15 Oct MY JOURNEY BY VERONICA-EBIE ODEKA
International stylist and fashion entrepreneur Veronica Ebie-Odeka sits with WOTC to discuss her journey in fashion and her various roles from modelling to consulting, where she sees herself in the next few years and what fashion means to her.
On a cloudy typical day in London, my morning was made much brighter as I began to setup the Zoom call to connect with Veronica live and direct in Nigeria, a place I would have much rather have been that day. I am shortly greeted with a bright smile, from a classic red lip-wearing Veronica, who even in the office looked effortlessly stylish in a plain black T-shirt and simple accessories. Making sure nothing interrupts our interview, Veronica reassures me that she has made every effort to avoid any connection issues, which was just a small glimpse at her thoroughness which you will see later, is a quality which is no doubt linked to her success.
So, we start at the beginning, how does one wear so many hats? As a Fashion Luxury Advisor, Luxury Brand Manager, and an entrepreneur with a career which spans over 10 years, how did it all begin? “My first introduction into fashion, at first I didn’t know what it was, I was just giving my friends advice on what to wear, my dad especially, ‘oh you can wear that tie with that shirt.’ That was like my first very innocent introduction and then after that I went on to work retail, I just finished high school, it was like my first year in college and I started working retail in a department store in the states, in Houston. So that was my first introduction with fashion and really understanding women, what they want. Women are really specific.” She touches on what fashion was like when she first started out, in those times Nigerian women were more likely to shop abroad than in their home country. I, myself being from Africa, could recall the times I would go back to Ghana noticing certain European brands being worn by people on the streets, but the more traditional clothing only being saved for special events.
As someone who had lived in the states in her earlier years in fashion, having a unique perspective when coming back to Nigeria was inevitable. After modelling full-time when she moved to LA at 19-21, she was already exposed to multiple areas in fashion which would later become part of her career journey, “but it’s interesting now it’s all come full circle, because I’m helping people in this whole arena, back then I didn’t know that that was what it was, back then I was doing my job and just trying to earn a living”.
One of the things I could tell almost immediately was how much she cared about her clients, from working in retail to even now working for herself in her many outlets, Veronica speaks on how rewarding her career has been, “every stage I have gone through there has been a reward at the end of the tunnel for me.” From the relationships she has had at various levels in the industry, whether it was consulting with designers, styling at a cover shoot, or helping with music videos, “you are dealing with multiple personalities on either spectrum.” My own view of fashion is very much the same, that it is all interconnected or as Veronica put it “it is still encompassed in one.”
Fashion in Nigeria has really taken off, from even the most traditional clothes to more contemporary designers being more popular. As someone who has seen the transition Veronica is the perfect person to shed some light on how fashion has evolved in Nigeria. “They were not really attempting to be stylists. Like a stylist, what do you do? So, in terms of even a career, I had to do everything myself, there was no blueprint, there was no guide, there was really no structure then.” Creating her own way, Veronica is someone who gave an insight into how the fashion industry can be lucrative enough in Nigeria to earn a living from. Even amongst her own clientele she has seen the shift “12 years ago, or even roughly 10 years ago, if a client of mine was travelling for summer she would give me a budget and I would use the majority of her budget to shop from foreign brands a lot of times because of the quality, the finishing of the clothing. And now I’ve realised it has switched, when clients are travelling now, we are shopping 90% of Nigerian brands. Wearing it, taking it out of the country and even more so and being really proud to say what they’re wearing, so it’s almost become kind of like a badge of honour. Almost like a cool trendy thing without realising you are being trendy to wear and buy Nigeria.”
As styling is still very much a huge part of her work, I ask about her biggest influences, “I studied June Ambrose and I studied Rachel Zoe, even though they are both US based, I felt that both of them, are completely on different spectrums.” She goes on to describe their unique styles and how they were both able to build their own global brands off the strength of their styling careers and by staying true to themselves. It is no surprise, considering how she has grown her own brand. “We have amazing Nigerian designers who represent our culture, represent our art, it tells our story and our heritage. I just have to find a way to convince the client that this is what we do, so for me I was taking a cue from them and I was saying that if they can build global brands based on what was synonymous from what was within their culture, and what they were around, I could eventually do the same thing here and of course it was an uphill battle, but I think it’s kind of paid off.”
Seeing the way Nigerian culture has been embraced so much over the last few years, has been amazing to see, I even ask if Veronica has seen a viral TikTok trend of people from diverse cultures trying Nigerian food and she had. “So, I think that we say it is, ‘Africa is hot right now’ it is spilling over. And I like it, and I like the fact that we are getting the recognition now and I’m enjoying the fact that hard work is paying off and it’s all across the board.” She names some well-known Nigerian artists who have gone on to get worldwide recognition in their industry, from art to music, from Genevieve Nnaji to Davido.
However, as much as Nigerian culture is being embraced more, we both acknowledge it is still fight against the traditionalist mindset and gender bias which is very much still prominent. How is it running a business as a woman in Nigeria? I ask and brace myself for an honest response as Veronica repeats the question and chuckles, “Oh my God, so first of all, what is the experience of women globally with having a business? [laughs] it is an experience.” No doubt as someone who had been in the industry from its initial stages, Veronica puts it plainly that doing business in Nigeria is difficult. But it is also worthwhile. “One of the things I can definitely say from doing business here is, that I make no apologies about it. If I’m tough, I’m tough. If my voice carries, it carries, my tone is my tone, my word is my word. I don’t apologise for being the loudest voice in the room. I do not apologise for my knowledge, my wealth of wisdom, my experience, my education. I will not apologise for that; I will not apologise for my self-confidence. And so, one of the things I will always be is respectful, but I will always let my voice be heard and my thoughts to carry forth.” What a response from a woman who understands her power! Overall, she still concludes that the journey has been rewarding despite all the challenges.
Being in the industry of fashion, as soon as people hear you work in it, a first opinion is usually formed. “The biggest misconception I get all the time is that ‘oh you don’t really have to do much, you just call the designers and get the clothes and just put them on the celebrity.’ They don’t really think that there’s a lot of preplanning that goes into what it is that we do, or that I have to work as hard I do. I start my days at 4’clock in the morning and some days I’m working till 9’clock at night. Within fashion, specifically for what I do for my company Vane Fashion, because we have 3 divisions of the company. There are a lot of logistics!” I could hear her passion as she spoke about her company, there are many moving parts that make it work, such as dealing with multiple designers for one client, as well as still communicating between different people on the logistics, “So, you’re constantly making phone calls, has it been shipped? Has it arrived on time? Who is receiving this? So, you have to be extremely organised and very disciplined. A lot of times I’m solving problems and at the same time a lot of logistics are involved.”
As a stylist and brand consultant who is as accomplished as Veronica, building relationships with clients who trust you not only to dress them but advise them, I was eager to know what her go-to piece of advice was. “So, I always tell women in general to always own who you are, it is one of the things I always say. I don’t think you should have to be anyone other than yourself. But the thing is, if you don’t know who you are, how can you own what you don’t know?” She goes on to describe how she gets her clients to be introspective with their decisions, whether it is a brand owner or a client seeking a wardrobe revamp. “Everything just takes time, so it’s great to have a really broad vision but we need to take really intelligent steps to get there.”
Recently Veronica ventured into the beauty world with Vane Polish, her very own range of over 50 colours of high-quality polish. Is beauty an industry she plans to branch out into? Not right now. “I mean I would never count myself out and say that I wouldn’t go further into beauty” As she currently has her hands full with fashion, she would rather see what how polishes do over the next few years before making any plans for more products.
To conclude such a great interview, I wanted to know, what does fashion mean to someone who has had such an exciting career? “To me fashion is this beautiful meal, it’s like a 7-course dinner, you never know what you are going to get, but you know that at the end of it you are going to be happy, you are going to be full, and you know that the next presentation is always going to be amazing, that’s what it is to me. Her advice to anyone looking for a career in fashion, “There’s so many spectrums to it, so if you just look at it as a whole and just take little bite sizes and go through, you will be able to figure out what it is, or where you want to start from and where your kind of want to end up.”
Courtesy: WOTC & Vane Style