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Yoanna “Pepper” Chikezie: For The Love Of Fashion

Although Yoanna “Pepper” Chikezie was born and bred in London, her love for fashion took her back to her roots Nigeria.

The University of Birmingham graduate earned a Masters in Strategic Fashion Marketing from London College of Fashion and has worked as a stylist, writer and worked PR for several small brands.

In 2013, she helped launch SPICE TV and founded The Assembly Hub – a hub for fashion creatives and entrepreneurs in 2016.

In this chat with The Guardian Life, Yoanna talks about her creative journey and the Nigerian Fashion Industry.

How has your background influenced your creative journey?

I come from a very eclectic family with a strong appreciation for music, art, and fashion.

My father was a photographer and I often watched him work in his studio. My strong appreciation and knowledge of photography came from him.

My mum’s sister Auntie Miss made it a point to take me, my sister and cousins on holiday every summer and easter whenever she could. Those travelling experiences opened my young eyes to different types of people, traditions, sights and appreciate other expressions of beauty and creativity.

Does the Nigerian Fashion Industry need more ‘Fashion Week’ or direct investment?

If we are completely honest we don’t need any more fashion weeks, if these financial institutions truly value and care about the growth of SMEs in this sector.

What we need are financial institutions who are willing to get behind people and platforms doing the work to increase their capacity to do more, understand the way our industry operates, provide flexible capital that fits the business patterns of these SMEs and lend their influence to upgrade certain policies that negatively hinders growth.

What is your most embarrassing fashion moment?

Back in the day I used to wear huge Erykah Badu style head wraps and I remember being at a funfair on one of those bumper car rides and it so happened that I got bashed by another bumper car, the impact caused my head wrap to fly right off my head and it went flying across the ring and landed on the floor in the exact shape it was in when it was on my head. Trust me, I drove that bumper car as fast as I could to rescue the headwrap from getting crushed.

What would you term the biggest achievement of the Assembly?

From every entrepreneur, we have trained, linked to a mentor or helped gain a dream job is our biggest achievement. When we partnered with the British Council to deliver two Creative Enterprise Support Programmes, it was a huge achievement for us, however, we tend not to get caught in the euphoria of a major win, because there is still so much to be done.

You admit to being very curious about history and having a personal love for vintage fashion and antiquities, tell us about this.

My Uncle John who is now late was a social activist in the UK and was a vintage connoisseur. He is certainly a clear and strong influence on my values and love for vintage and cultural expression.

Incidentally, my sister and I both had a strong appreciation for antiques and vintage from an early age. In 2010, we set up a store called Retrospective in Lagos. We started selling at Le Petit Marche and eventually had two stores in Lagos.

Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?

Still building, still on this journey, but I will reflect from my old mansion in Havana, and be grateful that I live a purpose-filled life and I’m privileged to be in a position to create transformative opportunities for others within the creative economy and contribute to the positive narratives out of Africa.

What advice would you give to young designers just starting out?

Be clear on why you want to go into the fashion industry. Trust your timeline. Know everything there is to know about your craft and industry by taking the time to read widely and research. Do a few internships and work in your ideal company before you are ready to launch on your own. Don’t be afraid to experiment and put out unfinished work. Design with your customer in mind.

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