Her Network: International Women’s Day 2024 Special

Since its introduction into the world in the early 20th century, International Women’s Day (IWD) continues to evolve as we become a more accepting and progressive society. Initially intended to advocate for women’s rights and promote gender equality, IWD has transformed drastically as women are represented in more social, economic, cultural, and political spaces. 

This year, the global theme of the celebration reimagines a more gender-equal world. It imagines a world that is diverse and inclusive. A world that prompts women in these respective spaces to  #InspireInclusion

As an inspirational and lifestyle platform, we pride ourselves on amplifying the voices and impact stories of women around the world. To honor the essence of IWD 2024, Her Network profiles 10 inspiring women from different environments and backgrounds who embody the change that we want to see in the world in their respective fields. 

Introducing: Amina Shagari, Bonnie Meslane, Candius Diallo, DBN Gogo, Debbie Larry-Izamoje, Destinee Anthony, Dr. Susan Chomba, Nomalanga Shozi, Omoyemi Akerele and Tumininu Olaniyi for Her Network’s International Women’s Day Special.

Nigeria’s Fashion Industry Reimagined: Amina Shagari

A cheeky cocktail of optimism, creativity, and rebellion is how we would characterize the 90s. This was a time of rapid change and making a statement. Products of the 90s tend to embody that energy, so it is unsurprising that when it comes to Amina Shagari, the shoe is a perfect fit.

The designer, who grew up in a devout Muslim family, reimagines the fashion landscape by shifting our perspective towards a more inclusive and innovative industry through her self-titled project, Amina The Brand. Founded in 2019, the decision to start the brand was a personal one. Her desire was to design clothing that was both aesthetically pleasing while being incorporated into everyday wear for all women. Colour is central to the identity of the brand. “Amina The Brand apparel fuses multiple colors together to highlight the importance of color in our everyday lives. The variety of prints in our pieces represent Amina’s love for simplicity and elegance, this is what the brand represents.”.

Amina The Brand

Executing this kind of vision isn’t light work either, it is transformative. While remaining true to her upbringing and journey, Shagari’s brand is a reconceptualization of how others can design, produce, consume, and appreciate fashion. “During her time in Europe, Amina wore many hats – from a travel, fashion, and food blogger to a dedicated volunteer at London Modest Fashion.” These decisions would later find her taking on internships in other European countries before eventually arriving where she is today as a result of what has been cited as her innate curiosity, self-taught approach, and relentless pursuit of excellence. “As a female designer, I believe that every woman’s journey is a masterpiece in the making,” she expresses. “I want us to paint a world where women’s efforts and successes aren’t overshadowed by societal expectations. Inclusion isn’t just about inviting women to the table; it’s about amplifying their voices, honoring their unique paths, and supporting them until they radiate their full brilliance.”

Shagari’s approach is worth being celebrated because it is one that makes sure that all voices are heard and all bodies are catered to in the most authentic way possible. “Amina The Brand wasn’t entirely a calculated business move but rather a natural progression from a passionate hobby,” she explains. It was important to cater to a primarily Northern Nigerian demographic first to honour where she comes from before inevitably expanding and transcending geographical borders. On some of the challenges she has faced while on this journey, Shagari has confronted gender-based discrimination through how she amplifies her work.

Amina The Brand is a statement. Using her lived experience and truth to address stereotypes that affect women where she comes from is central to the messaging of the fashion line. As the industry at large witnesses a significant shift towards inclusivity, being open to diverse cultures and traditions is essential.  Muslim inclusion in fashion is crucial. As a society, we can progress towards a more representative and accepting future. By embracing Muslim designers like Shagari, we celebrate the richness and diversity of Islamic fashion traditions. “On International Women’s Day, let’s inspire inclusion by celebrating every woman’s journey, regardless of societal checkboxes,” she concludes. “Together, we can create a canvas where every stroke of a woman’s effort is recognized and cherished until she paints her full potential.”

 Being a part of the fashion landscape in this way ultimately contributes to a more vibrant, responsible, and harmonious industry that not only shines a spotlight on current needs but also protects the future of fashion for generations to come.

Instagram: aminathebrand
Web: Amina The Brand

Mastermind Behind the Magic: Bonnie Meslane

The recent resurgence of the classic flick “The Devil Wears Prada” serves as an apt reminder. It is a reminder to shine a spotlight on the work of the unsung hero behind the pages that captivate readers and inspire the masses. On South African soil, Bonnie Meslane maintains a keen eye for detail coupled with a passion for storytelling.

The co-founder and editor of the Lifestyle and Pop Culture magazine  Nounouche has quickly cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with in the media and entertainment landscape, turning words and images into works of art that she serves us on a platter. “I live a life of service. I thrive when I see people happy and doing better,” she explains. “Interacting with people and making people feel seen, special, and loved? That is what I do for people. I find that motivating and pushes me to do more.”

Bonnie Meslane. Photography: Starquality
The path to inspire and represent women who look like her did not begin in the editorial space. For years, Meslane was widely recognized as a publicist, repping Azania Public, a company that she founded. On top of directing a board made up of women at the helm, she also worked intensely in the entertainment industry for almost a decade. Representing a diverse range of clients from different backgrounds, cultures, and communities was certainly a part of her repertoire. Reflecting on the journey to this point, Meslane has an appreciation for the confidence she has in herself today. “It has made me wiser and given me a lot of confidence. I trust in myself, my talent, and my abilities, and I trust in the process,” she affirms. “I no longer sweat the small stuff. I understand that I don’t have to rush anymore. My journey has also made me appreciate life and what I offer even more, while also teaching me to detach from material things and not idolize anyone.” 

This confidence, creativity, and dedication becomes apparent in every aspect of her work. Given the decline of print media over the years, the world of digital publishing is a fast-paced one. Being grounded as the guiding force that ensures each issue is a seamless blend of information, entertainment, and inspiration is necessary. She appears to navigate this well with the assistance of her years in publishing too.

Amplifying the voices and stories of underrepresented groups to promote inclusivity in the media and public sphere is not light work. Taking on the task of inclusive messaging ultimately creates a more inclusive and tolerant society. We are thrown back to the decision to profile the legendary South African footballer Teko Modise as a fashion icon in a printed flared two-piece on her pages. This bold embrace of representation especially when it comes to People of Colour does not go unnoticed.

“Being taken seriously as an agency or business was challenging for a long time. Some of those challenges included people not wanting to pay on or not providing what was outlined or required.” While giving consideration to some of the challenges, she also pauses to acknowledge some good that came from them. “They made me develop thick skin while not being afraid to speak up for myself. That has in turn made me a better person and leader in my respective businesses.”.

A pivotal moment that significantly impacted her career was the decision to launch the online magazine. Mesalane embarked on this journey citing it as a lifelong dream of hers. “Starting Nounouche changed my life. It is still the best, yet the scariest thing I have ever done with my life.”

On how she believes her work will make a lasting impact in her industry or community, her response is equally simple and profound. “My work will outlive me and that makes me happy. It will be remembered for its authenticity, truth, its celebration of black and brown people.” 

Instagram: Bonnie Meslane

Web: Nounouche Online

La Dolce Verita: Candius Diallo

In recent times, hairstyling has become a more representative movement where the beauty industry is concerned. It is creating an environment that is becoming more accepting and welcoming of more genders, races, identities, and importantly – textures. The story of Candius Diallo goes as follows: poise, passion, and unparalleled persistence to redefine beauty for women of color.

Her celebration of diversity in a world that is continually challenging traditional beauty standards; standards that often exclude or marginalize certain groups of people is a celebration worth attending. While her story began and continued in The United States, Diallo’s curiosity and decision to travel to Africa turned out to be the right one. What was once a passion project is now a successful business directly translating to “The Truth” called La Verita Hair.

Candius Diallo

“Where Exquisite Craftsmanship Meets Your Unique Essence”; this is the motto at La Verita Hair. The luxury beauty salon and hair factory provides premium quality human hair extensions and consultation services. At a global level, African women are undoubtedly the largest consumers of this market with a relatively small representation of Black women sitting at the helm when we think about it from a manufacturing perspective. From manufacturing to production and lastly, quality service – Diallo begins to close this gap. 

“At a point in her life as a young teenager, Diallo was told her hair wasn’t good enough. When “good hair” was being described, her texture would need to be altered to fit the definition of beauty. This piqued her curiosity as a child, so when she visited salons, she would try to figure out which ladies had extensions on. This subconsciously started molding her mind to love and want to understand more about human hair.” One of the major selling points when it comes to inclusive hairstyling is the idea that everyone deserves to look and feel beautiful and confident at their core. This idea should fundamentally disregard an individual’s background or appearance. Businesswomen like Diallo who embrace inclusivity understand and cater to the unique needs and preferences of their clientele, whether they have straight, short, curly, long, natural, or processed hair.

Inclusive hairstyling largely involves offering a wide range of services and products that cater to a diverse clientele. Not only that, one must have a personal awareness of what it means to work with a variety of hair types – creating looks that complement and enhance each client’s natural beauty. “This vision, like every other successful venture, had her traveling far and wide to gain both the academic and technical know-how on creating luxury hair for women of color. A feat that has her challenging the existing narrative and probably industry gatekeepers who have profited from our ignorance over the years.”

When it comes down to it, the importance of carrying this mantle is not just about the technical aspects of hair care; it concerns itself with creating what we can consider safe and welcoming spaces for clients to express themselves freely. In the last decade, La Verita has been responsible for roughly 11 curl patterns that can be customized and blended to create natural-looking textures for women of color across the globe. These have been sold directly to customers, wholesale, beauty salons, hair vendors, and personal shoppers in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and migrants living in the USA, UK, Canada, and some other parts of Europe.

Late last year, Diallo added 3 new curl patterns with the intention of capturing the beauty of Nigeria in Abuja Curls, Naija Blend, and Lasgidi Waves. These are all textures that Black women can blend seamlessly whether their hair is virgin or chemically processed. “We should aim to create a culture where women, regardless of background or expertise, feel empowered to pursue their dreams and excel at every level,” she tells us. “Together, we can inspire inclusion, foster diversity, and build a future where all women thrive”. Ultimately, inclusive hairstyling is about swimming in the diversity pool. La Verita continues to celebrate individuality while empowering clients to feel confident and beautiful in their own skin. 

Don’t stop the Music: DBN Gogo
DBN Gogo. Photography by Gareth Nelson

Photography: Gareth Van Nelson

In recent years, the global DJ industry has been occupied by women who have taken up space and shifted stereotypes and perceptions. Women like Mandisa Radebe, popularly known as DBN Gogo have been taking Boiler Rooms and world stages by storm; proving that they are just as relentless at heart as their male counterparts.

The popular South African DJ, artist, and producer very quickly rose to fame in the music industry. Her stage presence, charm, and of course, her track selection captured the hearts of music lovers all over the world. Her ability to genre-blend seamlessly positioned DBN Gogo as one of the artists at the forefront of the Amapiano music scene that has taken over both the charts and our hearts. “The most inspiring aspect of my work is the fact that I get to do something that not many people can do,” she tells us. “There’s a spike happening in the DJ industry in South Africa but truly DJing and being able to mix music, beat match, master the timing and pull a crowd is an art. Being able to make people happy and forget what they were stressed about is an exchange of energy. The ability to have that amount of control over someone’s feelings while they are listening to your set is quite special.”

DBN Gogo. Photography by David Blaq

Whether DBN Gogo is playing at a festival or a club, captivating her audience is definitely one of her many superpowers. The increasing visibility and representation of Female DJs is certainly what you can consider a culture shift. This kind of visibility wasn’t always accessible in a previous era. For that reason, it is so crucial to promote inclusivity and diversity within the DJ community to ensure that women are presented with the same opportunities to share their creativity and passion for the art of music. “My journey has shaped how I approach things in this industry”, she explains. “Building a reputable brand was important to me when I started. Having passion and showing dedication to my craft while proving my capability was a priority for me. Being able to read rooms and read a crowd has taken me a while to learn and perfect; I still maintain this approach to this day. Growing and sustaining my brand is what has made it foolproof”.

It is clear that this commitment to the process has allowed her to build a community and support network across the globe with her most played regions being Johannesburg and London. On the challenges she has faced along the way, she reflects back on the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As much as the lockdown was one of the things that helped me grow exponentially, it happened during a very challenging time for me,” she expresses. “I had just left school, moved homes, and made the pivot into full-time DJing. Being able to provide for myself was extremely difficult but by the grace of God, I was able to do that.” Her online mixes and LockdownHouseparties during this period epitomize what people mean when they say “You just had to be there.”  Her talent, vibe, and collaborations, as well as her presence on social media platforms, were combined forces to be reckoned with. Through hard work, passion, and consistency, DBN Gogo has cemented herself as one of the leading ladies representing the South African music scene.

She maintains that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to when you work hard and persistently at it. “There are a lot of barriers to entry in this industry, however, because it is so male-dominated, it’s not easy. If more of us break those barriers, there will be much more opportunities. Women are more than worthy and more than capable and we definitely look better and cooler doing it so let’s reach for the stars!”

Instagram: dbngogo


Breaking Barriers: Debbie Larry-Izamoje

When it comes to the sporting field, history has proven that women fall prey to so many challenges. An increase in female participation as well as female voices over the years has gradually started to break down these barriers. These women have served as beautiful and inspiring reminders of power and persistence.

Debbie Larry-Izamoje is a Sports Executive at Brila Media Limited, home to Africa’s first sports radio station. Determined to make a lasting impression as far as the development of women in the sports sector, she serves as the Chief Operating Officer over the airwaves responsible for amplifying voices from Lagos, to the world. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time around sports journalists, professionals and

Personalities”, she explains. “These experiences gave me close insights into the expectations and challenges of the sports industry and its audience. I also recognize the importance of people in delivering the vision of any leader or organization. These lessons, amongst others, have shaped my approach to leadership in the sports business industry”.

Inclusion and equality are central to the conversation when we consider the progression of this particular industry. Not only are women capable of furthering that conversation, but they are also necessary in leadership positions for effective change to take place. At the moment, Larry-Izamoje leads an impressive team of sports media professionals tasked with transforming the sports media landscape in Africa. This is achieved through storytelling, executing digital strategies, managing stakeholders, and providing innovative systems. “When I made the decision to join and actively enhance the sports business space in Nigeria, I had my fears knowing that I was going into an industry with very few female leaders to reference or look up to”, she tells us. “I remember doing my research to find a woman who had led a sports media business in Nigeria. I soon realized that I was about to embark on a journey on a road less traveled. I also knew that there would be other young girls watching this journey.”

As this landscape continues to take on a different shape, recognizing that it is not without its challenges, both past and present is essential to highlight the importance of such work. For Larry-Izamoje, one of the key challenges she has encountered along the way is just that – it is often not considered important work. “Sports is hardly ever perceived as more than a mere recreational activity in Nigeria. Many Nigerian stakeholders do not value the importance of the business of sports and the impact it can have on the economy”, she asserts. “For instance, the North American sports market had a value of about $71.06 billion in 2018 and the figure was expected to rise to $83.1 billion by 2023. I believe that if we had the same approach to sports business in Nigeria, it would trickle into different industries like tourism and education”. Fundamentally, the position she and others play has the potential to have a lasting impact on society in various ways. “Being a woman in a business is generally seen as an afterthought. That means that I have to work twice as hard to be recognized for the work that I do. As a female leader in this industry, I must persevere to make the industry appeal to younger women who want to pursue a career here”.

Sooner or later, being a role model for young girls and women builds confidence and reveals the possibilities of breaking through society’s active and perceived barriers. The success of women’s stories in the sporting world helps to challenge gender roles, leading to broader social change and progress towards a more balanced society. “Although a road might be less traveled, you can still get to your desired destination if you step out and you put in the work, regardless of how bumpy the road looks. At Brila Media, we prioritize gender equality in sports, ensuring our commitment to authentic content and equal promotion of games regardless of gender, without any room for sentiment or bias. Behind the scenes, we ensure each gender has a voice as we unlearn and relearn expectations even from the people we serve”.

Debbie Larry-Izamoje. Image supplied

On making a lasting impact, she simply hopes to contribute to an evolved sports industry that serves as a safe space for both genders to thrive and ultimately promote a more inclusive community. “We have the potential to be a powerful force for positive change in the African sports industry even by hiring and giving room for more women to thrive behind the scenes. I hope to see more intentional efforts towards gender equality and inclusivity in the years to come”. As for the legacy of Brila Media, her hope is for the powerhouse to extend far beyond her name. She talks about a recent event that catered to 2000 HNI’s (High net worth individuals). “I remember at some point looking around the hall and just seeing people network as well as being joyful and this further opened my eyes to how impactful Brila and the work we do is to the average Nigerian just trying to stay happy. We’ve built a brand that people can rely on and this keeps me motivated and inspired to continue to innovate and sustain the legacy”.

Instagram: debbieofbrila

Web: Brila Media

The Future of Inclusive Beauty: Destinee Anthony

The beauty industry is dynamic and ever-evolving. Beauty products are a quintessential part of how many people view themselves because they represent how they show up in the world. In this billion-dollar industry, as much as it may appear that black-founded or black-owned brands are taking up space – these brands only make up 2.5 percent of revenue while black consumers are responsible for 11.1 percent of total beauty spending according to McKinsey & Company.

Enter Destinee Anthony. The UK-based founder of Destinee Beauty promotes a diverse range of products, from lip glosses and eyeshadow palettes to body shimmer oils and much more. Established in 2020, the beauty brand pushes the boundaries of creativity and entrepreneurship, contributing to the growth and glamour of the billion-dollar industry and making a statement that is hard to ignore while doing so.

“There’s something about running a business that teaches you something new every day”, she tells us. “Whether you’re making mistakes or coming across people that you meet on the journey from different walks of life, there is always something new to learn. The cherry on top is seeing your customers or your clients express how much they love what you’ve created and how it’s made their lives easier even if it’s the smallest thing”. 

Destinee Anthony for Destinee Beauty. Photography by Amanda Akokhia

While Anthony pursues a more inclusive approach, she certainly positions her brand as one worth watching. Historically, makeup has been used as a form of protest and rebellion. The classic red lip became popular in the 1900s while women were fighting for equal rights because they wanted to make a bold statement with their appearance through makeup. Today, beauty moguls and the makeup industry as a whole are arguably forced to act in response to consumer demands, in this case, the desire for more Black-owned beauty brands. Who better to represent them than those who can relate to their experience?

Inspired to create Destinee Beauty as a direct result of responses online to what she dubbed her signature “Lip Combo”, Anthony saw a gap in which she could begin to take up space. By creating products with colours and tones that not only complement women who look like her, but she is also “Making Beauty Personal.” As the industry becomes more inclusive, it is undeniably influenced by cultural changes, celebrity endorsements, social media trends and so much more. 

On how the journey has shaped or influenced Anthony’s perspective, she believes that the best output is often on the opposite spectrum of what we consider to be all glitz and glam. “You see a lot of successful business owners living a certain lifestyle and you assume that came effortlessly for them,” she explains. “There’s actually a lot of work that goes behind an established brand. I fell in love with what I do so as a result, I’m always prepared to sacrifice things in my personal life.” Today, Anthony’s brand has been seen on a diverse range of women from Gabrielle Union to Kathy Hilton. This is a testament to the fact that diversity and inclusivity are at the forefront of the conversation as far as brands are concerned. It is an exciting time for such creatives because it communicates a standard of beauty that challenges all that we have traditionally come to know.

As the beauty mogul deliberates on a pivotal moment that significantly impacted her career or personal philosophy, she remembers a trip she took to Ibiza. She recalls a lovely girl she encountered whom she happened to get along with. 

“At some point, she went into her bag and pulled out some lip gloss. At first, I didn’t pay much attention but the minute I saw the pigment on her lips, I knew exactly what gloss that was. I went back into her bag without her permission and pulled out the lipgloss. She looked at me like I was crazy then I told her that it was my brand. She screamed and jumped on me expressing how much she loved DB. It was her favourite gloss. I cried like a baby. I thank God that my work and effort is being recognised.”

Anthony reminisces on this moment, especially during times when she feels discouraged. “From that day, I made a promise that I would keep working hard because there are people watching, supporting, buying, and promoting my brand in real life. I always get choked up when people recognize me as the owner of Destinee Beauty.

Destinee Beauty is a rebirth and a transformation, of all things beauty. This is also the inspiration behind our sub logo being back-to-back D’s shaping the form of a butterfly. Destinee Beauty is the ‘butterfly of beauty.’ The recreation of beauty, the transformation of beauty, the progress and change of beauty. Making beauty personal is an important mission for me as beauty lies in the things that makes one feel beautiful. It focuses on us as individuals and not how society tries to mold us. From responsible initiatives to extensive research for the perfect long-lasting formula, I am constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to fill voids and promote inclusion in the beauty industry. Our primary focus is to be ‘The butterfly of beauty,’ striving for constant growth and improvement with our products to fulfill the needs of every customer. 

Instagram: Destinee Anthony

Web: Destinee Beauty

From Rhythm City to Rising Star: Nomalanga Shozi

The role that women play in the film and television arena in Africa is a crucial one. In more recent times, there has been an increase in their visibility in the entertainment industry. As more African female creatives turn up the volume on their voices, it is a sound that echos – shifting how we consume media whether that is in the form of radio, television, film, and much more.

For Nomalanga Shozi, the story continues to unfold. The International Zulu Girl is currently the face of BET Africa while also taking up space as a leading Actress, TV Host, and Radio DJ. “What inspires me is seeing how my work inspires other people”, she affirms. “Sometimes we are unaware of how just being ourselves can leave an impression on others. I treat myself with a certain level of respect, dignity, integrity, and pride. Demanding and requiring excellence from yourself while keeping your intentions pure also demands a certain response. When I’m presenting or hosting, I get to see this in real-time. It shows that people are receiving inspiration on their end to be as good in their personal lives or their own fields.”

Nomalanga Shozi. Images supplied

Understanding how to harness this power has been an integral part of Shozi’s trajectory thus far. She represents a demographic of women in Africa who we are witnessing as they transform the ecosystem that is the media industry. As she unpacks this further, she tells us how she encounters such a wide network of people through her different positions and platforms. “I touch so many different people, you know? I brush shoulders with people in corporate, creative, and entertainment spaces. If you are somebody who follows or supports my work, it’s because you can see that the energy that is behind it is pure. You can use and galvanize that for your own benefit.” The South African media personality rose to fame after she appeared on the popular local soapie “Rhythm City”. Following that, she became a widely recognized face and credible voice for effective societal change on numerous platforms. On “MTV Shuga” largely focused on the youth, for instance, audience members have ultimately been educated on matters concerning safe sexual practices as well as reproductive healthcare.

“I come from a very small town that doesn’t have much access or opportunity,” she tells us. “Having a mom who taught me the importance of reading, education, and expression shaped how I perceived my reality. Because what I wanted didn’t exist where I came from, I had to dream and conjure up this life. I currently have an attitude of gratitude. When I think about where I come from and where I want to go, I’m just so humbled.” As environments like the entertainment industry become more inclusive, they empower artists like Shozi to open doors for others much like the ones that were opened for her. One of her priorities is to contribute to a culture that promotes diversity for women. Creating spaces where women feel protected and respected is extremely important to her. “When you’re young, it feels like you’re an anomaly. I’ve come to realize that internationally, artists are now looking towards young people to shape and shift the culture.”

Diverse storytelling has fast become a part of Shozi’s personal brand. “As a young person, being acknowledged by people who are much older than me symbolizes inclusivity,” she asserts. Representing these diverse experiences and perspectives as a young African woman on a global stage is a heavy crown to carry and she does so with so much grace. “As a young black girl, opting into an industry that was dominated by people who were much older than me was a form of inclusivity. In my personal capacity, I would like to pay that forward. Whenever young people reach out to me for mentorship, I embrace them with open arms and share my knowledge.” As our entertainment industry expands in Africa, the impact of iconic women like Shozi can not be ignored. Carrying the work she continues to do forward requires an ecosystem that embraces more faces and voices like hers.

Instagram: realnomalanga

X: RealNomalanga

Redefining Runway: Omoyemi Akerele

The year is 2011. The Nigerian fashion landscape is about to experience one of its most massive transformations with the inception of what we will come to know as Lagos Fashion Week. Tastemakers, stylists, models, and the likes will gather annually at what will rapidly become one of the most anticipated events of the year.

As the founder and CEO of an iconic fashion empire, Omoyemi Akerele constantly pushes the boundaries of creativity and innovation in the ever-changing industry. With a keen eye for design and a passion for staying ahead of the latest trends, Akerele has successfully built both a personal and professional brand that can be associated with luxury, style, and sophistication. From runway shows to red-carpet events and even world stages, her creative genius has crossed paths with some of the most influential and fashionable people in the world. With a strong commitment to quality and a relentless drive for success, we celebrate a true mogul in the essence of the word as well as the world of fashion.

Omoyemi Akerele for BoF Voices

The pride and joy of the Nigerian fashion world would unquestionably be its vibrance and diverse nature. The constantly evolving industry is globally known for its unique and colorful designs, bold prints, and rich cultural references. Akerele’s innovative approach and ongoing dedication to her business development agency Style House Files that breathes life into Lagos Fashion Week annually is one that will leave you in awe. “As someone who’s been in the fashion industry for over two decades, I’ve come to realize that purpose and passion are vital to success”, she tells us. “Even though I come from a law background, I’ve discovered that it’s not unrelated to the work we do.” As she rightly points out, the worlds of fashion and business intersect quite seamlessly and frequently. “My interest in International Economic Development has been a driving force in our vision to empower women and youth while preserving skills and building sustainable communities through the textile and apparel sector.” 

Determined to work towards a better future for these groups inevitably contributes to Akerele playing a significant role in advancing the country’s economy. More than that, as the Nigerian fashion industry continues to collect its flowers worldwide, events like Lagos Fashion Week have become significant platforms for the visibility and creativity of local designers. “What makes the textile and apparel ecosystem in Africa unique?”, she asks. “Its collaborative nature, right? This fosters a sense of belonging, from design to delivery. I’m inspired by the industry’s adoption of sustainable development goals, particularly through our skills for employability project and youth-led talent discovery platform. We’re building capacity for sustainability and transitioning to a circular approach to production. Let’s not forget the bright minds we get to collaborate with!”

KADIJU Official for Lagos Fashion Week 2023

On some of the challenges she has faced along her journey, she doesn’t shy away from calling out the discrimination women face in corporate industries. “As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, I’ve faced my fair share of challenges. Corporate bullying is a real issue, but I refuse to let it hold me back,” she asserts. “I’m choosing to be intentional about making a difference. Unfortunately, the problems in our industry go beyond gender inequality. Issues like lack of infrastructure, education, technology, funding, and favorable government policies are holding us back. But waiting for a perfect environment to take action isn’t an option. That’s why I believe in advocacy and using our voices to spark conversations that can lead to real change. It’s time for practitioners, stakeholders, government officials, financial institutions, and investors to come together and address these issues head-on.” 

Captivated by the power of her words, this conversation adds to the convincing when we think about the agents of change that will go down in history. As it comes to a close, we pick her brain about a pivotal moment that impacted her career or personal philosophy. Akerele reflects on a time in Florence, Italy in 2012 while presenting Nigerian designers at Pitti W. “I was invited to share what fashion meant to me. My response was that fashion saves lives,” she shares. “It may have sounded profound at the time but I truly believe it. Fashion has the power to transform lives and uplift communities. It’s an experience that has stayed with me and continues to inspire me to this day.”  

To add to this, Akerele briefly reflects on the future of the fashion industry in Africa. She explains that its success depends on our collective ability to drive sustainable development. “It’s not a task for one person, but a responsibility we all share. We need to co-create solutions that strengthen our value chain’s ability to close the loop, an essential strategy for building textile and apparel brands that can thrive in today’s world.” As she continues to advocate for expansion and diversity while challenging existing structures in corporate spaces as well as the fashion landscape, her story is one that has made the most indelible mark.

Instagram: omoyemiakerele

X: OmoyemiAkerele

Web: Lagos Fashion Week

Championing Environmental Conservation: Dr. Susan Chomba

At the forefront of global efforts to promote sustainable development and combat environmental issues is where we meet the World Resources Institute (WRI). At the forefront of that is Dr. Susan Chomba. The Director of Vital Landscapes for Africa leads the institution’s work on Forests, Food Systems, and People.

“Transforming the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa is my passion” she explains. Growing up, she was brought up by smallholder farmers herself. “My mom really shaped my thinking in terms of what I wanted to do in the future. Experiencing the beauty of nature when I was growing up on the slopes of Mount Kenya ultimately contributed to where I would inevitably find myself”. While she thinks back to the nature of her childhood, she acknowledges that what one might have considered a poor upbringing was in fact very rich in resources. “When I look back I realize that it was actually quite wealthy because we had plenty. We didn’t experience resource scarcity. We didn’t have the money for luxurious things but we had the food that we needed and we had a beautiful environment that we grew up in.”

Dr. Susan Chomba 

With over fifteen years of research and development experience under her belt in Africa, she still gets as excited to be a catalyst of change as though these are her early days. “Today, you can characterize where I came from as more economically well off, however, we still face other issues like conflicts over water for instance. For me, I think of the superimposition between what we want to achieve for economic development versus the decline of the quality of life.”

As an international research organization, the WRI concerns itself with environmental and sustainable challenges. This is achieved through the development of practical solutions as well as collaborations. Dr. Susan Chomba specifically leads the institution’s work on forest landscape restoration, sustainable agriculture/food systems and thriving rural livelihoods in Africa. “I think we have to strike a balance between meeting human needs while being aware of environmental boundaries,” she tells us. “Some of the biggest challenges that I face have to do with reconciling development with our environmental goals. We are sort of trapped in a system that prioritizes resources and revenue from the poorest communities. We don’t create enough land or biodiversity in order for everyone to feed themselves or get a fair share of natural resources. This model is not good for us and it certainly is not good enough for the planet.”

As a woman, she explains that even though she is considered a leader in her space, she is not exempt from some of the struggles women face in their respective fields. “Essentially, a woman has to work twice, if not thrice as hard to prove themselves or prove that they are achieving something useful.” Acknowledging that she has taken time to study her craft as well as offer a certain level of expertise, women’s voices are not amplified and that is something she is passionate about. “I appreciate the representation of women when you walk into a space. This can be very disproportionate, especially in leadership spaces. Women’s voices in research and innovative spaces matter. I’m glad that I get to represent that and occupy that space for African women.”

Achieving inclusivity for women in leadership roles is an essential aspect of promoting diversity, equity, and representation in various sectors and organizations like The WRI. By actively being a representation of such inclusivity for women, Chomba paves the way for generations to come to benefit from diverse perspectives, ideas, and skills that women bring to the table, ultimately leading to stronger and more successful organizations and outputs. 

“I stopped chasing the dream of wanting to become somebody that society had made me believe was ideal. I came to realize that real change comes from doing some of the simplest things; things that might not look like it initially but ultimately – inspire people”Dr. Susan Chomba

X: @SueChomba

Web: WRI

There’s No Place Like Home of Tasty Meals: Tumininu Olaniyi

The culinary industry is a burst of creativity, color, and containers of flavors. Whether restaurants, chefs, or foodies come to mind, there is an increasing need to embrace what happens in the kitchen – because it definitely cannot stay in there. The dynamic and innovative industry has had a surge of new faces, voices, and talents, especially since the global pandemic. One personality that comes to mind is the gorgeous Tumininu Olaniyi, popularly known as Chef T.

The foodpreneur has applied both her business acumen and passion for culinary arts to building the empire that is HOMEOFTASTYMEALS. The pivot to becoming the exceptional food vendor came about organically during her tenure as a personal assistant to a Group Director at Dangote Industries. During this period, Olaniyi gained a reputation amongst her colleagues for her cooking skills. It reached a point where they were offering to pay for her services. The rest, as you know, is history.

Chef T. Image supplied

“It’s so soothing to see different food and aspiring foodpreneurs making the switch from 24-48 hours delivery services to same-day orders,” she gushes. “This was my invention. I showed people that it was possible to achieve through a combination of working hard and smart.” 6 years after the inception of her brainchild, Olaniyi has cemented herself as one of the most recognizable and award-winning names in the industry. While the culinary world offers distinct and diverse experiences all over the globe, ever so often, you come across someone specific who completely pushes the boundaries of how far your passion can take you. “I think that my journey is inspiring because it didn’t seem like an obvious possibility,” she explains. “What I dreamt of 5 years ago is my current reality. In my field, food vendors are now tapping into turning your passion into a project.” The success of the culinary industry can be largely attributed to just how personal food is on an individual and collective level. Being able to create dishes that are rich in flavor, culture, and tradition is one thing; being able to market those dishes solidifies the transformative nature of food. Reminiscing on her proudest moment, Olaniyi recalls her mentorship program that took place earlier this year. “I had drafted my plans for the first quarter and a voice inside nudged me to lean towards mentorship,” she explains. “Initially, I  was a bit skeptical but I wrote it down anyway, knowing that guiding people would be impactful work. I put up a post about it on social media, and in less than 2 hours my class was sold out. I could hardly hold my breath! I cried because this solidified the idea that there were people who looked up to me and appreciated the work that I did. It inspired me to want to do more.”

When we think about how the culinary industry can be more inclusive, programs like this ensure that skills are being transferred to a wider demographic. Empowering others to enter the same field equips them with the knowledge, skills, and drive to serve others and have the same ripple effect. More than that, inspiring inclusivity in this industry contributes to the intersection of different cultures and traditions from all over the world. “I have always been someone who wants everyone to thrive. My actions are always intentional because I hope that they can serve as a model for others to follow. Our Mentorship program does not only teach or guide people, it leaves a footprint in their heart,” she remarks in closing. “Providing free classes, training programs, and issuing certificates makes people feel credible in this industry. In the food sector, we do not really have anyone to guide us on how to address certain challenges. Mentorship by Chef T provides that. We liberate aspiring foodpreneurs to thrive easily. Challenges are inevitable, but the more that we commit to doing well, the easier it will be for others.”

Instagram: homeoftastymeals

Written by Naledi Sibisi for www.hernetwork.co

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *