By Florence Amagiya

Dr Debby Goodnews Silas is a guru in the fashion design world, and she has left her indelible footprints in the industry in Nigeria and Africa at large. The colossus in the industry also has a doctoral degree from an American University. Her influence dates back to the early days when fashion design was yet to blossom in the country. Dr. Silas took it upon herself to midwife the growth of African fashion to the global stage firstly by starting a fashion show in 2009, and by also going an extra mile to become the publisher of four different fashion and entertainment magazines that are paradigmatic for the glamour industry.

The expert, who is based in the United States, remains a force in the glamour business, as the organiser of two internationally recognised awards that recognises excellence and honours celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic. In this interview, Silas, the first known Nigerian fashion designer, explosively explores the world of fashion.

Excerpts:

It is difficult to concisely describe what you do because you seem to be involved in a lot of things. Can you give us an insight of how you have acheived all these?

I am a journalist, publisher, writer, businesswoman, fashion designer and motivational speaker. I am the publisher of Debby Classique, Dee-Legend Styles, CityMag and Dews magazines. I have published over 150 editions of these magazines for decades. I am also the founder of D’CEM Awards and Glamours Awards, both internationally recognized award brands.

I organized many shows in Nigeria and in the United States of America. I use my event platform to honour, celebrate, award, and promote the entertainment and fashion industry, to recognise hard work and propagate cultural excellence. I also have Debby Classique Foundation which trains and helps low-income (or no income) individuals to acquire professional skills in fashion designing and other professions of their interests at no cost to them.

Your fashion label production is in Turkey and Vietnam. Please, can you tell us why you chose those places?

My motivation for creating and designing my label, Debby Classique Designs, in Turkey and Vietnam was my love for fashion. I wanted to reach a large number of people all over the world with my fashion label. The inadequacy of things in Nigeria, the slow movement of things, especially the high cost of production, were what made me go to countries like Vietnam to reproduce my designs.

Before I travel to Vietnam, I would have sketched my designs, I already have the idea of the materials and combinations that I want them to be. I would personally go to the market in Vietnam, shop all my fabrics by myself, bring them to the factory, and personally cut the fabric into styles that I want to make. I would have about two or three samples of each design.

What is the reaction of your Vietnamese production team? 

The Vietnamese workers were always amazed to see me quickly do things that would take them a long time to do. You know how they do things according to a division of labour system. They were surprised I could do all their division of labour all by myself. Within two hours, I was usually done. It was something so amazing to them.

 At a time their manager, whose name is Thoi, asked me: “Debby, why do you have to come to Vietnam to make those clothes? You can do it faster than us.” I told them: “You have steady light; I don’t have steady light. It will cost me fuel and diesel to produce as much as I want to produce. That was just the reason, not because I do not have a factory in Nigeria. It is going to cost me more; it is cheaper for me to produce it right here.

“So I will be there to design, produce and let them do the rest before I leave. My goal was to make sure I have my label and be able to produce as much as I want to produce and make it not expensive but affordable to everybody. My clothes are lovely because they are not mass-production products.”

What has life taught you?

My life alone is a big lesson which I cannot tell it all in this interview. As a young girl, I passed through different stages of life. I passed through so many trials and at a certain point in my life, I experienced a serious situation in life that almost everybody gave up on me, thinking I wasn’t going to make it and I wasn’t going to be someone people would look up to, but that challenged me to greater achievements and success. I want younger people to build extra immunity for themselves, especially young women. Young women these days need to learn to stand for themselves and not rely on men.

Getting a man to marry them is not an achievement. They should get an achievement first before the age of 25. Marriage should be a secondary achievement. I want all women to engage themselves productively, engage in any skill of their interest, or engage themselves productively, educationally in whatever field they want to choose, build themselves, build a solid ground that would ensure that they will not fail.

Stand for yourself as a woman; as you are doing it, don’t be arrogant. Wise people are not arrogant. Younger people should be motivated to build their foundations on solid ground. These will help them in their marriage and relationships, to keep their dignity and be respected. I want women to be responsible, respected and keep themselves more productive and exemplary.

Looking back, how has your education, especially, your university days prepared you for all of what you are doing today?

My first admission to the university was for Business Administration, but I did not meet up with the registration date. I was offered Philosophy at the University of Lagos. Before I finished my first year, I was glad. I can tell you that Philosophy is about one of the best courses anybody should read. I will recommend for anyone to study or at least take some electives from the course because Philosophy prepares you for every walk of life.

It prepares you to become whatever you want to become. Studying Philosophy helped me greatly. It opened me up to more wisdom, education and knowledge. It helped me to be more rational in every field that I am into and to be a champion of whatever I am doing. The natural gifts in me are enhanced by the course that I read. Studying Philosophy was a great thing for me. It prepared me to be active in the society. 

Publishing is not an easy undertaking. What was your motivation for publishing four different types of magazines?

I started publishing complete fashion magazines at a time when fashion design was not as big as it is today. What we see today is a result of the efforts we made from 2005 onward. The desire to see African look become more fashionable was what motivated me to become a publisher in the fashion industry. That is on the one hand.

On the other hand, the desire to see African fashions become recognized globally was the motivation for publishing four types of magazines. I think we were able to achieve that objective within a short time, even before 2010-2011. Today, we are very proud that African fashion is recognized all over the world and those fashion magazines played a big role. 

Before the advent of social media, we could only see or know about trending fashion via magazines and major television cable networks…

Let me tell you how I ended up publishing multiple magazines. I started publishing in 2009 with Debbie Classique, a fashion magazine. Then I published Dews, an entertainment news magazine. In 2010, I launched CityMag, a men’s fashion magazine. City Mag was the first of its kind. The whole of Africa embraced the magazine and men’s magazines became a trend.

After that, I was having a lot of demands for coverage of events, a lot of weddings, and different kinds of reports. One edition of my magazine was no longer adequate to cover all of that. I had to think of how to create another title under the Debbie Classique magazine that would carry different articles so we could swiftly get people’s events out. That was when I introduced  Dee Legend Styles magazine. So I had Debbie Classique, Dee Legend Styles, Dews, an entertainment magazine and CityMag, for men’s fashion and men’s entertainment news.

Why is it important to you or necessary for you to organize a fashion week despite you having your hands full?

Do not forget that my first business is fashion design. So, naturally, my first show was a fashion show, which I organized annually in the second week of November. It became so big it attracted sponsorship from big brands and coverage by TV stations and newspapers.

I used to invite big Nollywood actors and actresses who walked the red carpet wearing beautifully-made Ankara designed by me. The likes of Gloria Young, Norbert Young, Tony Umez, Zack Orji, and many others loved it. What I was doing wasn’t about me, I was projecting African fashions to look very attractive and loved not only by Africans but the whole world.

Please, tell us a little about your fashion design story

I started fashion designing at the age of 12 in my first grade in secondary school. I have been in love with designing since when I was eight years old. As a little girl, I was sewing for myself at home as a hobby. I grew up doing fashion. My parents watched me using pieces. My mum cut and created different kinds of styles and I wore them even though I used a needle to sew them. I used to design them for dummies, like teddy bears before I started using myself to design those clothes. My parents watched me doing all of that, especially my dad, who seeing that I had good talent in fashion designing, enrolled me in a fashion design school in my first year in high school.

 After the school closed, I would go straight to my fashion school which was about three miles from my school. My dad monitored my movements. I was given 30 to 45 minutes to be in my fashion school. When I got there, I’d eat, and do my homework before I started at the fashion school. My dad paid a restaurant close to my school, to always give me any food that I wanted.

How easy was it coping with school and fashion training?

It wasn’t stressful. I loved it. It was like a hobby for me. In my fashion school, my teacher didn’t find me problematic. I would do my fashion school assignments―and even the ones that were not given to me―before the days of submission. It was a beautiful experience growing up as a fashion designer. Within four months of enrollment in the school, I was already designing great things and I was way ahead of my senior students. My fashion school programme was for two years. I graduated from fashion school while in secondary school.

While in high school, I was already making money as a fashion designer at age 13. I was making a lot of money from sewing. I designed and made clothes for fellow students, teachers, friends and other people. As I was making money, my parents no longer funded me. I finished secondary school and I got my own business. I worked a little bit, not up to one year for other people. Fast-forward, I also went to catering school. I know how to bake and I know how to cook. If I want to open a restaurant, I can, because I am schooled for that. I have my certification for that. But I didn’t include it as part of my business. That is not part of my line-up. 

How did you set yourself up in business?

Immediately after I finished catering school, I went to Lagos and worked a little bit. After one year, I opened my store. Since then, I have been a boss of my own. Before I turned 18, I was already the boss of my own business. My bio said that I have trained 200 people in my profession; if I check well, it may be more than that number. I got admission to the University of Lagos and saw myself through university with my earnings from fashion designing.

While in the university, I had my business with six workers. Some of them were older than me, older mothers with grownups children. Life was not difficult for me because I had support from my business. I was doing good with all of that. Before I graduated from Unilag, I already knew I was coming out to focus on my business, not going to work for anyone.

My next level was to become a publisher before I finished university but I didn’t know how to go about it. I was asking some of my lecturers that I wanted to be a publisher and my first goal was that I wanted to be a publisher for fashion magazines. But I was just making enquiries about how to delve into my dream once I get out of the university. I graduated in 2008. In 2009, on June 7, I launched my first edition of Debbie Classique. 

With you doing so much, when will you likely leave fashion to focus on other things? 

Fashion is something that I will always do for the rest of my life. I now like to create fashion for other fashion designers to take the ideas and re-invent the ideas. I love that I am not doing fashion just for myself now, I am doing fashion to keep people who are in the fashion business in business. I also use my fashion wing to express new fashions.

Many people do fashion and my idea of fashion is to create and let people see new fashions, and new ideas of fashions. I create new wearable designs. If you come to any of my fashion shows, you will see my designs. I love to create and I love to get people to dress in certain kinds of glamorous and royal ways. I go out of my way to dress for my event and create fashions for my event because I love elegance.

How did you get into shows and awards?

I first started organizing fashion shows back then in Nigeria. I used to organize big fashion shows every second week of November. We gained recognition in those fashion shows. A lot of newspapers and televisions did cover those events. Silverbird supported in pushing my brand those days. I am really happy with Ben Bruce, he was one person that supported me.

Though we didn’t meet in person. He supported me with his platform. I am very grateful to them all for the opportunity they gave me those days. I organized fashion shows every year. Back then, it was a very famous event in Nigeria in November. 

My first awards show was in 2009, under Debby Classique Magazine Entertainment Show. Moving forward, I had to recreate the name, from being Debby Classique entertainment magazines Awards to an abbreviation, D’CEM Awards, which still stands for Debby Classique Entertainment Magazine Awards. We have been doing these awards since 2010. When I moved out permanently to the United States in 2016, I re-incorporated my company in America and continued organizing my events, the awards and fashion shows. 

You have two upcoming awards. What is the rational or the driving force behind each award?

I have two brands of awards. One is the famous D’CEM Awards. I created D’CEM awards originally for veterans who have been in the industry in different fields – music, movie, comedy, and philanthropy. It is a delight to recognize individuals who are not famous, not in the entertainment industry, but have been doing great things in the society, impacting many lives positively. Those people deserve to be recognized. I have had to incorporate up-and-coming individuals who are doing great, especially here in the diaspora.

We have many veterans who have been in the industry for years, but because of struggles of diaspora issues, they have been on a low key, almost being forgotten. I use my platform to remind the world that those people should not be forgotten. I used D’CEM Awards to recognize and celebrate excellence, people who have done well, who were doing well, and who have impacted society positively. I also use the platform to encourage and promote the goodness in people, and the greatness in people’s careers. I have taken this brand globally and it is now internationally recognized. 

De Glamours Awards recognize and empower exemplary role models. We celebrate and recognize people who have achieved many things and are a great influence in society, especially couples. It is a brand award that improves couples’ relationships, reducing the thoughts of divorce. De Glamours supports the Debby Classique Foundation.

The D’CEM Awards holding later in the year, what are the surprises that should be expected?

The 2022 D’CEM Awards is the sixth edition. More Hollywood actors, actresses, and music artistes, big Hollywood celebrities, will grace the day. The famous R&B American musician, Tony Terry, is the host for this year’s awards. Famous American artists, comedians and actors will be coming live for the ceremony. Benjamin Crump, a great activist in the United States fighting for injustice against black people is a special guest and also an awardee.

Judge Steven Reed, the first black mayor of Montgomery (a historic destination known globally as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement) will also be at D’CEM Awards 2022. The award is going to be big and the entertainment is going to be dope. For the performance, we have a lot of surprises. My events are dope and I like to upload very classy events. The red carpet is going to be very beautiful, and huge and the cocktail is going to start from the red carpet moment. We are starting the party from there, too.

You have trained over 200 students. What are those virtues and qualities you think you imparted in them? 

 Many called me with gratitude to let me know how I have been a great influence on their lives and success. They tell me some of my good qualities helped them to become successful. I taught them, both male and female, to stand for themselves, not to rely on anybody. I empowered them to be go-getters. Once, you have a positive idea, don’t accept any discouragement; be yourself; believe you can do it, and be honest, let it be your trademark. These are some of the ways I empowered all my students and the people that worked for me. I am happy that many of them, about 80% of them, are doing very great. That gives me so much joy and motivation. Most of my workers left companies to become their CEO. I always inculcated the spirit of self-awareness and self-made in all my students, workers and people around me. 

Looking back at the multiple things you are doing; in the fashion, publishing and event sectors, how do you balance your busy schedule with family obligations such that your kids and husband as well as your welfare are adequately taken care of?

Irrespective of all that I do―career, business, pursuits―I make out time for my family and myself. I am a fun, happy lady. I like to spend my weekends with my family and sometimes we go on summer vacation. When we were in Nigeria, every summer I’d travel with my family. I’d work crazy, but once it was summer, especially in June or July, I’d travel to any part of the country we chose to spend at least one or two weeks and sometimes more.

Family is something that I cherish and love. The most important part of my life is my family. I don’t play with it. Everything I do, I do for my family’s welfare and happiness. so I found my way to make sure that my business and career do not stop me from providing time for myself as a wife and mother to my family.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.