Ezinne Akudo: ‘Women deserve to wake up in a world where everyone has equal rights, opportunities’
Ezinne Akudo is the founder of lifestyle brand NKASSI, as well as the Creative Director of Miss Nigeria beauty pageant where she’s led the decision-making and creative process of the organisation since 2018. Ezinne shot to national fame when she won the Miss Nigeria title in 2013, serving as a role model for young Nigerian girls both at home and abroad. Also the founder of The Eight Foundation through which she established a rape crisis center to help victims of rape and sexual abuse, she is a strong advocate for spreading awareness against sexual violence and abuse and using her voice and influence to stir change. A trained lawyer from the Abia State University, with an MBA from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, she tells TOBI AWODIPE about navigating her career journey, being a voice for women and girls, life as an entrepreneur, as well as thriving and succeeding in the face of challenges.
Nine years after you were crowned Miss Nigeria, how much would you say your life has changed for the better?
I would say my life changed a lot because of the platform that Miss Nigeria afforded me; so many things were easier to achieve. Some relationships were easy to build, and I had the exposure, recognition, and support.
Since the crowning, I have gone to law school and business school; consulted for small businesses, and started my own company. So, my life has changed a lot for the best. I am also a lot older now, so life is better.
In 2018, you became the pageant’s creative director. How much have you been able to achieve in that position?
The pageant is a lot different than it was during my time. First of all, registration is free for applicants, voting is also free, because we understand that it shouldn’t be about who has more access to money. The prizes for the winner are a lot more substantial now. Most importantly, we ensure that there is a fair representation of contestants from all the geo-political zones in the country.
Just last year, Nigerians saw 18-year-old Shatu Garko win the coveted Miss Nigeria crown to become the first Hijabi person to win a national pageant anywhere in the world. That groundbreaking win has been an inspiration and empowering message to young women everywhere, locally and internationally. I am so delighted that the Miss Nigeria organisation is at the fore of change and true women empowerment beyond a beauty competition.
As a lawyer, how are you using this background in your present endeavors?
Studying law and practicing briefly was the perfect background and foundation for me. In my current endeavors, I have to deal with a lot of agreements/contracts and several other binding documents. Having this background as a lawyer helps me stay grounded and it’s easier to pay attention to things that other people won’t see at first glance.
As a strong female voice and advocate for women’s rights, how would you say you are actively impacting the lives of Nigerian women and girls?
While we’ve made many strides with respect to women’s rights, we still have a very long way to go. Nevertheless, enlightenment has a critical role to play. So, as much as possible, I ensure I lend just not my voice alone, but also resources to causes that promote women and girls’ rights.
As a role model for young girls at home and abroad, what life values would you want to impart with your work and life as a whole?
I try to mind my business and focus on my work, friends, and family. I do not compare my journey or myself with any other person’s, and I honestly do not have to face any form of societal pressure.
If I could impart any value to younger women, it would be to avoid distractions as much as possible and focus on what’s really important in life. Comparisons are risky and they breed all sorts of negativity. Like the famous saying, comparison is the thief of joy.
You ventured into entrepreneurship with your lifestyle brand, how are you looking to soar and conquer this space?
My brand, NKASSI, is a home and lifestyle essentials brand. The name NKASSI was derived from an Igbo word, which translates to comfort. We are committed to bringing luxurious comfort into your home and set to become a major designer and stockist of homewares in West Africa.
What makes us unique and will help us soar in this space is that our products are intentionally designed and responsibly manufactured by experts around the globe using premium quality materials. My plan is to fill the gap in the home and lifestyle industry by providing access to home essentials that set a new standard for comfort in an affordable way.
As one who has been prominent in so many spaces and is now an entrepreneur, how can young women thrive and succeed in these difficult times?
Someone gave me the best advice a couple of years ago, she said: “as an entrepreneur, there are days when you won’t feel like getting out of bed and you honestly won’t have to, seeing that you work for yourself and no one can sack you, but a key to succeeding is by showing up.”
Every single day, I commit hours to building and running my business and there are days when things get a bit tough and I’m really not in the mood to do anything or keep going, but I always remember my friend’s advice to show up. It’s a lifestyle now, no matter what is going on around me, I must show up and keep going even when I don’t feel like it.
You have your fingers in several pies, how do you make everything work so well?
I like to think that I am lucky to have all my ventures connected in some way. It’s still not easy, but they complement each other, which really helps to some extent. I also have a small but efficient team that makes things easier. It helps to outsource, delegate and leverage other people’s competencies and expertise. No one can achieve anything alone.
Tell us something you have done/do that positively boosts your career?
Managing relationships. I’m not extroverted, but I am very careful about managing and maintaining the relationships I do have. Most businesses today are people-centric, so if you cannot manage relationships well, your job becomes significantly more difficult.
If you could change something for Nigerian women, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would tackle gender inequality. Nigerian women (and women in general) deserve to wake up in a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities. A world where women have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives, and one where men are not trapped in oppressive masculinity.
Tell us a major life challenge you have faced and how you overcame it?
I dealt with imposter syndrome for a long time, and at every stage in my life when something remarkable was happening, it was hard to celebrate, because I always felt like I didn’t deserve it. There was the constant feeling of doubt and maybe unworthiness and even when my accomplishments were of my own hard work and knowledge, I’d still feel inadequate.
To overcome this, I practiced positive self-talk a lot. For example, whenever I wanted to ask myself, ‘why me?’ I would say, ‘why not me?’ I also challenged myself and said ‘yes’ to every opportunity even if it meant doing it afraid.
What inspires and keeps you going on this journey?
I have a big vision and a whole picture in my head for my business and my life. There’s so much I need to achieve and this is what keeps me going. Just knowing that I haven’t scratched the surface yet and there’s a possibility that I might end up where I want to be. That’s honestly my true inspiration.
How do you relax, what are your guilty pleasures?
Netflix and ice cream; there’s no better combination. When I’m stressed, I shut down, turn on my television, grab a bowl of ice cream, and then leave my problems to solve themselves. I also love to travel and that helps me de-stress as well.
What would you like to say to young women who look up to you and want to go down this path you’re on?
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. We are all still trying to figure out this thing called life. Identify your true passions, commit to them no matter the degree and stay focused.