Hidden Gems is a series intended to showcase creative, innovative and intellectual Africans. We want to use our platform to share stories of African people doing amazing things in and out of the continent.
Nkem Obasi Juma, a 27-year-old Nigerian creative has been taking chances ever since she finished university and moved to Lagos with nothing but her bag, and a dream to have an impact in the fashion and creative industries.
Her work can be seen in the styling of Mavin’s leading man Rema’s music videos, a thrift business that brings cheap and exclusive clothing to Nigerians all over the country, and her glorious return to the runway. Nkem is definitely kicking ass.
We’ve been big fans of Nkem and her will to take on creative tasks with ease. So we caught up with her at the start of the new decade to ask about her journey thus far, and what she has in store this year.
Tell me about yourself?
Nkem: I’m a creative that’s been in the industry for over a decade. I’ve worked across different aspects of the creative industry, from modelling, to styling, everything literally I’ve been there. I’ve learnt a lot over the years. Right now, I’m in the process of transcending into something more meaningful, I believe, to the rest of the African creative community.
Okay then, tell us about your styling career and how it all began?
Nkem: Styling for me began when I was 13. I really really loved thrifting because so affordable, and I didn’t grow up rich. It was the easiest way for me to find and wear things I liked, and I’ll find really unique things. I played around with clothing and that’s how I started styling.
Professionally, I started styling four years ago as an editor for a fashion media magazine, we curated online covers and I had to style them.
How’s the styling been, your best moments and what does it mean to style someone?
Nkem: My best moment for styling would always be when a client comes out of the dressing room, looks in the mirror, and you see their eyes light up as they see the pieces come together. They feel beautiful, they feel sexy. That gives me joy every time.
To style someone means understanding a person’s body type, personal style, personality, and of course functionality for whatever the purpose of the styling is meant for. It’s a lot of different facets you have to bring together. You always have to consider your client first. If your client is uncomfortable in an outfit it’ll show in pictures.
Styling someone is understanding what actually works for them and their body type as a professional, but also compromising in a little way that their own personality shines through in whatever piece you’re putting them in.
Where are you now with your styling?
Nkem: I have come to realize that it’s more than just putting clothes on people. I’ve just enjoyed doing it for a long time that I never paid attention to detail of what I was doing especially in this industry.
For me, it started with promoting Nigerian designers. I said I was only going to work with Nigerian designers and connect them with all my clients. Most of the styling you see in Mavin videos are all from Nigerian designers, some from Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos, I curated a lot of pieces across Nigeria to make sure people who weren’t really given a voice during the yearly ‘fashion weeks’ were still getting their pieces out there.
Tell us about your current projects and who you’re working with?
Nkem: I’m working with a new production house called ‘RunMan Productions’. We just shot a couple of videos. It’s a new production house that’s trying something really different, they’re going to give a lot of people a run for their money.
Still working with Mavin, SDC, bunch of other new people in the works. We’re also going into movies so you’re going to be seeing our stuff on the big screen.
There’s basically a lot planned, we’ve already done six shoots this year and there’s still a lot more to come.
You were once a model before you ventured into styling, but you went back last year. Why is that? And why did you take a break in the first place?
Nkem: I started modeling when I was 16, I took a hiatus for about three years. I began again last year.
I went back to challenge myself, there was a show I hadn’t done yet which was GTB Fashion Week and I wanted to try it out.
I took a break in the first place because the Nigerian modeling industry sucks ass. Having an agency is a waste of time because they’re just there to take your money and not get you jobs. If they do get you jobs you never know how much they’re actually paying and they end up taking the higher %. And if you work as an independent model you’ll hardly get shows because half of the major shows are organized by modeling agency owners. They’ll obviously put their own models or have you sign a temporary contract so they can take 30% of your fee just for that show which is a fucking waste of time.
You’re a young woman who’s also growing multiple businesses at the same time. You’re very vocal about the limits sometimes placed on you cause of your gender. How was it been navigating through?
Nkem: To be honest, navigating has been pretty easy for me because I understand how the system works. The system works against you when you’re not vocal. So I’m always that person in your face, pointing you out the minute you fuck up, so you’ll know not to fuck up around me in general.
So for some issue I’ve never had sexual harassment in my modeling, styling and entertainment career.
I make sure I show up 120% so I no reason to be scared about losing my job or losing a gig or a contract. I made sure I was the best at my job so you had no reason to try to take advantage.
You have a thrifting platform, what’s that about?
Nkem: It’s called ‘The Ajebo Thrift Shop’, we provide affordable and exclusive clothing to interested clients. Very exclusive pop-ups you have to RSVP to be able to attend, it’s a small number of people. Our prices range from 1,500-10,000 Naira and you can get a range of things. It’s been running for a year now and we’ve pop-upped in Abuja, Benin, Calabar, Lagos, Port-Harcourt, about 12 times across Nigeria.
We plan to expand all over Africa, we have about 5 invitations so we’re working on that.
What’s been the best projects you worked on?
Nkem: I don’t think have a best project, everyone is unique in its own way. Every project is exciting and bring its own creative twist.
What’s next for you this year, being a new decade and all?
Nkem: It’s about freedom, expanding, growing. Empowering more people, making sure that we’re putting out the right kind of stories about Africa as a continent and the creative scene. That’s my major aim, bringing money back into the continent and finding solutions to all the giant ass loopholes we have in the industry.