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Udoka Uju: Nigeria’s Marie Kondo

Most people are soulful or brainy but Udoka Uju seems to be one of the few people that’s both. An Economics major who worked for one of Nigeria’s top banks for several years, she did a total 360 and decided to pursue her one true passion: interior design.

Now one of the most popular interior designers in Lagos, Udoka Uju, the CEO of The Lady Painter speaks to The Guardian Life about regrets, feng shui for kids and lift off.

How does someone go from a banker with a degree in Economics to Nigeria’s first Marie Kondo?

When you know you’re meant for so much more, when you become so uncomfortable with where you are, even though many would love to be right there, when you know you can only be happy and at peace doing what you love, you would switch to being exactly what you are meant to be. This was the case for me. I always felt I was meant for so much more. Despite earning decent money as a banker, I didn’t have that sense of fulfilment. Once I started doing this, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and I knew I had made the right move.

Was it worth it?

I have absolutely no regrets with the decision I made. I would make it over and over again if I had to. I am living a fulfilled life right now and I am certain I wouldn’t have had it this way if I was still working in the bank.

Why “The Lady Painter?” What’s the meaning behind the title?

Two former colleagues gave me that name when I told them the kind of business I wanted to do. I thought it was really cool and befitting for the brand I wanted to build. I wanted a household name, a name that would never be forgotten, a name that catches the interest of anyone instantly and this name does. The simplicity of it is also quite catchy, being that I am a Lady who Paints. That’s the effect The Lady Painter has any time I mention it to anyone.

Udoka Uju at work

Is it ever weird being in other people’s houses? What’s the craziest house you’ve ever been in?

I meet different kinds of clients every day in different homes. The craziest house I and my team have ever painted was this client that I would call a ‘collector’. This client had all sorts of expensive artworks up her wall and decorative accessories all over the house. There was no space to work at all. It took us 2 days to remove and protect all items before we could even start painting.

Real Estate saleswomen and men are so persuasive! How do you convince people to make your house their home?

When I started this business it was often difficult to convince a prospective client, especially male clients, that I could paint their homes or offices. It was easier with female clients because they were always so eager and excited to see the work a female Painter would do. From my first job, I have always taken pictures of my jobs. Clients want to see what you have painted before and who you have painted for, so essentially my work speaks for itself. Also, as proof of concept, we provide 3D visuals of what my clients’ home or office would look like before it’s painted. This way, there is complete confidence in the work being carried out.

You’ve said you’re a firm believer that kids need a clean environment, do you think the environment makes the child?

Yes, totally! Environmental influence, especially on children, is very powerful. A clean and colourful environment fosters physical and psychological growth. While the impact of colour is often overlooked, especially in our public schools, colour is a vital part of our everyday lives. It is fundamental in everything we see and do and studies have shown that it plays a role in emotion, productivity, communication and learning. Colours can be very calming and can be used to create an environment conducive to learning for children.

What, in your opinion, has been your best work?

I once painted a church. It is the most tasking job I have done and at the same time my best work. It’s my favourite work because I painted and designed 9 columns in the church without a clue about what it would look like until I was done. I can say it came out a masterpiece, I am thankful to God for the grace to do an excellent job in His house.

Any advice for people also making a drastic career shift relatively late in life?

Look for what makes you happy, whatever gives you satisfaction, if it will make you a better person, if it will make your neighbour (in this case your client/customer) happy, if it will make a difference in your community and if it will earn you a decent income then, by all means, go out there and do it! You don’t want to look back 10 years or 20 years later and wish you had done things differently. Also, there’s no such thing as a perfect time to do anything, as they say, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time to plant a tree is today. Don’t let time put you off!

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