By NBF News
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Mrs Folorunsho Alakija, the CEO of Rose of Sharon and Famfa Oil came to limelight in the 80s as the creative personality behind Supreme Stitches, a frontline fashion outfit that focused on Nigeria's upscale market, mainly upwardly mobile women with a zest for glamour and style. In her heyday as a top-drawer fashion designer, Alakija served as the president of Fashion Designers of Nigeria (FADAN), an umbrella body formed in the early 90s.

Somewhere along the line, she discovered a goldmine in monogramming and promptly shifted her attention this and renamed the label as Rose of Sharon, which also reflected her strong Christian belief.

Alakija has shown passion in caring for the less privileged in the society - particularly widows and orphans. So far, she has empowered hundreds of widows and handed out scholarships to their children in Lagos. Recently as she turned 59, Alakija took out time to tour three local government areas in Benue State, during which empowered widows and gave scholarships, up to university level, to two children of each of the widows.

A mother of four children is enjoying a superb marital relationship with her husband, Chief…And she never tires to talk about him as Sunday Sun learnt in this interview. Excerpts….

Why did you go to Benue?
I traveled to Benue to empower widows because I gathered there are thousands of widows in Benue state. We were informed that the reason for this is ignorance of health matters. When we started in Lagos, were not getting widows. We even had to go on air, both on radio and television to announce our project. Initially we had just three widows. Little did we know that there were so many out there, and they were not aware of the existence of the Rose of Sharon.

It was after we advertised, both on radio and in the newspapers, that we were able to get some. The turn out at the initial stage was almost 250 widows. Before we came to Benue and its environs, we got over 2,190 widows within a space of about four weeks in Taraba State.

Within two days of getting to Benue, we were able to visit four local government, 3 churches and 8 villages in all and we believe that within those two days we must have had 500 widows. The good thing is that most of them in that area are farmers.

What the Rose of Sharon does is that when we go to a state or any area, we try to find out exactly what are the general needs of the widows. There is no point giving a widow what she cannot manage or what will not help her. So we try to find out first what they need towards their upliftment. We discovered that in Benue and Taraba about 95 percent of the widows are farmers.

For this reason, we decided to partner with the government in sourcing for land, providing all the basic machines and equipment that they could need for mechanized farming because at the moment we have very little individual farmlands - they mainly farm with their hands, so naturally they would only be able to produce very little . As we all know with mechanized farming one can multiply in hundreds of folds whatever one has been producing manually.

That way we can begin not only to provide for them but also provide for other things and send their products to other states and begin to export in the nearest future. We have started talking with the suppliers of such equipment. Beyond this, we also empower the widow's children by awarding them scholarships. Look at it this way: when a widow makes money, what does she do with it?

She will use it to educate the children because the bread winner of the home is gone and she has become the bread winner. People are getting enlightened, and so they now want their children to go to school. Naturally, if we can provide scholarship to two in each family I believe it will go a long way in reducing the stress on the mother.

Why did you go into this project?
It was a calling from the Lord. I purposely took my ministry to the Lord in prayers, asking God to direct me. There was a burden in me to help people who frequently come to Rose of Sharon for help because it is strategically located. I had a passion for the physically challenged, but I needed confirmation from the Lord about the right way to assist them.

So when I went to the Lord in prayers, the Lord said I should reach out to widows. Therefore, what I do for the widows and orphans is done in obedience to God. I do it passion in my heart and He keeps protected and empowered to serve Him.

How would you describe yourself?
Mrs Alakija is a woman of many parts; she is a God fearing woman, a wife and a mother. She is a woman who believes in touching the lives of the less privileged as way of honouring God and showing appreciation to Him for favours and grace bestowed on her life. She is a woman who believes the credo that whatever that is worth doing at all is worth doing well.

At 59, you still look very young. What is the secret of your youth look?

There is no secret it's just the grace of God. That is the simple truth. It is certainly not because I started exercising just a month ago. So I believe it is them that the grace of God. I don't eat any special diet. In fact, I had to start dieting about a month ago when I couldn't get into my clothes anymore.

Have you ever done body enhancement?
Body what? I hate it. Why would want to do that? I have never done body enhancement. I praise God for the way He created me. If anything at all, I do massage at least twice a week but nowadays, I hardly do.

How did you meet Mr. Alakija?
Well, we met in December 1972 at a party in England. At the end of my course I returned to Nigeria from England. We courted for about two and a half years and then got married. We have been married for almost 34 years.

Evidently, your marriage has experienced storms and bad weather. Please, tell me about your family. Do you still dote on each other? What would you say are the secrets of your successful marriage?

In a nutshell, the secrets are these: Love, understanding, tolerance, patience, communication and the grace of God.

Was there anytime you had issues that were strong enough to make you want pack out of your home?

Never! That has never happened and I don't see it ever happening in Jesus name. Imagine what it means to leave one's matrimonial home? Marriage is God ordained, and through His grace and with patience, love for one another, you know they say true love can make a miracle.

Impatience can make marriages fall apart. I can't see that happening, why would I want to do that? I suppose one has to think deeply before you go into it because you are entering into a covenant (for better or for worse) and it is only death that should make you part. There are some marriages that have such issues. But I can only talk about my own marriage; I don't want to talk about other people because some just face unbearable situations in some cases. I have been fortunate to have the kind of husband sure he feels fortunate to have a wife like me. God has been gracious to us and my marriage is blessed with wonderful children, which make us bond easily, we are a close bond family, we are a very close-knit family.

Paint a mental picture of Mr. Alakjia
In the first place, he is very hardworking, very humorous and generous, very kind, nature loving, he can be shy to those who don't know him well. He can be 'talkative' too among those who know him well and with those he knows well.

You tend to travel very often. Does it ever occur to you that some Lagos girl might 'snatch' your husband while you are away?

Most of the time, my husband and I are together. During our recent trip to England, he returned before me. I think the whole issue of infidelity depends on the man. I think any responsible man would put his family first no matter how much the woman tries to tempt or seduce him. Only a willing man can commit adultery.

What is your idea of style?
Style is whatever you make to be your personal style, whether it is clothing, make-up or your interaction with people. There is style in everything that we do. You just have to determine how you want to do it. My own style is to look beautiful at all times. I like to have beautiful people and things around me at all times.

How do you like to dress?
At any given point in time I like to dress the best I can; even when I am up to 90 years old I would still want to dress the best I can. And it has to be exquisite.

Looking back at the last five years, how do feel about the Nigerian fashion industry?

One major difference I have seen is that in the today, designers can now charge a lot more than we used to charge when we first started. This is due to inflation.

The industry has definitely become more lucrative; the challenges have also increased because the Nigerian fashion industry is beginning to get recognition, not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of the world. But we still need to do much more work to take it to the core fashion cities and locations where it is supposed to be seen. Nigerian fashion is supposed to be in departmental stores abroad.