By Josfyn Uba
United States-based Dr. Debby Silas organizes two international awards that recognise excellence and honour celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic. In this Interview with Daily Sun, Silas narrated how she started off as a fashion designer, her influence on the evolution of the African fashion industry as well as her next event scheduled for later in the year.
How did your fashion design story kick off?
I started fashion designing at the age of 12 in my first year in secondary school. I have been in love with designing since when I was eight years. As a little girl, I was sewing for myself at home as a hobby. I grew up doing fashion. My parents watched me using pieces. My mum would cut and create different kinds of styles. I wore them even though I used a needle to sew them. I used to design them for dummies, like teddy bears, before I started using myself to design those clothes. My parents watched me doing all of that, especially my dad.
When he saw that I had a talent in fashion designing, he enrolled me in a fashion designing school in my first year in high school. At the close of school, I would go to my fashion school about three miles away from my school.
How did you combine regular school and fashion training?
My fashion school programme was for two years. I graduated from the fashion school while I was still in secondary school.
While in high school, I was already making small money at 13 years old. I designed and made clothes for fellow students, teachers, friends and other people. As I was making money, my parents no longer funded me. I finished secondary school and got my own business. I worked a little bit, not up to one year, for other people. I also went to catering school. I know how to bake and I know how to cook.
How did you set yourself up in business?
When I finished catering school, I went to Lagos and worked a little bit. After one year, I opened my store. Before I turned 18, I was already the boss of my own business. I got admission to the University of Lagos and saw myself through the university with my earnings from fashion designing. While in the university, I had my business with six workers. Some of them were older than me, older mothers with grown-ups.
Life was not difficult for me because I had support from my business. I was doing good with all of that. Before I graduated from the university, I already knew I was coming out to focus on my business and not going to work for anyone. My next level was to become a publisher before I finished university but I didn’t know how to go about it. I was asking some of my lecturers that I wanted to be a publisher and my first goal was to be a publisher for fashion magazines. I was just making enquiries about how to delve into my dream once I got out of the university. I graduated in 2008. In 2009, on June 7, I launched my first edition of Debbie Classique.
Let’s talk about your publishing background
I started publishing in 2009 with Debbie Classique, a fashion magazine. Then, I published Dews, an entertainment news magazine. In 2010, I launched City Mag, a men’s fashion magazine. City Mag was the first of its kind.
The whole of Africa embraced the magazine and men’s magazines became a trend. After that, I was having a lot of demands for coverage of events, a lot of weddings, and different kinds of reports. One edition of my magazine was no longer adequate to cover all of that. I had to think of how to create another title under the Debbie Classique magazine that would carry different articles so we could swiftly get people’s events out. That was when I introduced Dee Legend Styles magazine. So I had Debbie Classique, Dee Legend Styles, Dews, an entertainment magazine, and CityMag, for men’s fashion and men’s entertainment news.
What motivated you to publish four types of magazines?
I started publishing complete fashion magazines at a time when fashion design was not as big as it is today. What we see today is a result of the efforts we made from 2005 onward. The desire to see African look become more fashionable was what motivated me to become a publisher in the fashion industry. That is on the one hand. On the other hand, the desire to see African fashion become recognized globally was the motivation for publishing four types of magazines. I think we were able to achieve that objective within a short time, even before 2010-2011. Today, we are very proud that African fashion is recognized all over the world and those fashion magazines played a big role.
How did you get into shows and awards?
I first started organizing fashion shows back then in Nigeria. I used to organize big fashion shows every second week of November. It became so big that it attracted sponsorship from big brands and coverage by TV stations and newspapers. I used to invite big Nollywood actors and actresses who walked the red carpet wearing beautifully-made Ankara designed by me. Many Nigerian celebrities loved them. What I was doing wasn’t about me, I was projecting African fashion to look very attractive and loved not only by Africans but the whole world. I organized fashion shows every year. Back then, it was a very famous event in Nigeria in November.
My first awards show was in 2009, under Debby Classique Magazine Entertainment Show. Moving forward, I had to recreate the name, from being Debby Classique Entertainment Magazines Awards to an abbreviation, D’CEM Awards, which still stands for Debby Classique Entertainment Magazine Awards.
We have been doing these awards since 2010. When I moved out permanently to the United States in 2016, I re-incorporated my company in America and continued organizing my events, the awards and fashion shows.
What is the rationale for a second award?
The D’CEM awards were originally for veterans who have been in the industry in different fields, music, movie, comedy and philanthropy. De Glamours Awards recognize and empower exemplary role models. We celebrate and recognize people who have achieved many things and are a great influence in society, especially couples. It is a brand award that improves couples’ relationships, reducing the thoughts of divorce. De Glamours supports the Debby Classique Foundation.
The D’CEM Awards will be held later in the year, what are the surprises that should be expected?
The 2022 D’CEM Awards is the sixth edition. More Hollywood actors, actresses, and music artistes, big Hollywood celebrities will grace the day. The famous R&B American musician, Tony Terry, is the host for this year’s awards. Famous American artistes, comedians and actors will be coming live for the ceremony. Benjamin Crump, a great activist in the United States fighting against injustice against black people is a special guest and also an awardee. Judge Steven Reed, the first black mayor of Montgomery (a historic destination known globally as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement) will also be at D’CEM Awards 2022.
The award is going to be big and the entertainment is going to be dope. For the performance, we have a lot of surprises. My events are huge and I like to upload very classy events. The red carpet promises to be very beautiful and huge. The cocktail will start from the red carpet moment. We are starting the party from there, too.
What are the big lessons of life you would like to share with young people who are growing up in this difficult time?
I want younger people to build extra immunity for themselves, especially young women. Young women these days need to learn to stand for themselves and not rely on men. Getting a man to marry them is not an achievement. They should get an achievement first before the age of 25. Marriage should be a secondary achievement.
I want all women to engage themselves productively, engage in any skill of their interest, or engage themselves productively, educationally in whatever field they want to choose, build themselves, and build a solid ground that would ensure that they will not fail. Stand for yourself as a woman; as you are doing it, don’t be arrogant. Wise people are not arrogant. Younger people should be motivated to build their foundations on solid ground. These will help them in their marriage and relationships, to keep their dignity and be respected. I want women to be responsible, and respected and keep themselves more productive and exemplary.