skilled hands. There are jobs. We need a lot of trained people with good work ethics.

What are some awards you have received in the industry?
I came out last year and within three months I have got 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. People just call me and they say, ‘we are giving you this award.