“My passion is to create more entrepreneurs, we are ready to assist government in ensuring more youths are equipped with skills in the fashion value chain.”
Princess Kelechi Oghene is the visioner of GMYT Group, which runs a major fashion academy, foundation and holds the annual Africa Humanitarian Awards. The enterprise is like an acorn which started as a boutique for established fashion labels in upscale Victoria Garden City, Lagos, is now growing into an oak that is more like a social service enterprise committed to helping the government deal with the ticking time bomb of youth employment by giving women opportunity to train and acquire skills that would make them relevant to the fashion industry value chain, and in the process become contributors to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country while also creating additional employment opportunities.
In this interview, the mother of two and Delta soap model talks about what prompted her to engage in what she is doing now, her upcoming event, style and lots more.
Could you tell us about your academy?
As we speak, we are working towards becoming the leading fashion academy in Africa. We are committed to the economic and social empowerment of women through fashion. We admit women into the academy and provide them professional training to become outstanding, ardent fashion entrepreneurs. We also admit women from different parts of the world. Some of our students are from South Africa, Ghana, Brazil, Cameroon and other countries. Annually, we graduate over 100 students. They are certified and are given more publicity and recognition. As part of total support to our students, the GMYT Fashion Academy Graduation and Fashion Show was created to give the more visibility and showcase their creativity.
So far, we have graduated over 500 women and have helped them start their own fashion business. All our alumni are doing very well in business and some already own fashion academies, thus expanding our mission to create the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to establish the foundation?
When I look around, I see that the society is filled with potential talents but they have limited a society of talents and potentials but with little or no opportunity. There’s a whole lot of work to be done; people need to be empowered with one basic skill or the other. Now, because my strength is fashion-based, I decided to train people for free and that was how the foundation initiative started. As at 2017, the rate of unemployed persons in Nigeria had increased by 18.87 per cent which was a clear indication that there are millions of youths that need to be gainfully and skillfully employed. My aim is to ensure that more youths, women and girls are equipped with skills especially in fashion value chain. The fashion industry in Nigeria and Africa is expanding rapidly as the population grows and this creates the need for more people who have skills in making clothes.
To what extent has the foundation achieved the goals it set at inception, to help the less privileged?
The foundation is committed to economic empowerment of women through fashion. It admits women into the academy and trains them on scholarship. So far, the foundation has trained over 200 women for free. Many of our foundation students are not just graduates of the academy but are doing well in their respective fields of fashion. Some even own their fashion brands now. Among the notable graduates of the foundation are The Iremide, Ruth Signature, Amaka Stitches, etc. This year alone, the academy has trained over 86 women and I am currently embarking on a campaign to train 500 women starting from 2019. It is going to be quite challenging. Hence, the good thing is that challenges drive me to do more.
What lessons has life taught you?
Life has taught me that you have to be hardworking. It’s the only way. I have seen people complaining about recession and unemployment. I know how many staff that I have employed and see how lazy they are, they don’t want to work. Sometimes they resign because they don’t want to work too much. If you work hard and pray God will definitely favour you. If you say you have a rich husband and you don’t want to work, or you have a rich uncle you don’t want to work, you limit your dream and your destiny. Life has taught me to be nice even though I get negative reactions from people I am helping but it hasn’t stopped me from helping people. Yes, I have these businesses but the main goal for me is to establish people. By the grace of God I will live long but when I leave I want people to say that this lady touched several lives through empowerment. Life has taught me not to depend on anybody but I know that you can get anything you want if you put in hard work, if you follow your dream, don’t let anybody stop you. If you do that with the favour of God, I know God will bless the work of your hands.
Is your husband also in the field of fashion and beauty, because you seem to spend your entire day in your business?
I have a loving husband and he gives me tremendous support. The truth of the matter is that no man wants to be married to a wife that is liability to him. Every man wants the wife to be engaged in one enterprise or the other. My husband is proud of me. I have been given several awards for the services I render to women and he attends these ceremonies with me. He is a politician and based in Delta State but he personally drove me to receive my awards. He was proud. I don’t think he is the type who wants a lazy wife or one that is just beautiful. It has to be a combination of beauty and brain. He is one of those who motivate me. He is not in any way intimidated by my success, rather he is excited by it and this has gone a long way to cement and strengthen our marital bond. My husband is humble. I marked the seventh year of our marriage this year. He is not the social type and neither does he like to boast and brag like some men. He encourages me and knows that I am working and he can see the result. I have never given him any reason to doubt me.
How was life growing up?
Growing up was fun. I learnt sewing from my mum, when I was growing up. That was where this passion began because she insisted that I should learn the rudiments of sewing. She had a supermarket, but she kept on taking different courses, like ICAN (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria). She was a workaholic until she passed on in 2012. I’m so proud of her. I went to computer school, so when I started my business I did all my graphic designs. So later in life, I started the boutique, because it seemed easiest way to get into the fashion industry value chain. By God’s grace, I have succeeded. It’s been an awesome journey. I have an amazing team, from the tailoring section to the makeup section, the school. As at today, I’m handling over 57 women in this short time and there’s no problem.
Do you plan to hold any event before the year ends?
Actually we plan to hold an event this November. We noticed that every fashion designer needs the exposure that comes from participating in fashion shows and the related exhibitions. So we decided to organize our own fashion shows with a great deal of benefit attached to it. First, our students get to meet with potential guests at our events which paves the way for wholesome networking and helps build relationships.
Also, our students have the opportunity to officially launch their brands to the right audience at the event. The event is also aimed at celebrating our students especially those that have successfully completed their training. Those that stood out are given awards and celebrated. Our annual event will hold at Oriental Hotel this November. The government is trying to empower people with skills. But there is a lot still be done. My passion is to create more entrepreneurs, we are ready to assist the government in ensuring that more youths are equipped with skills in the fashion value chain. This way we are contributing to achievement of the 8th goal of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. We are eager to partner with potential sponsors, to ensure that we achieve the 8th SDG in a short time too. For years, through the academy, I have single-handedly sponsored the foundation without external support. If there was eternal support, we would do a whole lot more.
Could you give us a picture of your typical day?
I spend my day working. We work from Monday to Saturday. I give my staff work-free days.
What extracurricular activities do you engage in?
For now, I am not engaged in extracurricular activities, but I am working on developing interest in something I could engage in, away from my core activities. In the last few days we have been working at full speed and full time to package our upcoming event.