GNB Exclusive Interview with Princess Kelechi Oghene ,C.E.O GMYT FASHION ACADEMY


It is an established fact that the Nigerian fashion industry has been pacing ahead, twice as fast, in past years. Much of this progress can be credited to the innovative and disruptive spirits of certain fashion entrepreneurs. And while names like Mai Atafo, Deola Sagoe, and Frank Oshodi need no introduction, there is a plethora of other individuals who have been working assiduously to change the Nigerian Fashion Landscape. GNB Magazine caught up with one of the key players in PRINCESS KELECHI OGHENE, The MD/CEO of GMYT FASHION ACADEMY, GMYT FOUNDATION as well as GAH AWARDS.

When the GNB Magazine crew caught up with Princess Kelechi Oghene at her Lekki office, we were greeted by her adorable, alluring and altogether captivating appearance. The lovely mahogany desk, sublime interior designs and her acoustically optimized office space which tickled the fancy of our senses of aesthetics in no small measures. In the midst of all this, we sought to know what Princess Kelechi loves about being a fashion designer.

She began: “Creating the next generation of fashion entrepreneurs is what makes me feel alive and I think, so far so good, we have over a thousand alumni community. Having seen them go from there inept states to acquiring the skill and then converting it into profit which is now becoming sustainable. It is beyond what I like about being a fashionpreneur, it’s like having too many babies, producing more babies. It keeps me alive, keeps me sane, makes me feel like I am contributing to the advancing the course of humanity as well as fulfilling my destiny,” she concluded.

Her answers aroused a major sense of curiosity in one of the members of ours and she couldn’t help but ask what, in Princess Kelechi’s background, influenced her career choice. Brimming with a sense of glowing excitement, she responded in this way:

“Oh yes! It did, my mum was a seamstress and a serial entrepreneur. You can say I am just a bigger version of my mum asides sharing a striking resemblance with her. I took my mother’s skill, developed it and now leveraging that platform to empower more women and girls.

“We didn’t have time to play while growing up, it was always from school to learning a skill. All that has contributed into molding me into who I am today. Albeit, my mom is late now, but I am sure she is smiling down from wherever she is and saying yes, you are making me proud”, she said.

Next we pushed to know who her style icons are, and after a brief pause, she replied with a charming smile:

“Me, myself and I! Trust me, the alumni we’ve groomed, over the years, inspire me a whole lot. They encourage me to do more and because they are measuring up to the same standard, they keep me on my toes. So they are actually my style icons”, she asserted.

At this juncture, the GNB Magazine crew attempted a plot twist with the “Before owning a fashion institute, did you try other aspects of fashion?”

Princess Kelechi submitted: “I ran a couture fashion brand for 5 years, but my fashion academy is on another level and I am sticking to it”, she aptly put.

Trying to evaluate the much larger impact of her foundation, we asked how she would rate GMYT foundation’s contributions to the Nigerian economy so far. And with a palatable rush of enthusiasm on her face, she had this to say:

“Oh my God! We’ve trained over 500 women and youths for free. We’ve equally empowered them with over 500 to 600 machines, to help them bootstrap their businesses. Under GMYT SME, an affiliate of GMYT foundation, we’ve also given out hundreds, millions of thousand. We’ve trained many, through our skill acquisition program. These individuals have gone ahead to start their own businesses.

“This year we trained over 80 students for free and, for 2022, we just opened a portal to train 250 more Nigerians for free. Over the years, we’ve trained over 500 to 600. Our goal is to train 10,000 in the next 5 years. For everybody that registers into GMYT fashion academy we put up a slot for those that cannot afford the tuition fee to train for free and we have been doing this for some time”.

It is a no-brainer, running a foundation that has achieved so much in so little requires a solid capital and structural base, as such, we sought to know how she intends to sustain the foundation, going forward. Her reply was direct:

“We’ve created a sustainable platform, that can execute this for 100 years to come if I’m not alive, sustainability of every venture or ideology is all about putting the right structure in place that will stand the test of time. That we have done over the years and still building”.

On how in her opinion investments in the Nigerian fashion industry looks like, she answered:

“It is indeed lucrative and the best decision anybody can make now. Imagine how sustainable this was during the pandemic, people were still wearing clothes. Just imagine if the government says, no more importation of fabrics, this will be a major windfall for every designer. In fact, it’s boosting our economy immensely. We’ve graduated over a thousand students, who have started their businesses through our foundation, we are not only providing for our staff, we provide for their families by extension. What’s more? There are some of our ex-students who have floated their own fashion school, where they groom more people and hiring new staff- thus creating jobs. So, you see it’s a generational business, one which is demonstrably sustainable. In fact, I think government should really look into fashion industry it’s very good for our economy”. She concluded on that note of “call to action”.

Since Princess Kelechi already took the conversation to another pedestal, we inquired on key areas of investment opportunities in fashion.

“There are a lot of them, the fashion industry is very broad. You need to be able to identify your strength and carve a niche for yourself. If your target audience is plus size, you have the market. The market space also covers clothing for slim people, ready to wear dresses, bespoke, casual and styling. You may even limit your scope to just sales of fabrics, bridal appliques. If it is fashionable, then, be sure there is a market for it. The fashion industry is filled with lots of opportunities but you cannot do all.

I see a lot of fashion entrepreneurs that say “I do ready to wear, bridals and so on”, such are just confusing their customers because that is no way to structure your brand. When you think of GMYT fashion academy, you think of fashion school. There are some people that just do amendments. I know of two brands, they don’t make clothes for people but just amendment and they are always fully booked. So you just need to fill in the space. The fashion industry is filled with lots of opportunities. You can also be an instructor and just teach. That’s also very lucrative and in each of this, there are facilitators who major in pattern drafting, some illustrations and so on. However, you need to do your maths, learn the business side”. She ended.

When it comes to describing herself in business, Princess Kelechi responded without delay: “Aggressive!”

On her expectations from Government for the fashion industry Princess Kelechi has this to say:

“If we can get the government to support people like us, we can actually train more because we possess the capacity. We should have courses dedicated to fashion in our universities. We’ve designed our curriculum, tested, trusted and executed over the years.

“I mean, you can see our alumni everywhere. Thus, imagine what will happen if there was such an investment. The Government can start with fabrics. For instance, they can focus on adire as an area of large-scale investment in the interim. I watched a foreign fashion show recently and you needed to see how they refined our adire with foreign ladies modelling it. This goes to show that adire currently enjoys widespread global appeal. It can always get better and I encourage everybody to do their best and contribute their quota towards making our society a better place”.