By Bianca Iboma
Romeo Oghene is the brain behind GMYT Fashion Academy, in Lagos. She is a designer in both men and and women’s outfits. Aside from her fashion business, Oghene is a creative top model and brand ambassador of Orange drugs. She struts her stuff on the runway. As her pretty face adorns the billboards and magazines of various brand.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Romeo Oghene X-rayed the glamour associated with the fashion industry, women empowerment as a critical tool for national development.
How did you venture into the fashion industry?
I am the last child of my family and I grew up in the village. My mother made me develop a skill for the craft industry which I liked. I remember growing up as a child, I would go to one Mrs Ojegba, a seamstress in my village. She was strict woman who had several apprentices learning the trade in her shop.
I was always acting like a child who busied herself munching away biscuits. I also did every other thing kids do while I was at the shop.
However, in all these, Mrs Ojegba had a way to engage me and made me learn what I needed to learn despite my childish nature. I could never have thought that one day, I would make a living from it. My mother ensured that I went to Mrs Ojegba’s place while the matronly seamstress was determined to see that my childish tendencies didn’t rob me off the benefits of being there.
I learnt how to make clothes, even as I was childish. It sounds funny but that was how I started
My interest grew with time. Today, I do a lot of things. I was able to learn so many things even though, at that time,the designs were not as fashionable as we have now but that was the trend then
The local crafts industry in Nigeria do not have an organised market. What would you say is the cause and how can it be tackled?
The Handcraft industry cannot be neglected because it has provided employment to a large number of artisans from generation to generation despite it challenges. The industry is diverse with people making everything from jewelries and furniture, to clothing and accessories. Although, it has its potentialities, it is suffering from a sharp decline in exportation.
In as much as we get to enjoy these creative products, the industry which also has been in existence has a lot of challenges. Most of the industry practitioners face common problems.
Let me quickly point out, though, that these problems are not peculiar to Nigerian designers experience.Its obtainable everywhere in the world. Generally, the craft industry does not have an organised market. Inadequacy of raw materials and exploitation by middlemen among other issues also pose huge challenge to the industry.
Most young people often set up fashion/craft business based on the perceived glamour and glitz associated with the industry. What do you make of this?
Many young designers rush into setting up craft businesses without really knowing what it entails to own a craft business. Basically, because of the attraction associated with the industry. A lot of young entrepreneurs believe that it is just fun to operate in the industry. It is not so. There is a tedious part of the business.
Basically, you must have the knowledge. If one does not have the knowledge about the industry, it would be difficult to manage it.
When I started my fashion business, I knew it requires tenacity, endurance and dedication to grow it. So I had to put in a lot of energy that I could gather to make it work.The industry is highly competitive and complex too.
Any young entrepreneur who wants to achieve greatness must have a high sense of responsibility because you will be faced with numerous challenges on daily basis and your ability to manage those challenges makes you who you finally become in the industry.
I actually started this business moving from door to door to get clients. I was very well known under the popular bridge at Ikeja.
It is rather unfortunate that most of the time, when people do businesses they would become extravagant with their choices. They quickly lose sense of business security as well as the asset. And sometimes too, they spend their capital.
In growing a business, one must be able to priotise. Where you put your money matters and how you spend it is key. The difficult period when you are starting up is only a passing phase. Naturally, it is really challenging but with commitment and determination, you will pass over it. That is the nature of every business. It is not peculiar to fashion industry. Business is not rosy anywhere.
Another key point here is that people should understand that there is no need for unhealthy competition. You learn to move at pace. So many people want to imitate and copy others even in their lifestyles. It pays to be oneself and remain focused. If you are good as a designer, people will patronise you. There is absolutely no need for competition. Grow your brand and the sky is wide enough that no two birds can collide.
How would you assess the Nigerian fashion industry ?
Well, the industry is very competitive. Nigerians are stylish people. Although, the scenes and activities in the industry have slowed down its growth. The competitive position of the sector and other variables determine the major drivers of the industry. Most Nigerian designers are very good and have creative minds which helps their growth.
There has also been concerted efforts from major stakeholders like modelling agencies, tailors, style magazines which makes designers to continue to improve on their trade to a large extent because Nigerians invest so much in fashion and accessories. The good news is that African fabrics are currently used in different ways. Most African fabrics are used by designers including the Western world. Using African fabrics for Western styles has aided the industry and brought out the creativity of Nigerian designers.
The journey has never been easy for the industry. It is the desire of every designer to break into the larger market and make clothes for the international audience but most often than not, the resources are not available to maintain demand.
What are we not doing right to encourage women entrepreneurs in this country?
I think that women should strive harder to ensure that they are self reliant. Even if they have men who cater for their needs, they should have something doing so as to support their homes. Excelling in any business requires extra effort. You can network, mingle with those who are engaged in your own line of business to put you through.
Mentoring helps to grow your business because people share ideas and you can avoid the same mistake they made when they started or may have made at some point in their career.
Not only that, they should look into the area of financing their businesses. I don’t encourage anyone to get loan. Don’t borrow from a bank if you need capital. You can ask from your family member than borrowing from the bank.
The stress from bank loan can cause High blood pressure. I would advise they make use of their own cash no matter how little it is. But if they need to borrow, it should be from within the family. Taking loans from the bank can build so much pressure which may ultimately cause you to lose concentration on the business.
The truth is that some of the women at the grassroots level have moved from the informal sector to formal sector and to SMEs. Therefore, it is time for government to help people with credit facilities. However, whether it is in the Central Bank or commercial banks, I won’t advise anyone to get a loan, the pressure attached to securing loans is my concern. Except in a situation where the government puts up policies that would make loan facilities less cumbersome and stress-free, it is only would people be happy to get loans for their businesses.
Why can’t women access it? Is it a gender thing?
I don’t think so. The challenge is implementation. When a policy is not interpreted with clarity of purpose, it would be difficult for people to assess the loans. Aside from this, there are other challenges. The entire processes and requirements for securing loans is difficult. Documentation is also a challenge as it is often accompanied by endless dribbling from all quarters.
One shouldn’t get tired with the processes. That is why everyone should be involved and make use of what they have until policies begin to favour entrepreneurs, you must continue with the same zeal with which you want to achieve success in your business.
Moreso, government must create enabling environment and policies to access loans.
I was shocked when I heard about a woman who borrowed the sum of N400,000 and almost killed herself because of wrong investment. People should learn to invest wisely. I was marvel that people could take such a risk. Some people usually say that they cannot invest their cash in treasury bills where their cash would be tied up.
For me, I would rather have my money tied up in the bank rather than gamble with it. I suggest that government policies on bank loans should be liberal.
With the dwindling economy, how can business women contribute to the total overhauling of the system?
Women can help in various ways, especially as entrepreneurs. All over the world, SMEs are the bedrock of the economy. And the only way it can grow is by ensuring that it is continuous. Entrepreneurs must continue to work hard towards the overall growth of the economy while government seeks ways to provide enabling environment for these SMEs to grow. Everything just depends on policies.
Some policies have been stagnant for years and need to be changed.
Government must ensure that something credible is done for SMEs to grow. They should look into women entrepreneurs in different sectors such as agriculture, fashion, and other business and create a synergy for growth
Nigeria should diversify from buying and selling. We should look inwards into agriculture. A nation that could feed its citizen is a great nation. We can’t talk about agriculture without talking about women in the rural areas. These women have a major challenge with regards to land acquisition. The customary law does not favour them in that area and not everyone of them can afford to pay for parcels of land.
How can women contribute to National development considering the challenge of cultural limitation?
The place of women in national development cannot be over emphasised. There can be no meaningful advancement where women are excluded. In Africa, the conditions for women are more critical given the lingering gender inequalities, domestic violence, lack of social protection, among other issues, that exacerbate injustice and deprivation. These and many more limit their ability to reach their full potentials.
Nigeria is one of the countries where women have faced challenges and discrimination for reasons of their sex and wrongful perception that women belong to a lesser class than their male counterparts. It is a perception strengthened by traditional and cultural practices. Be that as it may, Nigeria has continued to develop and implement national strategies and plans for the advancement of women in leadership and managerial roles in form of amending legislation, policies and institutional framework as it affects the full promotion and protection of the rights of women.
The Empowerment of women is critical to the advancement of society. When a woman can access her earning capacity, she can single- handedly change the educational projectile of her children. Women want a better life for themselves, their children, their families and their community. This can only be achieved through education and access to the economic field.