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It is every woman’s right to look good - Data Okorodudu

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For some designers, it is business first, above everything else. But for Data Okorodudu, boss of JD7, nothing comes between her and her family; not even her outfit adjudged one of the most creative around. The former top corporate player turned A-list fashion designer believes strongly that it is every woman's right to look good, slim or fat. She tells Adia Ukoyen this much in this interview.

Was it a bandwagon thing for you, joining the industry?
Certainly not! I've always designed clothes but I never really made a business out of it. When I started off designing, I wasn't really looking to expect anything from the industry. A lot of people had always said to me, oh this looks very good on you, where did you get it? That really got me inspired. I got most of my customers from the clothes I make and wear myself.

I've let my work speak for itself. My designing business has grown mostly through word of mouth. Not until when about three years ago, the Nigerian fashion scene exploded and it occurred to me that they were ready for me did I start.

In what sense?
In the sense that my level of creativity is very high compared to that my contemporaries. So, I just felt the scene was ready to receive that level of creativity and so far, so good. When you have a natural flair for something, it not only becomes an enjoyable task, you are at your highest in terms of creativity which is what it is for me. Even if you have to do it into the middle of the night, it doesn't feel like work because it's something you enjoy doing.

Just speaking to a client, I am already looking at the eyes, the cheekbones. I'm thinking of colour tones that will complement the skin tone. It comes to me naturally. When I make clothes for people, I am fulfilled when I see the joy on their faces as they wear the clothes and appraise the design. It is humbling to know that you can make people feel good by the talent God has given you.

What are some of the challenges you face in the course of business?
The business part of it can be frustrating. There is the ban on certain fabrics and finished goods for instance. There is a limit, in this part of the world, to the many beautiful accessories that you can use to spice up your outfits which we do not have. But luckily, we have very creative people around and work with them often to make accessories for my clothes.

Where do you get your inspiration for designing?
I get inspiration from people, from fabrics, from things around me, from other designers. Sometimes if I wake up, something just comes to me. I guess if you have a natural flair for something, there are certain things you just cannot explain. Sometimes when I see a fabric, it's the pattern of the fabric that inspires me. Sometimes it's the look of a model that inspires me. I tell people that God gives me the greatest inspiration. If you go to the wild and you look at nature, you'll know that God is the greatest designer.

What is your definition of fashion?
Fashion is an individual thing. What you consider fashionable might not necessarily be fashionable to me. Our levels of exposure, experience and individual taste, all come to bear on what we describe as fashion. It is normal and okay for people to have different orientations. Fashion can and should also depend on your body type. Some people are big boned while others are very slim. Everyone has a right to wear clothes and look good. No woman has to be pencil thin to be fashionable.

Why did you leave the corporate would for the fashion industry?
The reason why I left Unilever when I did was because it was taking so much of my time. Public relations, corporate affairs job is a very demanding one. It did become so demanding of me that I had no other choice but to leave. I'm a very family-oriented person. Anything that comes between me and my family takes a back seat I left and set up my own business where I could go to work when I wanted to. So for young mothers, it's not always easy. You have to find a way to combine and manage your time.

I can only do it now because it is not affecting my family. Rather, I get encouragement from them. That's why maybe, I waited this long. My children are all grown and out of the nest. So they are all independent and being a mother to adults is different from being a mother to infants. I have a husband who understands that this is my passion.

What is your philosophy of life?
Love, makes the world go round. Love is stronger than hate. I can't stand people who have too much hate and bitterness in their hearts. I believe strongly in the saying; do unto others as you would have them to do to you. I am a very fair-minded person, and so I have this thing against the oppression of others. Justice and fair-play are very important to me.

Who are your role models?
Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. Mandela, because he has such a large heart. If people could be like Mandela, the world would be a better place.

Describe yourself in one sentence?
I like myself, and I'm comfortable in my own skin.