Idia Aisien is one of the few names one can easily reckon with in the fashion industry. She told Sunday Ehigiator what inspired her and her current work on the International Development Initiatives for Africa to showcase unsung humanitarians, among others
You started your career at a young age, what inspired you and how was the experience like at that time?
I am lucky to have been one of those people that always know what I wanted to do. I was in secondary school and I remember learning about Dele Giwa, and was so fascinated by his commitments to his work, and his life, I remember that I had met a girl even in the university that was his daughter. It’s so interesting that, from the day I learnt about him I realised that journalism is such an honourable profession; and telling peoples’ story at all cost was something I wanted to be able to do. Though at a time, it wasn’t something that my parents were onboard with due to the low remuneration, but I was able to get my first job at Punch Newspaper at age 15. I remember that one thing that has always helped me was that ambition, despite the discouragements. I never believed that any door was closed. At that age, I also got signed to Beth Models. But because I had to go to school and wanted to do a lot of travelling at that time, I have to suspend my employment there for some years to enable me focus properly in my academics.
How have you been able to manage being a presenter and a model together?
I don’t think there has ever been any time in my life when I haven’t managed more than one thing together at a time. Throughout when I was still in the university, I was always going for modeling jobs, auditioning and so on. Presenting didn’t happen for me immediately because at that time, I just studied journalism and was fortunate enough to have worked at Discovery, Fox news and so on, but I was always looking out for modeling opportunities. It was hard sometimes; there were months when you have to prioritise one thing over the other, but I think with perseverance and consistency, I have been able to pull through managing both.
Do you have any show you currently anchor in Nigeria at the moment?
Yes, right now I currently host two television shows for Spice TV, on DSTV channel 190. The first show is entitled ‘You’ve Got Issues’, it entailed people sharing with us their problems in their relationships, love, career, abuse and so forth. Then we usually have well-seasoned guests on every episodes, who deal with the issues our audience had sent in. The second show is called ‘Style 101’. And it’s the fore front of the Nigerian version of Fashion Police. It’s basically like a jury of four people, I and three new guests on every episode, we talk through trends in all sphere of life, entertainment, fashion. We basically vote and give our opinions on what people are wearing, doing at weddings or any other trending matter.
As a philanthropist, what was your motivation and how many philanthropic projects have you sponsored so far?
When I was 15 and got signed to Beth’s, the first fashion show I ever did was a show to raise money for UNICEF. That day, I was so touched. I remember I was in tears. I remember we wore a couple of dresses down the run way and people would auction. I remember the dress that I wore was auctioned for about N250,000. And it was so heart-melting to see that you could merge two things you are so passionate about together, and it was beautiful to see that fashion could be used for such a good course. So that was my first real contact with humanitarianism. And being raised in a family where my mum has always done humanitarian works. She was the President of Lion’s Club at one point. She is always away from home, travelling here and there for humanitarian reasons, helping people. And dad was always helping to build churches, helping kids with tuition and stuffs like that, I just had to realise that no matter how little you have, you just have that responsibility of helping that man next to you. So I think that is where it all started. I was also fortunate to move to New York when I was about to study for my masters. I work at that time with United Nations; The Peace Building Commission. And I realised then that, they were doing a fantastic job at the UN but it was on a very high level or large scale. I wanted to be able to do work that I could see the direct impact on the society in need. And I am so committed to this course because I feel like a lot of people give but they don’t give sustainably. For instance, you can give a carton of Indomie to somebody, but guess what; in a month, it is finished. Instead, it’s best you teach a man to fish and not just always giving him fish. So I am looking at ways to focus more on poverty and education. Education because it’s an empowerment in itself; if someone is educated; he already has the understanding needed to get skills without being told. This week; I am so excited because my father turned 70, and all he wanted for his birthday was that all of us should embark on charity work on his behalf in our different locations. So I and my team went to various orphanages as did my sisters in other states; and likewise went to elderly shelters in Lagos. This is what we did, and we were sending pictures to our family group page informing them of our activities. It lasted for three days.
What is your strongest personal quality?
I don’t take no for an answer. If I ask to be your assistant and you don’t want to hire me, it’s either I go and start a rival paper or meet someone that could help me figure out how I can make you hire me as your assistant (smiles).
What are the challenges you often encounter in your career and how are you able to manage it?
Two things I always say were my biggest challenges. The first thing was when I moved back to Nigeria. I know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew the brands, the companies I wanted to work with. But I had people judging me. They look at me and say, ‘Oh! she looks like she is from a well to do family, she doesn’t really need the job’. People don’t understand that there are people that genuinely want to make a difference and are passionate about working. They don’t see that, what they saw was; Oh! Her family, she feels that she could just come from nowhere and capitalise in this industry or whatever. So, there was that. People just look at face value. I don’t see people, I see souls, I see how you treat people, I see your essence, so there was that judgment. The second thing was that so many people were telling me to wait my turn. You are young so wait your turn. I don’t believe your age should determine your employability. I believe people should be given what they ask for based on what they can do and how well they can deliver. If you are able to get to the front of the line, really there are no turns. Lines only exist in our head. In the real sense, there is no line.
What is the worst criticism you have ever heard about yourself?
That I am too ambitious; for me it is subjective. I think the things I want, I likewise have the hard work to back it up. I don’t rely on anyone contrary to people perception. There are no connections anywhere. I go all out for the things I want and what I am today, through hard work and determination. I believe people would just define you negatively once they see you succeed where they had failed just to justify their failures and make themselves feel good. But I don’t care. It doesn’t sway me a bit.
Tell your fans what they can’t know about you merely from reading your portfolio?
The brand IDIA (the International Development Initiatives for Africa) is very aspirational, but me Idia I’m probably the easiest, sweetest and coolest person.
How do you cool off?
Travelling; I like travelling a lot.
Is there any upcoming project?
I have launched a project. Though I am yet to do the public launching but it’s going to happen. It is called the International Development Initiative in Africa (IDIA). The IDIA project, it’s a project that caters to showing every company, international organisations, or individuals that are developing Africa in terms of economic, societal development, humanitarianism and advocacy. The aim is to bring to the front banner the well-known and unsung humanitarians/builders of Africa. It is to show what is working in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Initially, it wasn’t a project but just a foundation known as the International Development Initiatives in Africa, which was a foundation geared towards poverty eradication and education. It was my own way of doing my part of the sustainable developmental goals. So, now we are making it a project, thereby involving companies and individuals with the aim of poverty elimination in Africa. The project is kick starting from April 15th this year.
If you could change anything about Nigeria, what would that be?
I would change the way people think. It’s not a problem necessarily with the way we think, it’s a problem of how we have been conditioned to think. I think that there are people that believe things cannot get better. There are people that have so much played into that mentality and just go unbothered with corruption and other vices that they are faced with. There are also people that take out their feelings on other people, which do not make things better. If I am horrible to you, and other people are likewise horrible to you, it therefore turns you as well into a horrible person even though you don’t want to be. If we had the means to show people that we are all one, all these problems that we are facing would be eradicated.We should stand together and not be divided or treat each other differently. If we come together that way, I believe most of the problems facing us as Nigerians would be eliminated, and Nigeria would be a much better place. Everybody has a part to play in making Nigeria great again.
What is your advice to upcoming models?
They should be positive minded. Slow and steady wins the race. They don’t have to sleep around before they make wave. There are so many models out there that didn’t do that and are doing well in their career as we speak. They should emulate the good ones, not the bad ones. With patience, hard work and prayers, you would get there someday.