Suzzie Odeniyi popularly known as Suzzie D, a leading Nigerian entrepreneur in the media, fashion and modelling industry in Europe is in her mid-20s. She doubles as the CEO of Suzzie D Celebrity Network and Suzzie D Model Management, the latter being where she manages international beauty queens and models from different parts of the world. She is also responsible for several successful pageantries and competitions worldwide, one of such being the Luxury Model Search Nigeria, an initiative that seeks to discover the next female Nigerian leader. In this interview with Mary Nnah she revealed that the quest of the modelling search is to find just one girl out of a pool of talented young girls with exemplary leadership skills. Excerpts:
Tell us about your journey from being a model to a manager of models?
It is actually a funny story. When I was growing up, I was very tall but I lost my height as I grew older. But then, I was very tall and people around me were always spurring me to go to London and get into modelling; because Ireland is a very small market and if you are going to make it in modelling, London was the place to go. It was extremely tough to get signed to an agency at that time in Ireland because of my skin colour, although things have changed now, as agencies have started taking in black girls as models. But when I was trying to get signed, I couldn’t because there was no demand for black girls then. So it was so tough and ridiculous. So I decided that if they won’t sign me on their agencies, I could learn how to manage myself. Since no one was ready to give me a chance, I just adapted to freelance modelling where I contacted photographers, brands and managers of companies, telling them that I was available if they were looking for a model. I sent them my pictures and with that I was able to get a few jobs here and there. It wasn’t like big but I still pushed my way into the market and became known. That kind of opened my horizon and mindset. I also got more contracts than if I were signed to an agency. I wouldn’t have had the relationship I had if I was signed to an agency. I started getting jobs for not just myself but for other models and that was how it started and here I am today. So, I think that sometimes when the door is closed, it is closed for a reason.
I made a good sum of money just doing freelance modelling, which I was able to save to start my agency. So while I was working part time, I was doing my modelling even while going to school too. And with all the experiences I gathered over the years as a model and in beauty pageants, I was able to start my own agency.
If you were not modelling and managing models, what else would you have done?
I wold have been a detective because I just love investigation and I love solving issues and crime. I actually wanted to join the police force in Ireland but my mom said no, I can’t let you. It is too dangerous. So, if I had my way, I probably would have been in the Irish Police Force.
What’s your background in?
My background is in fashion, but I have been managing models and international beauty queens for about eight years now. I initially started in Ireland where I grew up. I was born in Ibadan, Nigeria but moved to Dublin, Ireland when I was five years of age and I have been there all along. There, I started my modelling agency where I manage models and also beauty pageants. My model agency is called Suzzie D Model Management. I am the owner of the Most Beautiful Girl in Ireland Beauty Pageant competition and also the owner of Most Beautiful Girl in the World competition, which every year we take all the international winners from all over the world and hold a competition either in Dubai or Korea.
So, why have you come to Nigeria?
The reason I came to Nigeria, I suppose is because of my mom who lives here in Nigeria. She kept on telling me I must come home and do something for my people. So, I have come back to do exactly that and I am starting off with a competition called, the Luxury Model Search Nigeria (LMSN). However, if anyone had told me that I would be here in Nigeria this year organising a competition of this nature, I would said it wasn’t impossible because I do my business mostly in Europe and Dubai. But I do not know what really dawned on me to come to Nigeria and give our girls the opportunity to excel in their chosen careers. I want people to know that it is not only when you are outside of Nigeria that you can make it, but if you have a specific plan and have strategies behind this, with a little help from well-wishers and with God, you can make it in Nigeria.
One of the strategies for the Luxury Model Search Nigeria competition is to find a female entrepreneur, someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. The competition is to give the girls the platform to advance themselves. We are not saying you should necessarily become a model if you win the competition. Yes, modeling is fine but after a year of your reign, you can decide to go into the line of acting or fashion and our job will be to support, push and give you the guidance that you need. So, this initiative is really opened to a broad number of people and things. My major reason of doing this is to create opportunities for girls.
You went to Ireland at the age of five, so how long were you there before you decided to come back to Nigeria?
From five years of age I have been in Ireland all along for like about 19 years, till I decided to come to Nigeria last year November. I actually came home sometime around July 2018 and stayed till September 2018. I came back in November and since then, we have been planning this. It is important to let people know who I am and what I do because a lot of people want to know about Suzzie D, what I do and what I aim to achieve with this project.
What exactly is Luxury Model Search Nigeria all about?
Luxury Model Search is a competition which is on a journey to discover the next female leader in Nigeria and provide talented young girls with exemplary leadership skills and the opportunity to break into the fashion and entertainment industries.
Luxury Model Search will be a model search with one simple goal: finding the one girl with outstanding skills that can stand on her own as a leader and potentially a force worth reckoning with. Luxury model search Nigeria is on the quest of finding the next entrepreneur. This entrepreneur will make a change in an area that they feel strongly about- film star, pop icon, super model, whatever your niche is. The main task of competition is to discover and nurture talented aspiring models. In addition, it embraces all kinds of girls from different walks of life.
Auditions for the Luxury Model Search will hold on June 2019 in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos. After all the auditions, 20 girls would emerge as finalists and will progress to the grand finale holding on Sunday, August 4, 2019 at the Landmark Event Centre, Lagos.
What are the things you look out for in selecting participants in this competition?
We are not just looking for beautiful girls. We are looking for someone who we can go into business with because at the end of the day, modeling, fashion and beauty is a business, apart from the glamour that comes with it. If I speak to a potential model, in one minute, I can easily know if the person will be successful or not. I always can tell by the way they speak and what is going up in their heads. If I ask a model, where do you see yourself in two year time? If she says she does not know, I know that she actually does not know. But if I ask another model the same questions and she outlines what she wants to achieve and how she will go about it, I certainly know that she has entrepreneurial mindset. So I am more drawn to this than just beauty.
What will the winners of the competition get?
The winner will get to sign an international modelling contract with me and winner also gets one million naira cash prize. There will be PR engagements to do, all the adverts and branding amongst others. The first runner up gets N500,000 and gets signed to an international modelling contract, while the second runner up gets N250,000 and gets signed to a modelling contract as well.
What makes the Luxury Model Search, Nigeria different from other beauty pageant shows?
A beauty pageant only concentrates on beauty and modelling. There might be other things like supporting charities here and there but what differentiates us is that we are saying to you that you don’t actually have to become a model. We are saying to them that you can use this platform to build or pursue whatever you want to become. Do you want to become a women right advocate, you want to open up your own organisation or you want to do something that is modelling related? We are here to support you. This gives people a platform, and that is why it is called Luxury Model Search Nigeria because it is luxury, it is unique. It is not just something you see every day because not everyone is blessed with an entrepreneurial mindset. It is something that is given to you by God and that is why it is different.
So, LMSNstands out from the average modeling competitions because while other platforms and competitions have a certain size and weight restrictions, we are open to every girl as long as you are smart, Nigerian, between the ages of 18 and 25, unmarried, available to travel internally, without tattoos and not less than five feet seven.
Why is your interest in entrepreneurship, modelling and fashion?
My mom and my dad were business owners. So, I grew up in a household where both parents were in business. My mom had a fashion line. She sold cloths, gold, bags and shoes and my dad had an oil company. These two businesses were different but it still came down to business. What is your profit and break-even? What is your overhead? What are you spending on? I always listened to them while I was growing and these rubbed off on me. I always knew that I will go into a business but I knew I was interested in fashion.
Were there times you competed in any beauty pageants?
I competed in the Miss Nigeria, Ireland where I came as the top five, and also competed in Elite Model Look, Ireland of which I was a semi-finalist. I didn’t win the crown but the competitions gave me the confidence and experience to become who I am today. I always feel that if you are entering into a competition, it is not about being the winner that is most important but the confidence these gave to me has been very useful till now. For me, it is especially about the confidence you build in yourself.
Tell us a bit about your educational background and growing up?
I moved out of Nigeria when I was five years old. My mom, Aderonke Hassan, is into politics at the moment. She went from business to politics. My dad has retired now but he managed his own oil company for so many years. The most I learnt was from my mom because my dad was always in and out of Ireland but I still learnt a bit of business skills from my dad. I went to primary school, secondary school and college in Ireland. I studied fashion and business at the University of Limerick, Ireland. I am always travelling, managing girls. I am Nigerian by root, even though I have lived in Ireland for 19 years. I am Irish but I am more of a Nigerian than Irish. Nigeria is my root and it is always important not to forget about your home and always give back.
How are you able to manage the numerous portfolios you currently manage?
When we get jobs, we get them booked in advance and I have people who work for me there. I always monitor what is going on. To manage all these things, you don’t have to be specifically in one place. I can be in Canada and still be running my business here in Nigeria. We have the internet. So, for me it’s not hard. If I need to be in a meeting I can’t attend physically, my representative will go there and give me the feedback. We also skype, this way they can see me and we can talk. I can only be in one place at one particular time but it doesn’t really affect my work. If a client wants to meet a girl, I can email her and tell her where she has to be at a particular time and the job is done. So, the power of the internet is very important in the field.
You have you been in the modeling industry for like nine years, so, what is your assessment?
I am more conversant with the industry in Ireland. In Ireland it is tough, especially being a black woman in business. Most businesses are white dominated so when you see a black woman enter the market, it is a threat to them. They will rather give a job to one of their own. Even though I am Irish, they will rather give a job to one of their own than give me because they are just connected to other persons because of their skin colour. So racism still exits and it is part of life. However, I do like challenges and I always say to God make a way for me where there seems to be no way. I do not give up easily as I just really push myself. My mom was saying to me that if I started a modeling industry here in Nigeria, it would have been well advanced than it is now. I did not let the politics over there stop me? but here I am today.
What is your assessment of the industry in Nigeria?
In Ireland, only a small percentage of people are open to change but here in Nigeria, they want change. Nigerians are tired of doing the same old things. It is more refreshing to be around your own people and doing what you love.