Behind The Door With Noble Igwe
As we stand, we have moved past ‘The Year of the Creatives’ and have come to ‘The Age of the Creatives’. Everyone is about creating something new – one way or the other. Creative entrepreneurs are popping up at every corner of the country as more and more people are realising that there is joy and gain in making something that has your unique identity attached to it. We have gone beyond just working jobs and providing services to stamping our individuality in life’s memory blanket.
I believe more people can feel comfortable embracing their creative outlets as a source of income now because there are people who paved the way. Of all the people we have to thank for being brave enough to put themselves out there at a time when it wasn’t conventional, Noble Igwe just might be the king.
Noble Igwe – The Slu…Sshh Kid; Founder of 360Nobs and Style Vitae, 2015 LFDW Ambassador, and current Ambassador for PayPorte, Remy Martin and Casper and Gambini’s. We sat down with this serial creative entrepreneur to discuss a little bit more about his personal life and what pushes him to continue to create.
The interview begins with us extending our congratulations to Noble, who had his traditional marriage not too long ago.
“Thank you! We’re accepting donations.” He replies. There’s laughter all around, and some hailing, as Noble goes on to explain “I mean, this is Lagos and there are different ways to do a wedding. Either you do your wedding because you want to do it for yourself or you do your wedding because it’s expected to do a particular kind of wedding. Or, you can do a wedding like “You know what? This is ‘our’ wedding” and if it’s our wedding, it is ‘our’ wedding. So, we might as well all be part of the wedding and contribute to the wedding.”
So, what happens if we don’t want to contribute?
“Well, you don’t “have” to contribute. But if you don’t contribute, don’t come and expect to be treated like you contributed. “
But we can come?
“You can come oh! But if they give you coke, don’t look at somebody else’s drink some type of way. You can get chicken wing, but you might not get samosa and every other thing included in the small chops package. You know, this is Lagos and sometimes we get carried away trying to prove a point. But the truth is there is nothing you give to people in Lagos that will be enough for them. “
At this point, I can already tell this is going to be a fun interview. I ask how he managed to keep his relationship a secret from the public up until this point – being such a high profile person.
“The thing is Chioma and I have been dating since 2013, and nobody even knows we’ve been dating for that long. I mean, the people who ought to know knew. But it’s kind of the same way people don’t know when you have eba and egusi soup, but you don’t have meat. You decide what you want the public to know and what you don’t need them to know. Have you ever seen someone post a picture of themselves eating noodles without meat or plantain? That’s the reality. People decide what they want to put on social media and what they don’t want to show. So, I was dating someone who I didn’t want people to relate to as “Noble’s girlfriend”. I wanted her to build her own career, become her own person and establish who she wanted to be. I wanted us to be able to accomplish all this without the added pressure of “oh, look at Noble’s girlfriend” or “when are they going to marry” or “Okay, she has a ring now”, you get? So, I can’t say keeping the fact that we were dating out of the public’ eye was the biggest challenge.”
What would you say was the biggest challenge then?
“That would have to be when we got engaged in 2015. A lot of people thought the ring was nice and, of course, every woman will instinctively want to show off her ring and who she’s engaged to. So, this is me basically trying to prove to her that we didn’t need all that attention. I would tell her she has an amazing ring and she could look at it all day long, and her family could too. We didn’t need everybody in our business knowing what we’re doing. See, I knew as soon as we started dating that I was going to get married to her. So it didn’t matter when anyone else found out – whether it was 2013, 2014, 2015, or even now.”
Everyone has their own idea of who Noble Igwe is – blogger, style influencer, entrepreneur, and such. Who would ‘you’ say Noble Igwe is?
“I like to tell people “I’m that Igbo boy with an Igbo accent who likes to make money”. I look for ideas, opportunities, and ways to change my environment. I look for ways to make an impact. I don’t want to be forgotten, even when I’m no longer here.”
Speaking of fashion, can you give us some insight on fashion in Lagos – as an insider?
“To be very honest, the Lagos fashion circle is the biggest thing in the world. What I mean by ‘Lagos fashion circle’, you know there are cool kids among the cool kids. There are people who know fashion from LA, so you know they don’t mix with people who just know fashion from UNILAG. There are also people who know fashion from New York and they just want to be the cool kids from New York. In the same vein there are people who know fashion on the island and don’t really want to mix with people from the mainland. Meanwhile, the people on the mainland may think the people on the island don’t know fashion; they just know how to buy expensive things.”
Of all the fashion circles you spoke about, would you say you identify with any one of these circles?
“I’m a man of every circle. Wherever you’re from, if you feel like you want to identify with me, I’m ready to identify with you. Fashion shouldn’t be something people just notice for now; it should be whatever it means to you. Fashion can be your style, and people don’t have to like your style. As long as you stay true to your style, that’s what is important. Me, I try to make it possible to be involved with all of it. I don’t have to be friends with these people, but if they have something to offer, or I have something to offer, then we can make money together. That’s what is important to me.”
At what point did you realise you wanted to be at the forefront of the lifestyle, fashion and entertainment industries? Was it something that just happened?
“There was a time when I asked myself “Is there an opportunity for me here?”. There are people in Umuahia looking for someone to admire fashion-wise and people in Owerri looking for people to respect their fashion. Even in Benin too. So, you know, people get carried away with the Lagos/Abuja thing a lot, forgetting there are other states I the country – even in business. You might go to somewhere like Kebbi and mention 360Nobs and they have no idea what that is. I want to build businesses that people will know. I wasn’t thinking I want to be at the forefront of these industries. All I knew was that I wanted to make money from every avenue and everywhere.”
Every once in a while, some sort of controversy surrounding you and your lifestyle pops up on social media. One time, someone even said you borrow the clothes you wear. How do you handle comments like that?
“How do you handle comments like that? You go back to your wardrobe and look for the clothes you borrowed. If you find them in the wardrobe, then there’s a problem. If you don’t find these clothes you supposedly borrowed, then there’s really no problem. Because you then have to figure out which of your friends you borrowed them from. This is what I tell people – “Whatever you study – mathematics, Medicine, Art – are you putting food on the table? If you’re putting food on your table, then it doesn’t matter what people say about you. I’ve gone beyond concerning myself with what people say about me, or what they feel about my lifestyle. These days, I have fun responding to people who come at me on social media. I’ve come to realize that life, as we know it, is just fun and we should just enjoy ourselves.”
You’ve initiated, managed, and run quite a number of projects in different industries for yourself, brands and artists. Do you get nervous when you’re about to start something new?
“No, I don’t. And this isn’t me being proud or anything like that. I have my test market who are usually my friends that I share my plans and ideas with. Like when I started Slush, there were people who thought it wouldn’t make any sense. But it turned out to be my biggest money-maker. Today, I no longer do it for the sake of parties; I do it for companies and they pay for it. When I mentioned Style Vitae to my friends, they thought there were already a number of fashion sites out there. I didn’t do most things to prove people wrong, but because I knew they would work.”
What’s your approach when talking to investors and sponsors about your events and projects?
“I simply tell them there are very few people who can do it better than I can and I have ways to prove it. I always tell people I would rather be turned down because you don’t like me and not because you don’t think I can do the job. Let people say “Noble would have been the best person for the job, but I don’t like him.” Let it not be that I’m not competent enough to handle the job or I can’t deliver.”
How do you transition from one project to the other?
“By knowing that there’s naira and there’s kobo. You have to realise that more time should be dedicated to the project bringing in more income. I always look at how much money a project is bringing in long-term and decide how much energy to invest in it. If I have a job for N10m and invest more time and effort in that, it’ll definitely bring in more money than a job of N3m.”
Of all the industries you’re associated with, which is your favourite?
“My favourite is actually events, because it brings in the most money. But it’s actually the one I’m least associated with. I like the fashion industry because I can do it for free, but it pays – this makes it more interesting. It’s simple and something I can do my own way.”
As a style influencer, do you have people come up to you or write to you and say your style inspired their outfit choices and style buys?
“Everyday. It happens every day and it’s very interesting. Because some people even say to me that they like my agbada so much they decided to get on like it for a relative or friend. Some even ask that I recommend where to get one.”
How does it make you feel?
“If you know me, I don’t take myself too seriously. It makes me feel good that I can influence your style choice and even society. It’s a great feeling knowing that if I put my mind to it I can actually do a lot of things and influence my generation and possibly the next.”
Let’s talk about your door. How did that start? Why the door? Was it your intention to take a picture in front of your door every day?
“Well, it was my intention to take a picture in front of my door. It’s the last place I stand on or walk to before I get to my car. And it works. I mean, if the paint fades, I simply repaint it.”
Has anybody ever told you you’re too Igbo?
“Yes! But how do you want me to be again? People are always saying I have an Igbo accent. Of course I do! I’m Igbo! Am I supposed to have a French accent? Igbo is an accent and I love it. Have you ever seen a Chinese person trying to impress you? No. They speak and if you understand, fine. If you don’t, okay.”
So, are you going to tell us who takes the famous door pictures? Or should we assume it’s always been the Mrs?
“It hasn’t always been the Mrs, to be very honest. And the Mrs. Wasn’t always at the house before now. So, it was my gateman taking them. It’s been like his second job. I showed him how to take the first one and he got good at it. Sometimes he’s like “Oga we no go take today?” and I’m like “Nah, they’ve seen this cloth before.” And we have a good laugh. Did I know the door was going to be popular? No. Do I want it to be a lot more popular? Yes, I do. Because if you’re doing something and it works, you should stick to it for as long as you can afford to. In fact, when I’m done here I’m going to post a picture in front of the door. Haven’t done one today and the door might be jealous.”
Do you consider yourself successful?
“Success is a thing of the mind. If success is by where you stay, I’ve been living in Lekki Phase 1 long before a lot of people. If success is calculated by the number of people you employ, I have a workforce of over 40 people who get paid monthly. If success is about family, I have a father and a mother who don’t lack anything I can provide. If success is about being able to go home at 2pm and run the generator until the next day, maybe I’m successful. If success is about working out of my home office, maybe I’m successful. If success is having more than one car, maybe I’m successful. If success is considered having a hot wife, maybe I’m successful. If success is not having to borrow clothes any longer, maybe I’m successful. And if success is being on the cover of this particular edition of Life Magazine, maybe I’m successful.”
Would you say there are gaps in any of the industries you’re involved in that need filling?
“Actually, there are gaps in every industry I’m involved in that needs filling. In the music industry, we have a lot of music sites but don’t have a structure that will actually fine tune what we are trying to do. There are a lot of things we can do, but the problem is people want to be rich overnight. They don’t want to put in the work now and reap from it maybe four years from now. They want to be rich now; they want Instagram followers and all those things. There’s also a huge gap in the fashion industry. So many designers are extremely focused on who is wearing their clothes on Instagram and forget to actually sell their clothes. Some of them go from design to machine to celebrity and back to the store. And I don’t mean a store where they sell these clothes; I mean like the packing store. A number of them are more interested in creating runway fashion than actually creating things people can wear.”
Final words for people who look up to you and are looking to delve into one or two of these industries?
“There’s hard work and determination. Lagos people don’t like stories of people who they didn’t know before just coming up and making a name for himself. They don’t care if you’re working hard, as long as you didn’t attend BIS with them. They will always feel like there’s a gap. Like “How did this boy come from Aba?”, because that’s where I grew up. You have to tell yourself who you want to be and determine how much effort you are willing to put in. You also have to understand you don’t necessarily have to be one of the cool kids to be accepted. We are such a big country that you can decide you don’t want to be popular in Lagos or Abuja and you can be great in another state. Young people need to look within themselves, decide what they want to do, and do something that makes them happy. People enjoy what they do not because it gives them money, but because they love it. And once you love what you do and you get paid, that’s icing on a cake.”
Talking with Noble, I realised a large part of his achievements can be attributed to the fact that he is a people person. From a distance, it may seem that he merely used certain opportunities to get to where he is today, but it is his determination to remain relevant that has landed him in the forefront of a quickly changing industry. Relevance is indeed a valuable currency in today’s creative society and Noble Igwe has it by the bucket loads.
Photography: Kola Oshalusi
Styling: Henri Uduku
Black tunic – Kelechi Odu, Pants – JZO Fashion, Hat – Noble’s wardrobe, Neck piece – Stylists own, Sandals – 313Eko
Blazer – Kelechi Odu, Shirt – Peir Wu, Pants – Adeju Thompson
Denim jacket – Lee, Shirt – Peir Wu, Jeans – Zara, Shoes – Adidas Original
Trad outfit – Mai Atafo, Shoes – Adidas Original