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I NEVER SWINDLED WINNERS OF THEIR PRIZES - JOAN OKORODUDU, ISIS MODEL BOSS

By NBF News
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•Joan
Aside from the fact that she had also burnt the runway as a young girl, about 30 years ago in the United States during her under-graduate days where she had gained some experiences on the rudiments of modeling as well as watching the Ford Model contest in New York, she thought that if they could put up such a show, there was no reason, she couldn't do, even better. Joan Elumelu then, ran with this dream until she took a holiday in Ghana, she didn't actualize it. This is the genesis of the famous Nigeria's Next Super Model competition organized by Mrs. Joan Elumelu of ISIS Model in Ikoyi, Lagos.

Five years down the line, that simple thought of combining House of Jola, (her fashion outfit) and the Nigeria's Next Super Model competition, for Mrs. Joan Okorodudu has become an endless success story.

Having helped numerous young men and women realize their dreams of becoming models and changing their lives from obscurity to stardom, the 52 year-old enterprenear is not resting on her oars

In a chat, with Woman of the Sun, Joan Elumelu, ISIS model boss gave an insight into her modelling outfit and revealed the hidden tourism potentials inherent in it.

More importantly, she refuted the claims made last year, from certain quarters that she was more in the business of swindling the winners of her modeling competition of their prizes, especially, the car prizes. She also shared light on some controversial issues surrounding the operation of her Nigeria's Next Super Model show

Excerpts
Can you tell me what you are doing now?
The House of Jola is preparing for this year's New York Fashion Week. We are going to do the couture fashion and we have models who would do both New York, Mercedes Benz, Nokia, BK, ISIS and so on. This year, we would also be doing both South Africa and London Fashion Weeks.

Basically, its been a success story especially, when I see the winners of the Nigerian Next Super Models Competition driving their car prizes around town going for fashion casting and auditions.

I also say it is a success story because we were able to bring a designer of international repute, Danny Arthriache to Nigeria in December last year. We also had Amina Benjamin of BET Runway. My models are doing the BET runway again, this year in February, so, its been wonderful. I was so thrilled about one of my models, Olubunmi Ademokoya who opened the African Fashion Week last year in Jo'bourg and I am so proud of all the models.

What was going on in your mind when you started the Nigeria Next Super Model Competition?

The idea came to me when I was on holidays in Ghana but before then, I had watched the Ford Model contest in New York and I thought that I could do a better show. One thing about such shows abroad is that the organizers do not necessarily spend a lot of money but in Nigeria, we like the razzmatazz and glitz. It was from there that I decided to do the Nigeria Next Super Model show after my holiday in Ghana. Coincidentally, at that time, my label, House of Jola was also just kicking off and I thought that I could combine my label and the competition.

But aside from all these, I had done a bit of modeling about 30 years ago in America during my undergraduate days as a young girl at the University of Massachusetts. I still have my portfolio. I didn't just come out of the blues to start this competition.

Can you give me an insight on how the first edition took off?

As soon as I took off, the first person to call me was my cousin who told me of a girl who had just won Miss Moremi at Obafemi Awolowo University and that the girl was billed to represent the school in an international competition. So, I asked her to come over to Lagos with the girl and after assessing, I knew it was only a matter of time and a little more grooming for her to hit it. She is Olubunmi Ademokoya. She was one of the models at the House of Jola show before her participation in the Nigeria Next Super Model competition.

When did you formally kick off?
This is the 5th season.
How would you assess the acceptability of the show?

As we speak, about 100 girls have registered for 2011 edition.

Do you organise zonal contests?
Yes, but before we used to have all contestants come to Lagos. The way it is now, we have girls from everywhere. In fact, the surge of girls registering for the Nigeria Next Super Model competition is overwhelming and unprecedented. People are coming from everywhere.

Do you think that models' renumeration and fees have improved with time ?

Sure, why not? It has improved tremendously. Before now, models were being booked for just about N10, 20, 000 but now, the table has turned. All that is history. Models now earn pretty well

I tell you that we can now book models for up to N1 m. Right now, we are negotiating for 100 dollars. First, I needed to have gone out first to set up ISIS Models in South Africa and with what I saw, I knew that Nigeria is even a better place to do modeling agency.

We all have what it takes to do a good modeling show here, so, why should we always head to South Africa. We have the raw talents, the multi nationals and all it requires, so, why canít we do a better show that South Africa?

Do you think that modeling can boost our tourism potentials?

For sure, It is a good source of revenue. During the African Fashion Week in South Africa, we had people from all over the world who came to watch the show in Joí bourg including us, having to spend our hard earned money to watch the show. Can you imagine us spending our money to make their show? It is the same thing with all the fashion shows outside this shores where we have to enrich their economy , boosting their tourism but what they have not come to understand in this country is that fashion is great money spinner for tourism and national economy. Fashion is a multi billion naira business.

Look at India, a lot of people are going to India now to buy fabrics which is a boost for Indian economy. So, it is time Nigeria began to realize that we can also enrich our economy with this sub sector

What is your candid opinion on models who usually like to starve to enable them achieve certain desired sizes and figures?

I always tell my models that they must eat well. I don't believe that you must starve yourself to death before you can achieve a certain figure or shape as a model. I have seen models who were fat before becoming slim and still look good. What I tell them here basically is to cut off all starchy foods, eat well but look good.

What was your vision when you started out with this modeling contest?

My vision is to take young men and women, not only to make them stars but to give them a means of livelihood. I also want to see my models combining modeling with their academic work. If you donít aspire to go to school, then, you canít be my model

So, what are your criteria to be able to work within this framework?

It is either you are in school or aspiring to go to school. You canít come here and think that it is just good enough to be a model. I do not want their careers to only end on the runway and have nothing to fall back on. For me, you can be a model as well as being an enterpreneaur or be in another field of walk too. For me, there is life after modeling.

What about the perception that those who take to modeling are never-do-wells?

Fortunately, that perception has long changed. As a matter of fact, modeling has become big business and credible career path. While some combine doing runway with other jobs. The face of modeling has completely changed and because of that, models are being reckoned with just like other professionals in Nigeria

Can you talk about the seeming difficulties for you?

Our main challenge is finance. We are financially constrained. For you to do a good show that can be compared with what they do abroad, you would need solid financial base. Nigeria Next Super Model competition is a huge business investment. It is like the America's Next Super Model but while they do their own thing, I do mine, as well.

But did you in any way fashion your show after the America's Next Top Model?

Certainly not. If I wanted to do that, I would have simply bought the franchise but why should I, anyway? Why should we always buy franchise from the white people?

I believe that I have to create a franchaise in Nigeria that can also compete and be rated along side international shows. Ours is completely Nigerian, originated here and we can sell it to the world. By March, I shall open the Cameroonian Next Super Model. It is my franchaise so I am selling it to them. There is the Ghana Next Super Model, very soon, we shall announce Africa's Next Super Model show

In all these countries, they will be doing their own version. So, you can imagine the kind of resources that will come into tourism and the entire economy by hosting the show.

Are you in any kind of alliance with the Nigerian tourism board?

Let me tell you, the winner of the 2007 Next Super Model had won the best costume for the Next Super Model of the World with her Efik attire and we got in touch with the Minister of Tourism and did everything to start working in conjunction with them but nobody listened to us. So, your guess is as good as mine but for the girls who won 1st and 2nd runner up in Brazil and Argentina had already had their pictures on their billboards at their airports.

Was there any point at which you wanted to quit for any reason?

Yes, I had almost thrown in the towel. My mother had even wanted me to stop the show but my husband has been most encouraging. He has always told me never to give up, no matter the seeming difficulties.

What would you say your driving force is?
My driving force is the passion to succeed. I am almost 52 years old but I have the mind of a 22 year-old. There is no stopping me, I am too legit to quit.

How would you react to the allegation that you swindle the winners of their prizes, ranging from their car prizes to money?

You were here when the winner of the 2009 edition, Aisha Bello drove in in her car. So, if I didn't give her her prize, who gave her the car then? All those tales were mere rumours and campaign of calumny to bring me down by my detractors. All the girls who won were given their prizes as promised even the car prizes. I have several luxury cars of my own that I don't know what to do with not to talk of the prizes for winners of the Next Super Model. All of them, Aisha, Olubunmi Ademokoya and the rest drive their cars around town. At least, you saw Aisha drive in her car and of course, you had also asked her whether or not she was given her car.

There is also an allegation that the girls are taken abroad for a prostitution spree. How would you defend that?

It is the same rumour mill going round. planting their rumours. But you see, I know what I am doing . I know my God and no one can pull me down. I don't take them for any other thing apart from the show or event that we attend. I keep them in a secured hotel and do not allow them go out except for what we come for. How would I do that? Am I not a mother?