Interview

Interview: Nigeria’s fashion industry is worth billions of dollars- Sharon Ojong

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Sharon Ojong describes herself as a creative griffin who wears different hats. She is a stylist, creative director, brand consultant, tv producer, writer and an entrepreneur.

But all these come at a cost – Long hours of work.  

“A typical day for me starts from 7am and possibly ends at 12am,” she says while narrating how she spends each day to stay on top of multiple industries. 

Sharon turned 35 on Thursday, and she expresses her gratitude to her friends, family and an 11 years of success in the industry with awards to brag, READ excerpts of her interview with NewsWireNGR’s Oladele Owodina . 

  • What are you thankful for as you turn 35?

I’m thankful for life, family, friends, love, and where I am.

  • Who is a creative and how do you identify as one? 

A creative to me is someone who expresses themselves in a way that is unique, it’s different, it’s also bringing solutions to the table as well. Creative also can be someone who can take nothing and make it something. 

I identify as a creative with my business, I’ve been able to start a fashion business where I’m going to be the creative director. I handle the day-to-day activities. I also handle creative design from designing to production to distribution as well to even branding and to everything.

So a creative covers multiple areas. That’s if I’m to say so myself.

  • What was your most memorable childhood moment? 

My most memorable childhood moment would have to be sitting in the parlour with my brothers, my sisters and my family and my dad and having conversations growing up. I’ll really never forget those moments, and I really cherish them now. At a time we felt this is all that it was as a teenager but the older I get, I realize that those conversations helped shape the woman I have become today. And for me to remember most of the things we used to have conversations today means they are stuck to my memory till date.

  • What is the normal day like for you? 

A normal typical day for me is I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is I pray. I try to workout. After working out, I try. I say I try because some days; I get out of bed and I just don’t want to even lift up my body but I always ensure that the first thing I do is I pray; I get ready for work. Work is for me, is bringing a design to life every day. So on Sundays, I’m also a producer, I’m a tv producer. I’m a fashion stylist, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m also a creative director and I’m an independent creative as well. So you can hire me for any of these things. Even though I have my own brand, my own company, I’m also independent that you can work with independently.

So a typical day for me sometimes can also depend on what project or what I have been booked for the day. So some days I’m booked as a stylist, some days I’m booked as a costume designer, some days I’m booked as a tv producer. So after my workout, I get to work on what the project of the day is like and usually the type of work that we do always; we find ourselves going home in the middle of the night, late nights and early mornings. So a typical day for me starts from 7am and possibly ends at 12am. So let’s just say 12. It has become a norm for us to end by that time. And that’s because when it comes to the thing that we do, even if it’s styling/production or I’m producing things happen. This is Nigeria and anything can just happen to you.

  • What is your most radical change from childhood to adulthood? 

My most radical change from childhood to Adulthood has to be (laughs) I think it has to be going to a university outside of school and then having to understand that education is all I needed and I had to do all I had to do to be in that school. I had to switch schools at some point from the University of Calabar to the University of Abuja. Then back again from the University of Abuja to the University of Calabar. I switched schools, and it was very radical for me at that moment if I remember; it was very radical.

  • What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion means everything. I believe like everyone has a purpose, everybody has the idea of what they want to be and who they want to be. Fashion has been what I’ve always wanted to be. Like I’ve never really understood what exactly in fashion I’ll like to be but I found myself from childhood, being in fashion, being engulfed around fashion, being very focused on what it is to be a fashion professional. I’ve always wanted to be a fashion professional. So fashion to me, when I say fashion is everything, I mean my people talk about fashion; they talk about cloth and accessories and I think about the material things. But when I say fashion is everything, it means like if you look around you, everything is fashioned in a particular type of form or manner or shape. So you can see something as random as a standing fan and you know like I said as a creative I can create an outfit inspired by that standing fan. So when I say fashion is in everything, it means that I can see fashion in pretty much everything. I’ve always loved fashion and I’ve always believed that I have a place and purpose in fashion and that’s what I’ve been chasing forever.

  • How will you describe your style and aura?

My style is versatile. When people ask me like you know what do you think you’re going to wear to the wedding on Saturday? I have no idea what I’m going to wear to a wedding on Saturday. I really don’t plan my outfits. I get up, I dress, I mix and match. I love to creatively dress up. So I love to mix and match. I love to try out things. I love to see if it works. If it doesn’t work, how it can work. I also just love to be versatile. Today you can find me in an edgy outfit. Tomorrow, you can find me in a sleek outfit. Next tomorrow you can find me in a sexy outfit and next tomorrow you find me in a covered up outfit. And the next day you can see me in just pretty much jeans and a t-shirt. So my style is versatile, my aura is also versatile. I would say that it is versatile because I’m multi-talented and I’m also like I have to show myself up at different places as a different person. 

  • When did you realise and decide it was fashion or nothing? 

It has always been fashion or nothing. I mean 2020; I got to a place in 2020 where I thought about it, is fashion really it for me? Because as we all experienced, 2020 was a tragedy. I mean like you know the fashion industry suffered, and it’s still suffering a huge loss in terms of customers. In terms of buyers, in terms of exchanges, exports, imports, materials, fabrics and sourcing all of these things. So I had a doubt for a second in 2020. But I’ve always known that it’s fashion or nothing. And it’s always going to be fashion or nothing.

  • Kindly rate the fashion industry in Nigeria?

The Nigerian fashion industry is on a rise. On a scale of 5-10 globally, the Nigerian fashion industry is currently at 6. If I’ll say 6.5. We are growing. Few years ago, we were definitely at 2. But we’ve seen the industry evolve and we’ve seen 6.5 over ten. We are still growing, 6.5 is above average. We are definitely above average because we have a culture; we have an entirely different vision of what fashion is here in Africa. So the fashion industry, especially in Nigeria, the fashion industry in Nigeria, I’ll rate it to 6.5. 

  • What has fascinated you the most about Nigeria’s fashion industry? 

What has fascinated me most about the industry is the change. I’m fascinated by the fact that one minute is the millennials are topping the game and the next minute, the Gen-Z who are topping the fashion game as well.I’ve been in the industry for 11 years now. I’ve also experienced, I’ve seen how the fashion industry has evolved over the years and it’s growing. I’ve also seen how people are beginning to accept our own natural made in Nigeria product. Our natural made in Nigeria fabric. I’ve also seen how our designers have evolved. The top designers today have evolved and the industry as a whole has evolved. So I mean that really fascinates me, I mean when I think about the next ten years, what it’s going to be like for the fashion industry in Nigeria. I’m blown away because I know how talented we are.

  • What are the challenges and the prospects of the Nigerian fashion industry? 

I think the major challenge that the fashion industry faces is production. If that is solved, that will go a long way for a lot of creatives and designers in Nigeria. I think there are prospects. The fashion industry is worth billions of naira, it can be worth more. Billions of dollars too as well. It can be worth more if I mean the government or the people or private individuals can invest into the production like fabric production to processing, to even after-use like reducing waste as well. Like there is prospect there are a lot of opportunities for the fashion industry to grow and make more money.

  • What things have tempted you to call it quit and pursue another career? 

Pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, the pandemic made me think for a second do I need to switch industry? How do I go out of the fashion industry? Nobody wants to buy clothes now, people are not thinking about what they are going to wear, they are thinking about how they should eat. At that point everywhere was shut down. At that point, I think it’s time for me to push for another career. So 2020 tempted me to think about it.

  • What makes you happy during the sad days? 

Music. Music and (laughs), what came to my mind was alerts. Music and alerts. 

On my sad days, when I feel sad, I play music. Music is my drug. It’s food to my soul. It makes me happy. It gets me out of any mood. What I also do is I, when I realise that I am sad because I’m an over thinker and I begin to think about why I’m sad or why I’m not sad or why I’m not happy. The moment I realise that I have started overthinking, I call myself back and I try to do something that makes me happy. I play music; I go into the studio and try to think of a new design. I mean I just do something that is in fashion too because fashion makes me happy.

  • If you were locked in a room, doing one thing for months, what will it be?

If I was locked in a room doing one particular thing for months, I think whatever it is I am doing, it would be, it has to be something that would give me access to the internet and my computer. And if I have access to the internet and my computer, and I was locked in a room to do just one particular thing, I’m, it’s between two things for me. It’s between money and education really and truly. I’ll find ways to make money from my bed and or I would find something to read about, study about, and get myself more educated about.

  • If you have to acquire a special power, what will it be?

I think it would be healing. I would love the gift of healing. My special power would be to heal people. I hate to see people hurt. I hate to see people sick. Let me not call it hate. It makes me really sad; it touches me deeply, and it really hurts me. When I see people that are hurt and they are dying or are in pain or you know they need help. Sometimes they don’t have money to go to the hospital, sometimes it’s poverty, I wish I could get a healing power to heal the people who are sick. So yeah.

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