Jane Michael: Stylist on the rise
She was not born into affluence. In fact, she swam through series of difficulties as a teenager moving from one end of Lagos to another, with no permanent abode. But today, Jane Michael’s is not just a story, hers belong to the trove of classic grass to grace stories. And with sprinklings of shared of love somewhere along the line.
“I want to be known for my integrity and for the positive impacts I made in people’s lives than for being a celebrity stylist,” Jane tells Guardian Woman. That spirit was imbued in her by her late father, whom she says taught her how to work hard and create a name for herself.
“I started out selling cufflinks to people in their offices about ten years ago. But later started selling clothes when customers started requesting for some of the clothes I wore to their offices. I never dreamt of being a stylist. But I have always had at the back of my mind that I wanted to be successful at whatever I do,” she says.
“I did not learn to style from anyone. I acquired my skills on the go. I learnt as I go,” she says. “I picked up styling by advising people I sold clothes to on how they should combine colours, materials and different forms of attires.”
Though being a stylist might have come to her accidentally, Jane Michael’s determination to rise above her not-so-good childhood experiences made her to stay in touch with the business side of what she does.
Her family started facing financial challenges when she was nine years old. As a printer, her father did all he could to stabilise the family. But nagging accommodation and financial crises forced Jane and her siblings to move around Lagos squatting with people in places like Bariga, Mushin and Apapa. The temporary forced separation did not deter her from being in constant contact with her father.
“I was going to school on the Island from Apapa every day. After school hours, I would make sure I visited my dad at his office also on the Island. Sometimes, I would go with him to business meetings. At the end, he always explained the outcomes to me and what they meant.”
Jane still refers to him in the present tense. “For me, he still lives,” she says.
Being around her father, Michael Ekanem, made her acquire certain business management skills that she confessed were not taught to her in Business Administration classes.
She says, “For every step I take in life, I look at the business side of it. Even if I sell sachet water, I will be more concerned about the financial side of that business.
“For someone who sold cufflinks, I had a registered a company name and had business card even though my friends told me they were not needed at the time.”
Having a registered company even when there was nothing to show for it prepared Jane for a chance of being the in-house stylist for MTN Project Fame along with her partner Jekwu the Stylist.
“I was asked if I could be the stylist on Project Fame when the second season was about to start. Jekwu and I used to sell clothes to some of the organisers. One day, they asked us if we were interested in styling contestants and the hosts.”
But they did not get the job on a platter of gold. They had to go through the same processes as others who were interested in taking up the job. Mood board and proposal were submitted.
“Our mood board and proposal were deemed the best and prices were competitive. Though we ran at a loss when we started out, but the relationship with Project Fame has paid off.” She and Jekwu have been with the show since Season 2.
“Project Fame is one the biggest consistent platforms we have in reality shows in Nigeria. And for me to be chosen among countless of stylists in Nigeria, it is a privilege. But nothing fills me with happiness better than the commendation I get after doing each season.”
Jane’s work on Project Fame has opened doors of opportunity for her. She has worked with different A-list artists in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
She’s worked with Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Chidinma Ekile, 2baba and Seyi Shay. She was once the residence stylist for Capital Hill Records owned by Clarence Peters.
Today, Jane is not just a celebrity, she is also a fashion entrepreneur with her easy wear fashion line soon to debut. Ultimately, she wants to use that business to empower her personal staff to realise their dreams. The same way she is assisting a young schoolgirl in her alma mater to reach for the sky. Jane is providing a full scholarship to an SSS 2 student of Girls Academy, Simpson Street, Lagos Island.
“She reminds me of myself when I was her age and I felt she needed a lift. I want her to be her best. I was a bit proud when I was a kid. You can step on me and walk away. You must clean my legs. That was my childhood. But life has taught me that table can turn. My life experiences have taught me the beauty in humility.”
Though Jane says she’s too distracted to focus on her other creative parts – she had latent fine art skill that has not been tapped lately, except when she is styling – but she is currently writing an autobiography which she believes can spur people to realise their dreams.
Regardless of the success she has enjoyed thus far, the self-acclaimed biker chic says she has not lost touch with reality; how she could have been just another random girl lost in the whirlwind of street life. Her story, she says, should inspire others to see failure as starting block.
“My story is simple: failure does not mean anything. Failing does not mean the end of the road. Imagine a child of nine years going through a lot on the street. I still see my old classmates secondary days hawking on the streets of Lagos Island. But my case is different and for that I am grateful to God,” she says.