You see gorgeous editorials, fresh new content, exciting TV and film shows, but you rarely get to peek behind the curtain where the magic happens. In this new series, we join young, talented creatives in a short fun interview series, learn about their work, how they got their start and what new exciting projects are to come. We spotlight industry creatives, celebrate their wins, and inspire upcoming creatives to seize the day. Every week, we’ll learn from individuals who conquered their doubts and fears and made moves to follow their creative dreams.
Yoanna Pepper Chikezie has always been even more of a background player than most fashion industry creatives. The soft spoken, former fashion stylist, and now founder of a thriving community company The Assembly, is known more for her love of vintage (in her own words ‘ I’m very curious about history, I have a personal love for vintage fashion and antiquities. I enjoy researching, listening to old stories and I can watch a period film or drama any day.’) as owner of the former Retrospective shop (that’s how we met!).
Yoanna Pepper Chikezie radiates an uncanny level of calm, self-awareness and a quiet confidence that asserts itself without being brash or rude – which is in itself, noteworthy. She comes across as thoughtful and considered so when she gives an opinion, it holds that much more weight. She left her 9-5 job at SPICE TV to create a community where designers and creatives could learn from each other, and eventually, create a domino effect that will lead to international best practices being the norm in the Nigerian fashion industry.
Lofty dream? Pepper doesn’t think so. Then again, she’s not one to back down from a challenge.
Meet the creative who just by being herself, owning her own authentic viewpoint and relentlessly focusing on empowering creatives as well as the sheer courage it took to leave her job and launch her business – is helping all of us re-define what it means to have it all, at the same damn time.
What’s the Yoanna Pepper Chikezie backstory? When did you realise your interest in fashion was leading to a career?
‘I started my career as a Stylist and worked as a Fashion Journalist. I was the Fashion Editor for FAB Magazine and TW Magazine and I was then recruited by the CMA Group in 2013 to rebrand and relaunch SPICE TV into a 24hour TV station. As the Channel Manager my role was to build a global community of African fashion and lifestyle lovers. My role also involved creating and developing content and brand properties online and offline. I was responsible for recruiting and training a team of 30 plus producers, editors, presenters and creatives to create and market content out of Africa and the diaspora.’
Talk me through your work. What does it entail?
‘I [run and manage] The Assembly Fashion Innovation Hub, a growing community of over 1000 entrepreneurs and professionals in the fashion and creative sector. I had a strong conviction to start The Assembly because I wasn’t comfortable with the way certain things were being done and how we’re accustomed to being/doing in the fashion industry. Even though I’ve made my small contributions to the industry through my work, I wasn’t satisfied knowing that I wasn’t making the kind of impact I wanted. To be honest, I didn’t know how or where I was going to start from, all I knew was that I’ve always been passionate about raising the standard of Africa’s fashion industry and I wanted to create a community where like minds could regularly connect and develop their ideas, skills and businesses. It was important for me to create spaces and opportunities for anyone to feel they can have the right access and platform to realise their dreams and ambitions.’
A typical day includes
- Admin and Emails.
- Delegating and catching up with the team
- Meetings with clients and prospective partners
- Skype calls with members of our community
- Creating and developing our events and program calendar,
- Creating brand and product decks.
‘I get up at 6am and I say a little prayer. Help get my children ready for school, shower, get dressed and then have a very light breakfast – although this isn’t always the case. I try to maintain a habit of no tech such as not reading emails till I’ve started work because it can be distracting. I do the school run with my sons who are my husband and I’s back up singers on route to the school and work commute. Or [sometimes] I decide to work from home – it all depends on my mood and what I have planned for the day.’
At BNStyle we don’t believe in failure – ‘you either win or you learn’*, can you tell us about some highlights and lowlights in your current career?
‘Every time someone signed up to our newsletter, booked an event or training to receiving messages of how much The Assembly has helped them in some shape or form. Fireworks go off in my mind every single time.’
‘I’d also add that when we clocked one year, it will always be memorable for me because taking the time to look back on all the things we achieved and the things we didn’t do so good at really put things into perspective. And because of the type of platform and services we provide, I’m constantly in a position to meet and learn from a diverse set of people and professionals in the industry. So the constant learning ground for me is definitely a perk and the best part of what I do.’
‘It gave me an opportunity to know the power behind taking that scary step out of your comfort zone and knowing the power that comes from being vulnerable with your ideas.I genuinely love every part of what I do, but I would say chasing after people is my least favourite thing to do and oh yes, anything to do with calculations.’
What inspires you on a day to day basis?
‘Being in a position to provide opportunities for creatives to form genuine connections and help them get closer to realising their ambitions. It feels so good when someone gets hired or when two people come to The Assembly as strangers but leave as friends or partners and then they start tagging you in their social media posts to see their collaborative projects.’
One thing the world doesn’t know about you
‘I love, love, love Salsa, Samba and Kizomba dance nights. Having good food and drink with my husband on a cool evening or binging a Netflix series over going out.’
Words of Wisdom
Do the right things consistently
Advice To Yourself Ten Years Ago:
Do something you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Tell Us About Your Off Duty Style
Usually Black. Oversized, free flowing and comfy. Must include pockets and a large bag.
What You Wear To Feel Glamorous
A piece of vintage jewellery – a necklace or pair of earrings from places like Algeria or Tibet, the more ancient the better.
Lastly, what are the most crucial factors anyone, wishing to build a successful fashion career should know?
Get solid industry experience behind you, make sure you build a good reputation and build solid relationships.
If you’re interested in joining the Assembly community (it’s worth it we promise), find out more here.
Do you enjoy your work? What challenges have you found along the way? Share your story with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!
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