Damilola Oke is an image consultant and a celebrity stylist. She tells Ademola Olonilua about her work
With your qualifications, you could have easily worked in the media but you chose to be a stylist, why?
Styling has always been a part of me. I always dressed differently from everybody in my class at every stage. I felt I needed my educational background to prepare me so that I won’t be like everyone else. I have that edge over everyone else. When I speak to people, I call myself fashion stylist extraordinaire. I am not bragging because I know what I can do. I know the training I have got over the years, in Nigeria and abroad. That was why I had to study first and my parents would not have given me a chance if I had started styling immediately after my university education. They felt I needed to have a Master’s degree and also work. I did fashion for over two years when I was schooling. I decided to establish myself when I came back to Nigeria. It also comes in handy because everytime I am at a presentation and I tell people about my qualifications, they express confidence in me and believe I know what I am doing.
Didn’t your parents feel they wasted money, after spending so much on your education and you ended up being a stylist?
You don’t waste money sending someone to school. We have people who branched out of dentistry to become musicians. You don’t necessarily have to start as an apprentice, you can be trained and go into what you like to do. I think it even makes you more of a professional. When I came back, I worked at an advertising agency for two years; I enjoyed myself and had a very good job. When I was not feeling fulfilled anymore, I left. My parents agreed that that I should do what I wanted because I had worked for two years to satisfy them. They believe in me, they know I am the family fashionista and things have been working fine for me.
So when you decided to leave a good job, didn’t they think you probably were making a wrong decision?
No, not at all. I am not young, I am 28 years old. I am somebody who thinks a lot, I think deeply. I woke up one morning and felt my work was becoming monotonous. When I wanted to leave, they just let me go.
You keep saying you did not feel fulfilled at a place you were working. What do you mean by that?
At Covenant University, we were trained to be employers of labour. One could work for a while but eventually you have to do something for yourself. Nigeria is fast becoming a country where you have to learn how to make money for yourself. If I can impact on people’s life by creating jobs for them, why not? The earlier you do it the better because any delay could be funny. You will discover that the younger generation would catch up with you and leave you behind.
What were the challenges you faced starting up in a new terrain?
I was new in business in this country but not abroad. When I was abroad, I worked with Marks and Spencer and Next among others. I was a personal stylist for men and women’s wears and also a personal shopper. I was given a very good opportunity abroad and every time I worked, they gave me a chance because they saw that I had a passion for the job. When I came back to Nigeria and eventually decided to start full time, I saw that there were few people in the industry doing what I did. Nobody scared me and nobody was too big for me to challenge, so I decided to come in and take over. When I started, the major challenge was finance because I was starting a new business. I had to move around, logistics, setting up a show room, etc. The truth is that I started my business with nothing. I just left my previous job and went straight into styling and I never looked back. When I started, my mother would ask me if I was sure I did not want to work for at least a year more. Each time, I refused the offer because I had made up my mind. In about three weeks, I had the opportunity to assist the head stylist for Project Fame and I started to go around sorting for clothes and seeing how things worked with television production, commercials. Soon, I was being referred to by people and it has been amazing since then. I believe that if I waited, I would not be doing myself any favour. Sometimes people owe you money, even the big names in the industry owe.
So you have no regrets?
There are times when you get discouraged. There is a lot of unprofessionalism in Nigeria. When they see a female stylist, they feel they can do anything they want with you and you have to do something to get what you want. Most times, it is sexual. They sexually harass you just because you meet them for a job. That is the kind of unprofessionalism I am talking about.
Do you face such unprofessionalism?
I get that all the time, every single day. It is crazy but you have to prove yourself and make sure that every job you do, you leave as a professional. I take my job very seriously and I don’t mix pleasure with work. I did not just jump into styling; it was something I had planned for a long time. I know the kind of training I went through.
Is the sexual harassment from men or women?
I get from everybody; both men and women.
How do you handle such?
One has to be really diplomatic because you want to work and they are most likely the people who are going to give you these jobs anyway. They could be made friends but there have to be boundaries. Being diplomatic is very key. They cancel jobs when you don’t give in to their advances. Then referral is really key to me in this line of business because I don’t know anyone but when I do a job for someone, the person introduces me to another person that needs my services.
When you first got sexual advances from a lady, how did you react?
I just ran away. It was a meeting that later turned into a party and we were all dancing. The dance became awkward and sexual so I just ran away. I would rather not get into such. These are things you encounter everyday.
Your job entails you to constantly be on the move, do you ever have time for yourself or boyfriend?
It has been crazy. I am not going to say anything about my personal life but I would say it has not been easy dealing with friendships and relationships generally. Sometimes I don’t go to church for about three weeks and I am not the kind of girl that misses church. It takes a lot but you have to be passionate about it. I like to make my clients look sharp and happy and when I accomplish that, it motivates me to keep pushing further.
Who is more difficult to style between men and women?
Women are more difficult to style. Women never know what they want and we also have insecurities. A man is okay with almost anything. If he has a big belly, he would tell me to get him an extra-large shirt to cover his pot belly. Women are so concerned about every part of their bodies. You find women who do not have an idea of what they want but when you style them, they begin to complain. It often amazes me when such happens because they could have specified what they wanted to begin with. So definitely, women are most difficult to style.
As a stylist, why do you hate weaves?
I hate weaves a lot because it just makes everyone look the same. I do not like it when I look like anyone in the same environment. My brand name is Fierce and Modish, I have to be fierce and different. I have never been the type of girl to fix a weave on my head. I wear my natural hair and it is amazing, it makes you stand out and look different. If you are a stylist, you cannot afford to look like everyone else. You have to be different.
So how would you describe your style?
My style brought about my brand name. I am an edgy dresser and I hate following trends. I hate bandwagon fashion. I like to style myself in pieces that are timeless. I like to dress to suit my body type.
Do you still intend to venture into the media?
Yes, I intend owning a radio station where we would only play music and talk fashion all day.
If you do that, when would you find time to get married?
It is not a sin to be a career woman. I learnt a lot from my mother who used to be a journalist for many years. She was a very big reporter and the late Chief MKO Abiola used to be very proud of her. I have always been a lover of the media. My mother has three children and a family that loves her even though she was a career woman. If the man loves you, he would support your dreams and you would have to compromise to make him happy. I don’t think marriage would be in the way of my career or my career would be in the way of my marriage.
Don’t you think is better to get married now that you are young because it is often said that some men are scared of career women?
You have a point but it is pedestrian to think that a man would run away because I have dreams. I have a standard and I want a husband that has a standard as well. Of course I would compromise especially when family and kids come but by that time, the dream would be bigger and I would have more people working for me.
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