A one-time Delta soap face, Princess Kelechi Oghene is one whose fabrics and needle works can never be shoved-off in the league of classy indigenous fashion brand. From the regular patronage of top celebrities both home and abroad, to the several features on popular runways, the brand has since grown into one that could best be described as globally, ‘Phenomenal’. Not only because her fabrics and all its compositions are built from the scratch, but likewise for her unique and exclusive designs, coupled with a very professional touch of class in all her designs. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Ehigiator, the beauty queen, model and visionary boss of GMYT Fashion Group, reveals the measures she has put on ground to sponsor 500 women under her fashion foundation this year. Excerpts:
How did it all start, and how does this make you feel?
Well, I have been in this business for 13 years. It makes me fulfilled. I want to leave a legacy. I am already seeing the benefits. We are not loud; we don’t print flyers and all that. You will only see a lot of our alumni referring people to us, so it is basically word of mouth and you can’t beat that.
It’s more of experience. I started from a boutique. I did this business for nine years. I started small, and I did very well. A friend of mine once said I have flair for marketing. So, it’s all business for me. I don’t have much friends, and if you are in my circle and don’t have anything to offer, you won’t even see me. I was marketing brands; I was traveling and doing business. I was doing so well. But at some point I said if I can do well marketing people’s brand, then I would do better marketing mine. And that was the best decision I ever made.
This is also a lot of hard work and favor from God. I had a team, so I said people should come learn for free in beading and the rest. Surprisingly people insisted that they pay for the service, they don’t want to be in the foundation aspect. And this was how the academy started. The academy started from the foundation, but now the academy is the parent company.
Even if I give everything I have today, God gives me back; it’s been working for me. I don’t give money, but I will teach you how to fish. I will give you what’s sustainable. I may give you millions of naira and you might not utilise it properly. But if you start from scratch and make all your mistakes, nothing beats that.
I get a lot of goodwill from alumni. My birthday last year, cakes were coming from everywhere. During Christmas and New Year, people were calling to know how I was fairing; money can’t buy that. It makes me fulfilled and wants to do more. Just like my mum; although she is late now, she was a seamstress; of course, that’s where it all came from. But I wanted the easy way out, which is why I ventured into boutique. If I had known, I would have started out earlier. Regardless, I got a lot of experience and nobody can beat my finishing. You can call that my USP if you like. We also customise our fabrics, you can’t find our fabrics anywhere, and we play with beads and stones on it. And build our fabrics from the scratch. All these make GMYT a unique brand.
Quite a lot your academy/foundation is doing; how do you get funding?
People come into the academy for training because they can afford it, while the others go to the foundation because they cannot afford the fees. So what we do is to take money from the academy to augment the foundation. Anybody that clicks into this vision and wants to be part of it is welcome for partnership. But regardless, we will continue to thrive.
Sometime last year, you revealed plans to train 500 women in fashion under your foundation, how has it been?
So far we have trained 200. My mission is to help as much women as I can to become independent through fashion, because that is my strength. Helping them to have a little money of their own; I think it makes them secure. They also become support system to their spouse if they have any. We try to take many of them off the streets. It also makes them responsible.
Because of this empowerment, some of our students have their own academy, some others are into designing. The most important thing is that they are independent. We are training 500 women, because we have the capacity and the structure. We have achieved 500 for both the academy and the foundation. We achieved 200 in the foundation last year. But this year, our target for the foundation is 500. If you follow our social media page @gmytfoundation you will see that we have started already; because of our structure and flexible curriculum. We have ensured that people learn at their own pace, you don’t have to come to class every day. Some of our students are on part-time. It all depends on how they want to use their time
What category of women is your foundation focused on?
Not just women, we also have guys; and support any kind of woman, young girls, women, housewives. If you’re busy, your spouse will be proud of you.
How does one come onboard?
You have to go online and apply www.gmytcademy.com. There is a form to be filled there.
What’s the meaning of GMYT?
The meaning is God’s Might and that’s my name.
How long do the beneficiaries of the program have?
I am giving them 12 months.
How did you manage modeling with fashion?
It was a nice experience. It didn’t affect my business. It lasted for nine years. All I did was to go to the studio and take shots.
What would you say is your driving force?
I think what is driving me is the fear of being average, and my zeal for being independent and also development. I look forward to coming to work every day and also seeing that people are busy keeps me sane. I don’t know how I will feel if I was at home doing nothing. It’s the same thing I want for the girls. I just want them to be busy, and to know that if they believe and put some efforts by acting, God will bless it.
They have to have passion first. Our government doesn’t have enough jobs for the students they are churning out and that is why we are here as the private sector to help out. I wish we have enough support; it will help fill in this space.
Your growth plan?
We have students from all over the place; from India, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana etc. Some come and stay in the hostel while some gets apartments. For now, it’s not about expanding; we are still building a structure. I have to be around, and the place needs my presence, so that the workers remain sane. I would rather they all come from wherever. Maybe later, we can branch out.
What is the place of education in all these, I mean looking at your profile you’re still learning. Is this something you want the girls to emulate?
We hold entrepreneurship session every month aside from the master class that we hold. And I am going to be having a session with them this month, on passion and entrepreneurship.I have another program, that I am giving out a N100,000 every month to entrepreneurs that have started in a little way and are struggling. I wish I can give out more. All they need to do is to do a minute video clip and you tell me about your passion. I want to know how well you understand your business, and be sure that you didn’t go into the business because of someone else. Tell me your vision and your mission and then what you can do with that N100,000. The winner goes with an award and might get a scholarship to be a GMYT student.
Compared to you, young girls these days want to go with young guys driving Benz instead of acquiring skills, your take?
That’s what I want to change. To make girls and women independent, so they can focus their vision on things that are more important, and so they don’t become liabilities to their man. I don’t think any man wants a liability.