You can’t miss her on a billboard, calendar and TV commercials. Supple skin. Glowing visage. Ravishing cleavage. Enchanting figure. Mesmerizing carriage. Each step taken by Princess Kelechi Oghene reveals beauty, stateliness, and poise. As the former face of Delta Soap, she has covered many grounds and climbed many mountains. She is as beautiful as she is industrious and resourceful. With a head for shrewdness and a heart for philanthropy, Princess Oghene embraced the limelight bringing sunshine into the lives of many. A woman of substance and taste, she has built her own fashion empire. The executive director of GMYT Fashion Academy tells Funke Olaode the motives of her enterprise and philanthropy
The sound of industrial machines mounted by trainees and instructors welcome the first-time visitor into her sprawling fashion empire tucked in the exclusive part of Lekki phase 1 in Lagos. As you move around the edifice, you are instantly confronted by several awards and publications as they hang delicately on the wall. The breathtaking designs, handmade accessories in the show glass and the entire ambience make everything look out of this world. Her teeming set of apprentices comprising the young and not too young, young adult and professionals are trooping in and out for one aim; to tap from the fountain of knowledge of the Amazon.
Welcome to GMYT Fashion Academy whose motto is ‘creating the next generation of entrepreneurs’.
Princess Kelechi Oghene, an ex-model-turned-fashion-designer is part of a legion of Nigerian ex-supermodels, who have made a wave in the fashion industry. As executive director of GMYT Fashion Academy, a foremost fashion institution renowned for its giant strides in the fashion industry evidenced by the training and creation of new generation fashion entrepreneurs.
Oghene is also a philanthropist par excellence and her commitment towards the empowerment of women emboldened her to found and indeed set up the GMYT Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the training, re-tooling, and empowerment of women through fashion. She is currently the President of the GMYT Foundation, which in active collaboration with the GMYT Fashion Academy has been able to conduct free entrepreneurial sessions, seminars, and workshops for women and has trained over 200 women and countless youths on scholarships in couture, dressmaking, and fashion design.
Her focus is on women. This vision is in keeping with her commitment to eradicating poverty by training and empowering women with the necessary skillset to thrive and become financially independent. To achieve this, she has resolved to increase the number of beneficiaries of the 2019 GMYT Foundation Entrepreneurial programme and has indeed commenced training of over 500 Small and Medium Scale Entrepreneurs (SMEs) drawn from various parts of the country.
The beneficiaries of this scheme will be trained in various aspects of fashion and will also be given monetary gifts valued in Millions of Naira which said gifts are designed to be seed capital for their respective fashion businesses.
Most of the beneficiaries of this scheme are availed the rare privilege of being trained at the GMYT Fashion Academy by the best and highly skilled Fashion Instructors in the Academy. Most of these beneficiaries during the course of their training are also provided with accommodation at no extra cost by the GMYT Fashion Academy in order to mitigate the resultant accommodation challenges often faced in Lagos.
Oghene is an embodiment of fashion and philanthropy. Her avid love for fashion coupled with her passion for humanity propelled her to create the GMYT African Humanitarian Awards and Fashion Show to showcase, celebrate and promote young fashion entrepreneurs, leaders and societal role models whilst at the same time generating funds for just causes which impact positively in the lives of the average Nigerian.
A beautiful woman with intellectual acumen, being a voracious reader with a strong appetite for learning, she has attended several workshops, training and has bagged several degrees and qualifications from notable institutions both in Nigeria and abroad. She has an executive degree from Lagos Business School, Owner’s Management Programme, and an alumnus of the London School of Fashion.
She also has a degree in Industrial Relation and Personnel Management (IRPM) from Lagos State University; a degree in Human Resources Management Training from STC Training Centre, Dubai, and another in Fashion Styling from Modus Academy from Modus Academy also in Dubai. The Harvard Business School is also in the pipeline. In recognition of her notable strides in the fashion industry in Nigeria, in June 2018, she was appointed an advisory board member of Nigeria Entrepreneurs Award [NEA].
With exposure comes distraction but the staying power of this Amazon is her upbringing which constantly put her in check. “My mum did a very good job,” she said.
Continuing, she noted, “I never saw her with any friend, like I said she was a serial entrepreneur, she had a supermarket, she kept on furthering her education. I remembered then even while working, she was also with Power Holding, then NEPA. She was just busy doing all these, she also a seamstress, I think I got that from her. She was a hard-working woman, though she is late now until her death, I am still very much proud of her. I think that rubbed off on me, so growing up even while at school, I started my business and then in between, after school me would go to learn graphics, web design in a computer school.
“I was at the college of education when my Lagos State admission scaled through. I left to pursue a degree in LASU. It has been schooling and running my business. Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know me as the face of Delta Soap because I don’t go out, I don’t make friends. So I just do my photo shot and I think it was just good. Because every year you see my picture always come out on the calendar or on the billboard.”
An entrepreneur-turned-fashion guru, at what stage did she develop a passion for fashion you may ask?
She responded: “I retired as Orange Drug ambassador in 2016 and I modelled for nine years. I have always had a passion for fashion. GMYT Fashion academy started about six years ago. It has been a journey. It started from the boutique then we ventured into tailoring and then we launched our foundation. Looking back it has been great, even when I was doing my boutique business; we just kept expanding while others were closing their shops. Here we are growing bigger and better every day. Having realized the awesomeness of God in my life, I founded the Foundation to give back to society.”
On what stands her fashion house among the rest? It’s simple.
“When you walk into our academy it is a proper fashion school like what it entails abroad. Well-equipped classrooms experienced instructors and an in-house textbook that teaches from start to finish. The academy goes beyond cutting and sewing. It is a total package where students are taught how to manage their time, finance, work team, how to define their strength, carve a niche for themselves, have a target market.
“It is a fashion school that trains women on fashion designing to become entrepreneurs. So they are not just learning how to cut and sow but learning the business side of fashion,” she said.
Oghene has a foundation that aims to train 500 upcoming women entrepreneurs. How is that sustainable?
She explained: “We launched the foundation officially in 2016 and we have trained over 200 entrepreneurs. We just started a project to train 500 people. I think we have about 56 students so far and in the past three weeks we have given out over 40 scholarships to women to be trained for free as well. And as for it is sustainability. Well, it is sustainable because we have a structure where every student that pays school fees 10% goes to the foundation.
“So it is easy for us, we are not waiting for the government, we are not writing proposals, not a partnership, over the years we have literally just done it by ourselves because is the academy that is doing it and we have a lot of academy students even more than the foundation students. So in the academy, we are so structured that every day you come to the school you are learning.
“In fact, last year we gave out about five industrial machines to five academic students free. Because it is not just about teaching them, it is also about giving them the tools that they need and it is not part of the school fees. It is done at my own discretion. So if we have trained over 200 and I have given out 95 industrial machines, and one industrial machine cost N95,000 or N105, 000 it depends on the prices you have, it means we have set out on our mission and vision to be of blessing to humanity.”
On GMYT African Humanitarian Awards, she said it is designed to showcase leaders with positive influence as well as celebrate individuals who have contributed meaningfully to their respective communities by impacting positively in people’s lives.
“We hold it every year and it coincides with the Fashion Show that celebrates young fashion entrepreneurs that have successfully completed their training programme with the Academy, thus contributing positively to the societal change through fashion and is sure to attract a crowd of the region’s influential people.
“The training doesn’t end here as I really go all out to promote my students because if they do well then it means I am doing well if they fail I believe I have failed. So I go all out to invest in them. And then we have the GMYT SME which we started in January. The aim is to give out N100, 000 every month for free, it is not a loan, and it is just to support their businesses. I don’t even restrict it to my own alumni students, if you have your own business, maybe makeup or whatever, you just come to make a pitch and the best go home with it. So it is done every month. We actually put aside N1.2 million to give N100, 000 every month and we started it this January. And so far we have given close to 2 million. So we have even exceeded it. We keep empowering upcoming entrepreneurs through scholarships. As said earlier, is my way of touching lives,” the beautiful Oghene said.
As the interview came to a halt, Oghene gave tips on how to build a successful fashion empire. As scary as they sound, it has been a strategy that has placed her on a pedestal of success. The number one tip according to her is discipline.
“To be a successful entrepreneur you have to be disciplined, you need to be focused, have a business plan, and adopt a practical strategy and ability to take a risk. Being passionate is also key because you have to love what you are doing. First, as an entrepreneur, you are not on salary on at the end of the month, you need to work before you earn. So you need to know that you are not starting a business because of profit because you will be investing your profit for a very long time before you break even.
“So you need to know that you are passionate and always put your customers first. With this in mind, you will not always breakthrough you will equally soar beyond expectations. This has worked for me,” she revealed.