By – Pamela Echemunor
Omowunmi Akinnifesi is not just another pretty face; she is a businesswoman and Environmental Ambassador for Lagos State. Although life started out easy for the stunning 29 year old entrepreneur, she set out determined to make it on her own. In 2005, she clinched the coveted MBGN title and since then, she has engaged herself in contributing her quota to improving the world around her.
The Geography and Regional Planning graduate of the University of Lagos, also holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Modelling, Monitoring and Management from King’s College, London.
In this interview, she talks about life after MBGN, her foray into business and her current project.
MBGN was over a decade ago, how was it winning at the time?
MBGN was an awesome experience. I always wanted to be a Miss Nigeria or get involved in some kind of pageant. However, those were just dreams I had as a little girl. I never knew they would become such a reality. Winning the pageant was a young girl’s fairy tale come true. I thank God for that.
You partook in the Miss World Pageant in China. How was the experience for you?
The Miss World experience was the experience. Having over 300 beautiful women from different parts of the world is nothing to take for granted. I met people who have become lifelong friends and who even stay over at my house when they are in Nigeria and I stay over at theirs when in their country. The miss world experience exposed me to various cultures and languages. It gave me international exposure. The owner of the Miss World pageant, Julia Morley, still recognises me in the weirdest of events even after so many years.
Was that your debut in the modelling industry?
My debut in the modelling industry was MBGN. However, because of my personality, I did more speaking engagements and ambassadorship than basic modelling.
What challenges did you face at the time and how did you overcome them?
Looking back now, the only challenge I faced was growing up fast. I was 18 years old and spoilt because of the kind of family I came from. My dad was a diplomat for West African clearing house Sierra Leone and a Yale graduate who was a Director at the CBN. I had to learn how to get on my feet and get things done myself.
What was your pet project at the time and were you able to accomplish it?
I concentrated on Tourism as my Pet project because I had won the Miss Tourism International after winning The MBGN. I promoted Tourism in Nigeria, Ghana, Ukraine and Jordan alongside the Jordan Tourism Board. I also worked on Sickle cell as a project and visited many orphanage homes in the country at the time.
You recently launched the Omowunmi Clothing Line.
Could you tell us a bit about it?
The Omowunmi clothing is a ready-to-wear brand for women with social lifestyle. About 70% of our garments can be worn from day to night. An Omowunmi woman is one who leaves her home on a busy day for the office or entrepreneurial duties and may have a conference, lunch with friends, a meeting at the office, dinner with friends or even a party after a long day. One outfit can be worn for many occasions and she doesn’t have to go home to change what she went out with in the morning. We have our first collection and would be releasing our second collection soon. We stock at various stores in the country. Our clothing can be found at the Polo Avenue for now.
What is the inspiration behind the line?
The first collection consisted of clothing in pinks, reds, blacks, and whites with inspiration gathered for city living hence, we called it ‘The Urban Movement: Define your own path’. Urban is anything fresh new and vibrant while constantly evolving and in ‘movement’. We wanted people to feel the vibe of the collection. Our campaign photos show girls jumping, happy and in movement, while still being playful. Some other photos showed serious minded women who are still trendy and urbane. We also included ‘Define your own path’ because we want women to be themselves and portray the strength in them. It is okay to be a family woman and still be busy, it’s okay to be an intellectual, it’s okay to have substance and it’s okay to be an Omowunmi woman.
Who is your focus market?
Our focus market is for the woman with a social lifestyle. A woman who knows who she is and is not afraid to walk the journey destined for her. For now, we target just women but we hope to do men’s line later.
Do you have mentors or women in the country you look up to?
Yes, I do. My Mum has supported me from the word-go. She listens to my whining when I have challenges and solves them for me. My mum is my backbone and my strength. She speaks positivity into my life and it is because of her I am where I am today. Mrs. Ibukun Awosika inspires me because she started in the business of fashion and is now the first female Chairman of First bank. I think that is a wonderful story. She is one of my mentors and I learn so much from her on being a woman of substance and strength in this unique market. Also, Mrs. Isioma Oniche Aihe of Grey Velvet hammers me on the finance part of my business. She was one of the people who encouraged me to go into the business of fashion and she had guided me through. It is very hard to see women support women. I can only thank God for sending such outstanding women to me.
You had your Master’s degree in Environmental Modelling, Monitoring and Management. Why did you choose this course of study?
I chose Environmental Modelling, Monitoring and Management because I was doing a lot of environmental Management projects at the time and it was all campaign and policy based. I wanted to learn the technical part of managing the environment. I wanted to learn GIS, Remote Sensing and Environmental Model.
How did you manage to get rid of the stalker who bothered you for years and what advice would you give someone in a similar situation as you?
I still wouldn’t say I have gotten rid of him because I still got a message from him weeks ago. This is something we tried reporting to the police. However, as I found out, such a matter in Nigeria is considered trivial. People don’t take it seriously till something happens to you physically. I advice people to be kind to others, but if you are in a leadership position, set limits so that people don’t feel like they have easy access to you and take that that accessibility for granted.
Sorry about losing your father? How are you coping with that?
Thank you very much. I’m okay now, thank you. His soul is resting in peace.
You participated in the “Celebrity takes 2 competition”, what was the experience like?
The Celebrity Takes 2 Competition was fun. I have never had so much fun on TV. I love to dance. Yes, I am actually a very good technical dancer. I am good at Salsa Chaha, Tango, Hip-hop and Contemporary dances. The competition was simply amazing. This was also when I got close to a lot of Celebrities with whom I shared stressful dance routines. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
You launched a Public Relations and Modeling Company called, “Elle Poise”. How does it feel to be a business woman and how is it working out?
Being a businesswoman in Nigeria is challenging and also rewarding if you know your art well. I am thankful for opportunities. I started Elle Poise years ago and we are re branding the PR Company soon. PR is something that comes of second nature to me. After my reign as a Beauty Queen in 2005, I have been told that I am one of the most relevant queens till date. After my reign, I handled my PR myself and I must say I have done well with Gods grace. I only hope to help Companies and SMES build strong brands and maintain positive media presence overall.
What challenges have you encountered owning and running a business as a woman in Nigeria?
Running a business as a woman in Nigeria can be quite challenging. You are seen as weak and brash when you make tough decisions. It is sometimes even hard to have men work under you. It takes great people skills and leadership skills to lead as a woman running a business. Over all, I can’t complain. It’s what women all over the world face.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty to me is a reflection of who you are from the inside. The refection of who you are on the inside. If you have an ugly heart it will show in your speech and the things you say. Some people are not considered as good looking on the physical but are considered extremely beautiful because of the way they relate with others. Beauty is truly from within.
What is a day like in your life?
A day in my life is busy. My friends tell me I never stop working. I have a lot of energy and I am very young. So this I believe is my time to make hay while my youthful sun is shining. The bible says that you must sow your seeds during your youth. It also says that you must sow both day and night for you never know which will bring back rewards for your toil.
Are you single and should we expect wedding bells any time soon?
Yes, I am single.
You look radiant as ever. What is your beauty secret?
My beauty secret is living a peaceful life without keeping malice or grudges with people. Let us just say I sleep well at night with a peaceful mind. Like I said, beauty comes from within. I make sure I have a clear conscience so I can radiate grace in all my doings.
What advice would you give young women who aspire to be like you?
Young women should look within and decide what they want to do regardless of what anyone thinks about it. You cannot live your life based on what you think people would think about it. If you want to do fashion, then do fashion. People say it is a competitive market but still do it if it is your calling and stop pretending to be who you are not by studying medicine. Do what is in your heart to do and seek for mentors that can guide you. Ask many questions and never be shy to look stupid