#LLAInterview: ”Being a creative director is not for the weak and feeble” Leading Ladies Africa Meets Jane Michael-Ekanem.

When you count the top ten stylists in Nigeria, Jane Michael-Ekanem will definitely be mentioned. What sets her apart from the lot isn’t just the authenticity she exudes, the courage she wears or her ability to turn bland to glam, what sets Jane apart is her creative edge. She has been featured on CNN African Voices, was selected to curate a fashion show for the president of France- Emmanuel Macron, is the official stylist for MTN Project Fame and recently made Ynaija Powerlist 2018 for Fashion and Style.

As well as styling top Nigerian celebrities including Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Adesuwa Onyenokwe among others ; Jane also runs a foundation- Jane Michael-Ekanem Foundation which caters to the financial needs of young girls having difficulties in funding their tertiary education. Today, Jane chats with us about how it all began, the highlights of her career and what she hopes to leave as a legacy for the next generation.

So, tell us who is Jane Michael-Ekanem?

Jane Michael-Ekanem is a strategist, celebrity fashion stylist, designer and fashion entrepreneur with a capacity for unravelling fashion – related problems. With over 10 years of fashion enterprising, her expertise spans styling and designing for music videos, magazine covers,campaigns, runways and weddings. She was also the Fashion Curator for the ‘A Celebration Of African Culture’ which hosted President Emmanuel Macron at The African Shrine and also co-created the art exhibition ‘Ulo’ for Sao x Muse (one of the most successful 2018 art exhibitions in Lagos).

Jane Michael-Ekanem has a slew of celebrity clientele, collaborations and accolades attesting to her achievements in the fashion industry. As the Creative Director of the Jane Michael Collection Brand, she has in a span of 2 years, successfully made the brand collaborate with prominent brands like Woodin, Vlisco and also partook in the 2018 GTBANK Fashion Presentation.

Jane Michael-Ekanem who is also a Ted-X alumni is part of a movement of fashionpreneurs with a goal to revolutionise homegrown quality of designs, creativity and ultimately, the business of fashion.

Jane Michael-Ekanem also owns a foundation ‘Jane Michael-Ekanem Foundation’ that caters to the financial needs of young girls having difficulties in funding their tertiary education. This project has been recognised by the Lagos State Government in line with the Community Development Service Act.

It would seem like entertainment has always been a flair for you hence, your decision to carve a niche in the entertainment industry is not far-fetched, do you agree?

I will not totally agree. The services I render caters to everyone but for some reason, I have had the opportunity to work in the entertainment industry. This is also because the at the time I started styling (10 years ago), we barely had people doing what I do.

So tell us, what was growing up like?

Growing up for me was a roller coaster. I was a wishful child because things went terribly bad for my folks. Those hard times moulded me to who I am today.

Let’s talk about your professional and educational background, how did they equip you for what you do right now? More-so, did you know Fashion was what you wanted to do from the get-go or did you evolve into it?

My professional background equipped me more than my educational background. I hated school and at a point, I had always thought school had nothing to offer me (I was wrong here. I just did not like being caged and doing the same old routine. That is why I cannot do a 9 – 5 job).
At the age of 17, I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I also knew I was going to be be rich (chuckles). Trust me, it’s okay not to know what you are going to be in the future but years of rendering a service has equipped me for the life I want. Yes, I had always loved fashion, although, I did not know I was going to be a fashionpreneur. Honestly, I am only monetising my passion which makes it a win-win situation for me.

Let’s talk about Jane Michael-Ekanem the brand- why did you decide to run it as an eponymous brand?

Let me first thank you for taking me to the dictionary. I had to go search for the meaning of the word ‘eponymous’
I don’t know if I should call it a thing of pride or wanting to be heard / known for what I do. Also, my birth to this world to me is a rare kind (you actually can read about it. It’s on all online bookstores). Jane is my name, Michael is my dad’s and he has always always been my role model. He is late now and the only way I could think of carrying on his legacy is to carry on with his name. (I always hope he is looking down at me and smiling at how proud I make him and typing this right now brings tears to my eyes). I love and miss you daddy.

Could kindly walk us through what you do at JME? This, especially for a lot of people who really do not understand the core/essence of JME represents?

I am the creative director for the brand and I also make 70% of the decisions taken in JME. For those who don’t know, JME means JaneMichael Ekanem.
As a creative director, I design and try to ensure that all the plans are executed right. I over see the staff and try to scold or correct wisely. Trust me, it’s a lot of work (putting my hand on my forehead right now). Sometimes, I make bad decisions too. I try to share my ideas with my production manager and co-strategist to carry them along and solidify my decision making. Being a creative director is not for the weak and feeble. (Sigh)

A lot of African parents are sceptical about the arts. For them it is a “venture” that “unserious” people dabble into. How did you get your parents to see the ‘green’ in what you do?

Oh yes a lot of African parents are skeptical about their kids not answering to anyone and collecting salaries / wages generally. My mother is not an exception in this category (laughs). I had to strike a deal with my mum that I would be responsible for myself if my decision goes wrong. But today, who is mummy’s favorite girl? Me! Me!! Me!!! Trust me, this also puts me on my toes a lot of times. I am reminded not to fail. Sometimes it puts me on an unnecessary pressure too but I’m learning to slow down too.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

(Thinking hard)… Everything has been a highlight. From the smallest jobs to the biggest and most reckoned with, they all add up to who I am today. The smallest jobs has served as a referral to the biggest jobs. Telling you that job ‘A’ or ‘B’ is my highlight will not be fair to the other jobs. They are all my babies.
I can tell you about my most memorable job though. This is because this job came at my downest moment (if there is any word like ‘downest’). This job came through when all hope was lost. The job I am talking about right here is the one I curated a fashion show for President Emmanuel Macron. After my presentation, he stood up, looked me in the eye and said thank you with his hands applauding. Not only was he happy and satisfied with my job, I got a mail and a gift from my contractors (Trace TV) telling me thank you for a job well done.

And the downsides- what are some of the challenges you have faced so far and how have you been able to navigate them?

Trust me, I won’t come here saying ‘it was God o’. Oh yes! He did come through for me but when a plan doesn’t go right, apart from the fact that they are life lessons, I go back to my drawing board and re-strategise. I try to tackle the problems from the root and come back reinforced.

For young ladies who want to make an impact in the creative space, what professional advice do you have for them?

Find the problem, be the solution! Every creative space has a problem. You sure will carve a niche when you are the solution. Do your research. Don’t try to go into a crowded space simply because it’s booming at the time. It will take a longer process for you. You may be lucky but hey, life ain’t ‘baba ijebu’ even though you must gamble / take a chance.

Let’s talk about mentoring, do you believe in mentoring? Can you share with us some women who have shaped the woman you are today through mentoring?

Yes I believe in mentoring. I believe in mentoring everyone. Boy, girl, women, man and children. I have mentored and still mentoring people. I have interns and I also have a recognised School of Styling. I have a foundation which also caters to younger girls who find it difficult to pay their school fees. And every now and then, I seek mentor-ship myself to refill.

If you could go back in time and speak to your 25-year-old self, what would you tell her?

If I could go back to my 25 year old self, I would congratulate her and tell her that she has done so well. I will also advise that she stays 25 forever. I mean, who doesn’t want to be young forever. (Now singing ‘forever young, I wanna be forever young’ ?…).

What legacy would you like to leave the world with?

Once upon a time, a client of mine told her daughter ‘you see this lady, her name is Jane Michael and I want you to be like her when you grow up’. I want to live a life that when you read about Jane Michael, you just want to live her life. I am constantly working on myself to be the person I really want to be. A life full of authenticity and success.

What does it for you when it comes to having fun?

Oh mehn, just give me a sport bike or a fast car and my day is made. I love speed and adventure. Sometimes hanging out with good friends too does it for me.

2 getaway locations you love to vacation all day, everyday?

For now it’s Cape Town. Such a beautiful place. My next would be New York or Paris simply because I have never been there and I heard it’s the city of Fashion.

The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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