Evelyn Okere is a multi-talented, outspoken and hard-working woman. With decades of corporate experience behind her, she is currently the publisher of St. Eve magazine, the label owner and Creative Director of the “Rose di Omimi” fashion line, and founder of the St. Eve West African Fashion Show. Recently, she granted Solomon Elusoji an interview at her Lagos office, where she shared her story and dreams
In 2010, Evelyn Okere started St. Eve Magazine. She wanted to create a media platform that could dole out information about health, beauty and fashion. That was her passion . . . obsession. It still is. Fast-forward to 2015, and we are at her office in Lagos. The space is quaint, cool.
“For me, fashion is connected to your health and to your beauty,” she tells us. “And that’s why we came up with the St. Eve Magazine. If people are healthy, what’s the next thing they want to do? They want to be beautiful. That’s why you see people rub a lot of different cream. Now, after you are done with being beautiful, what’s the next thing you want to do? You want to wear fantastic dresses that complement your skin colour or the mood that you are in. So, it was on that premise that we formed the first ever health-beauty-fashion magazine – St. Eve Magazine.”
Evelyn has always been interested in fashion. In her primary school days, she won a prize for being the best in needlework. She would make clothes from the chopped up pieces left by her mother, who used to make the family’s Christmas clothes. “I’m a fashion freak. My mum would see me on the clothes and smack me, thinking I took her money to buy a new dress,” she says.
In her University days, she didn’t have a suitcase filled with clothes, but many of her friends thought she did. The trick was her ability to create multiple combinations from a select number of accessories.
“My passion has always been entertainment,” she tells us, “but tilting towards fashion. I’m interested in how people wear clothes, how colours match. I can do all this in my mind. When I go shopping, I’m looking at dresses, not because I want to buy, but just admiring how it was made. And I would describe dresses to people who come to shop, so well that they end up buying the dress. A woman once picked a dress from the rack because of the way I described it.”
However, after studying History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Evelyn did not enter the fashion world. She went into banking instead, before crossing over to Telecommunications and, later, Oil and Gas. Why?
“There’s always a Nigerian factor to everyone’s story – we never really started from what we really wanted to do,” she points out. “Because, maybe what you really want to do is not as viable as you would want it to be. So, you could go into Oil and Gas, make and save some money, then start something of your own. That was what it was for me.”
It has worked well for her. Today, while serving as the Executive Director of Finance and Administration at Jevkon Oil & Gas Limited, Evelyn is also the co-founder and Managing Director of St. Eve Concepts Limited, an Enzymatic Health and Weight Management Company, the publisher of St. Eve Magazine and the Label Owner and Creative Director of “Rose di Omimi” fashion. She has completed the transition.
“What drives me is accomplishment,” she tells us. “If I accomplish something that I wanted to do, I derive joy. When I make something out of nothing, I derive joy. When people that I support achieve, I’m very happy. I’m a target-driven person.”
More interestingly, for the past two years, Evelyn has been in charge of one of the biggest fashion shows in the country – the St. Eve West African Fashion Show, an annual fashion event that is aimed at driving the Nigerian and ultimately, the West African fashion industry, by bringing together buyers, consumers and the media to view the current collections of Nigerian and International fashion designers. Beyond the runway, the event has also become a super platform for networking amongst fashion lovers, high net worth individuals.
In 2013, when the show debuted, it was themed “Fashion on the Terrace”, and was held at Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island. In 2014, the theme was “Fashion in the Savannah” at The Eko Hotel And Suites, Lagos.
This year, the theme is “Fashion is Art”, and is scheduled to take place between November 28 and 29, at The Ball Room of the Eko Hotel and Suites. The highlight of this fashion show will be the use of Artistic Fashion Prints, Art Exhibitions, Live Portrait Drawings alongside Exhibitions, Auction Sales, and elegant models on the Runway. It will be well attended by Fashion Designers, Fashion Lovers, Movie and Music industry celebrities, Socialites, Members of the International Communities and various Corporate Personalities.
“As a designer, what do you want people to see about your line, and how do you get that message across; that was how we decided to start our own fashion show,” Evelyn says.
“For us, we want Nigerian designers to be exposed to the international fashion market. So, if you are not making clothes, you won’t understand how they feel in how they are trying to propagate their collection to the world. So, we have to do everything we can to project the designers. And that’s why this year’s fashion show is designer-targeted. It is a platform of exposure for every Nigerian designer. We want them to begin to get a lot of international recognition, and become among the big players.”
Some of the top designers scheduled for the show include Ade Bakare, Mofechi, and Lanre Da Silva, who is yet to be confirmed. But Evelyn is not exactly interested in playing up big names to promote a fashion show.
“I think we should give other people a chance,” she notes. “Everybody asks who the big boys are? But those big boys were once small people, and they’ve had to grow their market as well. They’ve spent money and time. What happens to the young guy who’s really talented? For me, everyone is a big name. Because it takes a lot to source the fabric, put it all together, pay a tailor to materialise the design that you have created in your mind, and see it work live on the runaway.”
However, she points out that the fashion business is not a tea-party; upcoming designers have to be ready to invest heavily in branding and marketing to break through the glass ceiling.
“Fashion is a capital-intensive business,” she says. “Like every other thing, you must brand and market it. If you are a designer that wants the world to notice you, you must be ready to spend the money. First, you must have your collection and line. It must be unique. Everybody makes shirts, but yours must be unique. You must carve a niche for yourself, and target a specific market. From there, you now start to think about how you want people to know about you. Then, you must be ready to brand it. And that costs a lot of money.”
One of those who has succeeded in that aspect, according to Evelyn, is media mogul Prince Nduka Obaigbena, who has a penchant for creating brands that never fail to glimmer.
“We were so proud of THISDAY, with the Arise Fashion Week. I respect Prince Nduka Obaigbena so much, he’s someone I really appreciate what he’s done. He was one of the first people that brought international concerts to the country. That got Nigeria a lot of recognition, globally. Nigeria started to be recognised, both in the music industry and even in Nollywood. You can’t take it away. He did the same thing for the fashion industry. Today, we have a lot of blossoming designers because of Arise. Nobody knew they existed before Arise. So, he did fantastic.”
Moving forward, Evelyn thinks African fashion is beginning to come to the limelight. “The beautiful thing is Africans are beginning to be proud of their own. I told a couple of people sometime back that our Ankara is going to be the next big thing. And this is what it is today. Our fabrics are getting recognition, and that’s fantastic.”
But she’s not satisfied with the level of skill and materials available for designers. That, she believes, is stunting the industry’s growth.
“We still need to get it right in terms of cloth-making. We need a lot of work on that. Our tailors need to be properly trained and educated. Then, how many materials do we have here? We can’t get all the materials in one spot. We don’t manufacture zips or buttons, so it’s going to be very expensive. It’s cheaper in China because they manufacture zippers, thread and buttons there. It’s not happening here. Everything we use for fashion is imported, so why won’t it be expensive? What are people expecting?
“Then you have to consider electricity. We buy fuel to make clothes. In a week we spend N10,000 on fuel in our shop; and that’s because we are using a small generator. So, in a month we are spending N40,000. How much will my clothes be? How about the tailors and accessories that we use to make the clothes?”
The industry’s challenges won’t be stopping Evelyn though. She’s had a lot of support creating the fashion show’s third edition, and is determined to go a step further in the next edition.
“We hope that after this event, we might be going to another country for the next edition,” she says. I have heart-support from a very wonderful person – the chairman of Jevkon Oil and Gas, Okon E. Onyung. The only challenge we’ve faced is breaking into the entertainment community, because it’s mainly dominated by men. So, for a woman, if you are not connected to them, it always appears like you might not be able to achieve so much. But if you are determined and as lucky as I am to have a very supportive person, Mars is where you are heading.”
When she’s not preparing for the fashion show or running any of her brands, Evelyn is at home with her family.
“I play video-games with my kids,” she enthuses. “I’m a cartoon freak. Then I like to sit down and watch CNN. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to party once in a while.”
To keep young, “I take my enzyme supplements, which is what we market. First thing in the morning, I drink water. Then I use sun-block for my skin and face. I just found out that all these creams could be very harmful. There’s a lot of cancer in the air, we don’t even know where it’s coming from. And I take a lot of vegetables and salad.”
She’s an “old-school person” when it comes to music, and used to be obsessed with reading espionage and romance novels. Her fashion role model is Karl Lagerfeld, whom she met once in France. “I just love the guy,” she beams.