Rhoda Michaels Fashion Academy, one of the foremost fashion academies in the country will be graduating students from the academy today. The academy has empowered over 400 students with sewing machines and sewing tools to start their businesses for free. The founder of the fashion school, Rhoda Michaels, speaks with VANESSA OKWARA on the journey so far
How do you feel seeing your students graduating today?
I am elated, excited, and happy that they are wrapping up this phase of their lives, moving on to greater and better things.
Who is a Rhoda Michaels student?
A Rhoda Michaels student is an exceptional individual who is passionate about learning, who understands the place of vision and hard work. Our students get trained from minimum of 3 months to 12 months. It is important our students understand the concept of servant leadership, apply themselves to the knowledge available to them in school. The Rhoda Michaels student has been trained to understand the inner workings of the fashion industry within Nigeria and the world at large. Our students are taught Fashion production which includes skill sets in pattern making for male wears, female wears, children wear and bridals, clothing construction, textiles, colour analysis and fashion illustration, Fashion Business Management which includes the ability to run a fashion business by applying basic business skills like basic accounting, offline, digital and content marketing, customer care etc.
What are your achievements so far?
Rhoda Michaels Fashion Institute has empowered over 400 students with sewing machines and sewing tools to start their businesses for free. We are recipient of numerous awards. We have two branches in Lagos. One in Abule-Egba and another one in Ikeja, we also have accommodation for international students and students that live outside Lagos. Our students are exposed to the workings of the fashion industry by exposure to fashion shows and exhibitions, showcasing in Fashion Shows in and out of Nigeria.
How does Rhoda Michaels School operate in terms of classes and can working class people enrol of your school?
We have a flexible structure that caters to the millennial age whereby everything is becoming fast and instant. We have different programmes and different courses. The three months programme is for students who have a limited amount of time to learn fashion design, the six months programme is the regular programme with options in children wear, female wears and male wears. The nine months programme and evening school is for the working-class prospective students. The 12-month programme is for prospective students who want to learn the male, female, children and bridals. There is a flexible structure in place for every prospective student. We have state of the art facilities to cater to our students with over 20 classrooms, sewing equipment, digital teaching aids and experienced teachers. All programmes at Rhoda Michaels Institute come with free sewing tools and free sewing machine. We believe the average business needs just these tools to start. We are an empowerment driven school.
In the face of the present economy, how have you been able to sustain and keep your business?
To run a business in Nigeria is to understand the make up of the Nigerian economy, to understand how to meander the bottle necks within the economy. We are an institution that is determined to make it work taking all the negatives with respect to operating a small business in our country, and translating it to a positive situation that works for the institute. We practice what we preach by taking all mitigating circumstances in our stride going above and beyond to make sure our students have the best fashion education possible, maintaining our standards and equally keeping our business afloat. We choose not to dwell on the hopeless prevailing conditions that make it close to impossible to run a successful small business in our country Nigeria. As an organisation, we know it will get better because the wealth of a country is directly proportional to the amount of successful small businesses within the country. We are a part of this evolving process whereby young vibrant Nigerians are going against all odds to succeed in unfavourable conditions. We make the process easier for the budding fashionpreneurs in out institute.
With your hand in so many pies, how do you balance your work with taking care of your home as a wife and mother?
It’s very ironic; I am a full-time house wife that relies heavily on digital technology, effective delegation to effective team members at home and at work and effective time management skills. In the words of Aristotle, Excellence is an art of training and habituation; once excellence is a habit not an act it automatically reflects in every facet of life. It is imperative for the success of my overall being that my role as a wife, mother and business woman do not clash or compete against each other. At any time, my role as a wife and mother take precedence over work, my family is never to be kept at risk. I define every phase and situation I find myself in, understanding times and seasons. Pacing myself and running my race. The primary goal of my business is to add value to lives. If I intend to achieve this, then I cannot jeopardise my own values, I believe you cannot give what you don’t have, what creates sustenance and substance is consistency and continuity. Above all, wisdom is profitable to direct. To be wise is to understand applicable knowledge at any given time. It is important to develop the mind that influences decisions which directly affects actions. I have surrounded myself with accountability partners. Understanding my life is a precious puts thing in perspective for me thereby giving me the ability to create a balance.
What is your take on women in business?
Women are great multi-taskers, equipped with innate intuitive skills that when it is perfectly aligned with opportunity, we defy all odds. A woman is so powerful even in the position of submission. I am an advocate for women in business specially to set an example for the younger generation. Younger girls need to see more successful women doing fabulously, engaging different skill set to be successful at any chosen field. To understand they don’t have to go through life compromising their virtues and principles. It is so imperative, that they understand with the right skill set, hard work, application of business principles, dedication to God as a plus, anything is achievable. There is a need for more women in business.
What is your advice to the average Nigerian woman seeking to be financially independent ?
In my humble opinion, it is a one size fits all situations. The average Nigerian woman who wants to be independent I say go for it but a word of caution. It is easier said than done to want to be financially independent. The first line of thought should be why do you need or want to be financially independent, it is important to do a comprehensive SWOT analysis. This would give a clear picture of how to start the journey of being financially dependent. It is advisable to understand your make up in other words your purpose, vision, and the reason you exist, understanding who you are will influence the why and then it is very easy to figure out the how. The average Nigerian woman needs to understand that she is a unique person, with a unique identity in a unique situation, No two stories are the same. There different parameters involved in different lives. Being financially independent is good but staying financially independent with the ability to create wealth continuously is better.
As a fashion icon, what is style to you?
Style is everything, your style is reflection of who you are, it affects your inward and outward man. Style defines your appearance. It is said dress like you want to be addressed. Situations can be controlled through style. Style is part of my identity. I am uniquely built; my style is mostly sporty chic, business casual, I love the minimalistic and simplistic way of dressing. I love when my appearance speaks volume before I open my mouth to speak. I cannot even begin to explain the advantages attached to having a good and unique sense of style.
In what way are you giving back to the society, any scholarship for the less privileged?
Today, we will be launching the Rhoda Michaels Foundation. The school offers scholarships every year and we also collaborate with organizations to help prospective students who cannot afford tuition. For example, we just collaborated with JCI Ikeja on their zero-hunger programme where we gave scholarships to their project, funding and training individuals who are interested in learning fashion design, we gave full scholarships and the students are now graduating today. We also have corporate organizations and religious bodies who pay full tuition for some prospective students to attend on full scholarship. We have a growing list of individuals who want to be empowered, as a school we take the quota we can afford to give scholarships, but the numbers we have to turn back is astounding. So, our foundation creates a unique platform where organisations or individuals interested in empowering budding designers to have quality education that would in essence liberate the prospective student from untold hardship, giving such student an opportunity to be empowered thereby taking care of his/herself and possibly creating income for a family. We also have registered foundations that can come in with students and we merge with a registered situation. The needed help is gotten and the helping hand is also given the satisfaction of help rendered and money well spent.
What is your advice to the graduating students?
Pace yourself, you are not in a race against anyone, make your vision plain and bold, understand your purpose, find your unique niche and product, grow progressively, expand and diversify with care and well-crafted strategy, be accountable, manage overhead, make sure you are always profitable. Understand the place of crafting and executing well planned business strategies, be careful of social media, it’s a double-edged sword, it can make or mar your business or identity. Enjoy your success. The most important thing is to make sure you are solving a problem and adding value to lives. The world is yours to conquer. So, I say go conquering and to conquer.
Where do you see Rhoda Michaels Fashion institute in the next five years?
I see Rhoda Michaels Fashion Institute established in more cities locally with advanced centres that make learning fashion design fun and engaging, also playing a huge role globally in the fashion industry especially in the aspect of creating brands, putting brands on a global platform. Also to aid young fashionpreneurs in transcending borders using digital technology as a tool.
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