Born Joan Isioma Elumelu on the 28th of October 1958, she excelled against all challenges brought about by growing up during the Nigerian Civil War era. As a woman who had always followed her passion, be it athletics, politics or fashion, she is a great inspiration to women everywhere and what we would just love to know is, how does she do it?

A hardworking woman with an intense passion for fashion, she works ceaselessly to create not only one of the most successful modeling agency’s in the country, Isis Model, but she is also the founder of Nigerian Next Supermodel as well as her fashion brand, House of Jola.

Between her designs, NNSM, preparing for African Fashion Week, London, and her modeling agency, Joan Okorodudu is one very busy lady, but she took time out to share her experiences and future plans with FAB.

Check out the tell-all interview:

What was it like growing up?

The (Nigeria Civil) war was one of the worst things that happened to my family. I am from Aniocha North, in Delta state. I grew up with my siblings and my parents. Before the war, it was a great life. We were used to living comfortably and having a car take us to school, which was a luxury back then. I attended All Saints Primary School, Enugu which was a very posh school at the time.Then the war came and it became a nightmare. As part of the Delta Ibos, we didn’t know where we belong. We had to go back to our village. Imagine going from having everything to having nothing. Luckily I had a wealthy grandfather who had a rubber plantation and a cocoa farm, so we all moved to his house. This was also another difficult experience because other people from Biafra also moved to his house so it was quite crowded. But somehow, we were all able to adapt to the new environment.

My way out of the war disaster was being able to do sports. I used to be an athlete; I was the first Nigerian female to run 400 hurdles. I played field hockey and won a medal during the National Sports Festival in Kaduna in 1977 in the 100 meters hurdle.

It was through my experiences as an athlete that I met then politician and governor of the Midwest state. Samuel Ogbemudia. He changed a lot of our lives but unfortunately he is not being celebrated. He was also interested in sports and he supported athletes like me with scholarships and other financial assistance. This ended up improving things for my family again. I got admitted into University of Benin but at the same time, Boston University wanted me so I decided to travel abroad and I’m glad I did.

What made you go into fashion?

Basically, because I like the fashion aspect of life. I have always been into fashion since my days in school. While I was in Boston University, my sister used to make clothes for everyone and I used to assist her. That was when my love for fashion was ignited. I love fashion, but not the high fashion. I love creating simple looks like pants, shorts, boots, etc, and I also love experimenting with clothes and other accessories. When I returned to Nigeria after graduating, I used my degree in Political Science and took a shot at politics. I joined then President Obafemi Awolowo and Ambrose Ali as a member of the youth wing for my National Youth Service Corps. I also worked in a couple of print media houses. Even at that point, I liked fashion.

 

How did House of Jola come into being?

I used to make clothes in Nigeria and take them to my store in Delaware at the time, called EuroAfric. When I settled back in Nigeria, I decided to create a fashion house based here. All we do in House of Jola is mainly shirts, and a few other accessories. For the upcoming Africa Fashion Week, I’d be making a lot of package shirts. I’d be taking them to the African Fashion Week London show where I would have a booth.

I have several collections, some of which made their way to Fashion TV. I also made the best of Haute Couture, New York Fashion Week list in 2011. Now I’m focusing on the ready-to-wear brands. Doing couture all the time does not yield the adequate financial profits due to the fact that most people can’t afford them.

 

What was it like creating Nigeria’s Next Super Model?

In 2007, I visited the set of a model search show and when I got there I felt that it really wasn’t such a big deal and it’s definitely something I can do. I was expecting something massive but the show was pretty simple, and it wasn’t as crowded as I would have thought. I was also once a model, a very long time ago, so I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into.

When I was launching House of Jola, I called a cousin of mine and told her I was looking for models for my show. She told me about a girl she knows, Olubunmi Ademokoya, who looks like a model. I met her then started and I was really impressed with her looks. Then I started making plans to come up with a model search. I started calling people for sponsorship. Thank God for Dr. Kola Daisi, from the National Sport Lottery crew, he immediately agreed to sponsor the show due to his faith in me.

 

Bunmi Ademokoya

 

I also went to ask for sponsorship from one company, I won’t say the name. I got there and the lady in charge refused to sponsor the show, telling me that if it was the Tyra Banks one, they would have no problem supporting it. I then told her I wanted to start my own brand and not build on someone else’s.  I recently ran into the lady at an airport actually, suffice it to say she is singing a different tune now.

 

I believe that the Nigerian Next Supermodel is a success story. The talents, the ladies, and the fact that the ladies get a chance to travel out to spread their wings after the competition is really an impressive feat. The way I see it, we must now have to look inwards. We have companies in this country that can invest in our models and get financial returns from them. Most of our companies would rather send these jobs outside.

What led you to create Isis Model?

Isis comes from my middle name- Isioma, then I added the ‘S’. And that is how Isis Model came to be. Isis was born out of desperation really, because I wondered if, after the contest and the fashion shows, where would the ladies go? We have been a part of a lot of fashion week and events all over Africa and the Diaspora, like the African Fashion Week, London, Mercedes Benz Fashion week in south Africa and recently, Nigeria’s Next Supermodel’s Bunmi Ademokoya opened the African Fashion Week in Johannesburg which was ran by BET. Basically, we are partnering with a lot of companies all over the world now.

 

Singer Keri Hilson performs during BET's Rip the Runway 2011 at The Manhattan Center on February 26, 2011 in New York City.Also behind her from left is Bunmi Ademokoya and Aishatu Bello of Isis Models Nigeria.

 

I believe in the models I work with and I expect the models to be for high quality. I cannot book a model for 10,000 or 20,000 naira. I recently booked a Nigerian model for $10,000. So I tell my models, if you want to be respected and showcased around the world, be prepared to make some good money. I am happy that people are beginning to take notice and the models are also willing to work hard.

Tell us about your work in the African Fashion Week London.

I believe, you can’t keep giving the West our money. It doesn’t make any sense. That is why I decided that I have to do fashion week anywhere in the world, it is going to be our fashion week. For example, the last year edition of Africa Fashion Week London was unbelievable. The crowd was massive. The fashion week then inspired me and made me realize that we can actually do something like this all over the world, showcase our people, talent and creativity and it would be a success. It is only your people that can showcase you. I made a determination that my modeling agency, Isis Model is going to be a success, and I’d put in my efforts to make sure this year’s version is going to be way better than the last. I have been getting calls from people all over the world that are interested in being a part of Africa Fashion Week and asking me to link them up with the organizers. As a matter of first, I recently got a call from a top PR company in America who was very interested in the show and would love to attend.

This Saturday, we will be casting ladies for models who will be going for the African Fashion Week, London. Basically, I believe the show is a success because of the perseverance, tenacity, and hard work put in by organizers and models alike.


What exactly do you look for while choosing the models you work with, or for the competition?

 

Nigeria's Next Supermodel 2011 finalists

I use the international standard to pick my models. Yes, there are plus size models, but if you are sending models to go and work in New York, or in London for example, your hips must not be more than 35 inches, and there are also certain criteria that should be taken into account. I believe plus size models are coming back though. The size of the average woman is not these things that we see on the runway. Before it changes, we still have to go with the usual slim sizes (not sickly looking though).

 

What inspires your designs?

Basically, I am inspired by the trends around me. There was a time I worked with a lot of colors due to the fact that, as Africans, we love colors. It is all about working with the trends and building on what the people want.

 

 

What are the challenges you face as a designer?

There are so many stumbling blocks in Nigeria. For example, there is no electricity. I actually have three generators, just in case one decides to act up. If, for instance, you have a long order for shirts then without electricity there really isn’t a lot you can do. By the time you start explaining this to customers and asking them to pay more for the generator use, they start complaining. Right now, it is tasking to do business in Nigeria. If there is water and electricity in Nigeria, this country’s situation will improve drastically. We are a vibrant people and we persevere.

As a wife, mother and fashion mogul, how do you cope with doing it all?

Actually I did the motherhood part before becoming a fashion mogul. When I first got married, I took time off work to focus on my family and raising my kids. Motherhood is the best job really; I enjoyed that part of me. And now that my kids are grown, I can focus on my career and I’m having a blast.

What would you say your greatest achievement is so far?

Motherhood. That is my numero-uno. It is the best job in the world. Now my children are grown but I sometimes wish they remained little.

What are your future plans?

Sometimes, I’m amazed at myself when my brains start to work. My grandfather once told me “Never take no for an answer, and never think anybody is better than you”. It is an advice I heed till this day. I am currently focusing on making this edition of Africa Fashion Week in London really huge. We want Nigerian companies to attend the African Fashion Week in London to make it a success story. If Nigerian Jewelers, bag-makers, etc go there and sell their stuff, the money we earn will make its way back into the Nigerian economy. For every dime you put into foreign companies, that money goes back to their countries. We therefore plead with Nigerians, let us support each other. Let’s support companies that can translate into sending money back to our country. Now our stuffs are being sold overseas. Our Ankara is now being called prints, tribal designs, etc in other countries. You see, our biggest enemy is us.

If I’m going to do any work abroad it is going to be about us, showcasing us. But taking our hard-earned Naira from here now and spend there, never. At the end of this month, we would be starting the screening for the next edition of the Nigeria Next Supermodel. This year’s edition would surpass the last. The girls that have registered so far have been simply stunning.

I will be be de-emphasizing House of Jola very soon and I’m bringing in some up and coming designers and they would be working for me. We would provide them with income, take them overseas and launch them.

 

Meg Alabi, Joan Okorodudu and Tarmer at the FAB Magazine UK Launch in 2011

 

FAB Designer?

Dany Atrache, David Tlale and Mon Ami designs.

FAB Way to relax?

Taking a 2-3 hour nap, then watch TV. I also just returned from a one-week holiday with my husband. We schedule it every three months to take a break from it all. So that is another way I relax.

FAB African Dish?

Starch and Owo soup. A delicacy from my husband’s hometown.

FAB Accessories?

Everybody has their fetish; I think mine is that I can pay anything for a good pair of sunglasses.

What makes you FAB?

Being me, despite all odds. Being black means going through everything. Going through hell and making it back. It is not necessarily what you wear or what you have. It is the ability to be strong and beautiful at the same time and that is what makes a person FAB. When I think about what I’ve been through, I tell myself that the rest is yet to come. There is nothing that I believe that can stop anyone. You are the only one that can stop yourself and as far as I’m concerned, you are the architect of your fate. In times of trouble, just make sure you are religious and God-fearing. It is important to remain strong and prayerful.

 

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. JOAN ISIOMA ELUMELU OKORODUDU

    Thank you fab Olamide Oni good job.

    Reply
  2. Eromosele Eseohe Joy

    Your really doing a great job. I would really love to be among your plus sized model. Plz is dat possible. Am a year 3 student and i school at university of port harcourt, rivers state.

    Reply
  3. joan okorodudu

    Thanks Eromosele we are getting ready to launch plus size modeling.

    Reply
  4. Okpetu Amanda Onotseike

    I love the great and fab job u r doing. Keep it up. Plssss I would love to be one of ur models. I don’t know how possible that could be

    Reply

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