Since its launch, ISIS Models has become a leading force in Nigeria and Africa’s modeling industry. Joan Okorodudu, the brain behind the rising agency has a portfolio that reads like no other. She is a fashion designer, entrepreneur, ex-beauty queen, cosmetologist, former athlete and psychiatrist. This September Okorodudu, along with other top Nigerian designers, will showcase her latest designs at Couture Fashion Week while her models will strut the runway at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Her dedication, passion and drive to put the budding Nigerian fashion industry on the global fashion map earns her Ladybrille®Nigeria Personality of the Month for September, 2009. In this interview, she talks passionately about her fashion businesses, models and her determination to succeed!
LadybrilleNigeria: You are well known in Africa’s fashion industry, particularly in Nigeria and South Africa (SA) but could you briefly tell our readers more about yourself. Who is Joan Okorodudu?
Joan Okorodudu: I was born on October 28, 1958, making me 51 this October. I am the first daughter of Chief Morgan Elumelu of Onicha Olona. I graduated from the prestigious Boston University in Massachusetts with a degree in political science. As you already know, I am the owner of ISIS Models Johannesburg (ISISmodels.org), which has become the leading modeling agency for young black girls in Africa as evidenced by the number of jobs that we do, especially at any Fashion Week in Africa. I created Nigeria’s Next Super Model (nigeriasnextsupermodel.com). I have been married for 27 years and I have a son.
LadybrilleNigeria: How did you get started in the fashion industry?
Joan Okorodudu: I have been in the fashion industry since 1991 when I opened my first shop “Euro Afrique” in Wilmington, Delaware. I eventually came back to Nigeria and started other businesses. In April 2007, I launched my first collection in Nigeria and named it the House of j’OLA. The name is a combination of my name and my husband’s name. Jo comes from my name and ola from “Tsola,” my husband’s name.
LadybrilleNigeria: How was the ISIS Models concept conceived?
Joan Okorodudu: Believe it or not ISIS was conceived out of desperation. I wanted an agency my models could be signed to after Nigeria’s Next Super Model just like it is done in other model competitions around the world. I was interested in having my models signed to a particular agency that has a lot of black models. We went back and forth on email, I went to South Africa and had meetings, and made so many calls and it was like I was begging them to take a good product.
I approached a second agency and the same thing happened. So I flew my girls to Johannesburg on a fact finding trip during South Africa Fashion Week. It was there we met the owner of an agency and he asked “who are these girls?” I explained that these were the girls that we were supposed to send to them and he was like “wow I need you to go to my office, we need to talk.” I knew then that we had good sets of models and they deserved to be seen. On our way to the agency I looked at my girls and my manager and said, “let us go and set up our own agency.”
After debating over a few names, we decided to name it ISIS Models. ISIS is from my name, Isioma. That was the beginning of this great journey. So far I have booked models for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week, Island of the World Bahamas, Berlin Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. My model, Olubunmi Ademokoya won best model of the world and best national costume 2007, and has already walked the runway in New York, Paris, Cape Town, Durban, Sanlam, Arise Cape Town, and Arise Joburg. She has modeled for reputable designers like Dany Atrache, David Tlale, Andre Aquino, and Elie Saab.
LadybrilleNigeria: What has made ISIS Models so successful within the short period of time it has been around?
Joan Okorodudu: It has been tough determination and God. We have been discriminated against in so many ways but that’s for another interview.
LadybrilleNigeria: What is the next big move for the agency? By that I mean, what other world-class fashion events would you like to participate in?
Joan Okorodudu: We have done Paris and everywhere. I would like to do Brazil Fashion Week and of course start ISIS model search world wide
LadybrilleNigeria: In every business, obstacles are ever-present, what is the toughest challenge you have faced so far?
Joan Okorodudu: The toughest challenge is that of discrimination against Nigerian models. For instance, considering that Nigerian models are top in South Africa, during the Arise show Nigerians were given less opportunities. It was painful because Arise is practically Nigerian. We also have seen how other models are flown from all over to do Arise shows and when you see the models they bring they are not as good as the Nigerians.
Bunmi Ademokoya was booked for Arise New York Fashion Week, she went for casting with my other models and she was picked. She went and fitted for Tiffany Amber and it was a shock when she and Agbani Darego were dropped from the show. No other group of people will allow their own people to be treated that way. I don’t see why Nigeria’s “Miss World” and the winner of “Best Model of the World” can be dropped for other models especially for shows that are (produced) by a Nigerian. It is our biggest obstacle. (Nigerian) models are demoralized and it is affecting them.
LadybrilleNigeria: When you scout for a model, what specific qualities do you look for? What is the thought process in selecting a new model? Do you envision a particular designer or a particular product?
Joan Okorodudu: I look for girls with very distinct features like good high cheek bones and a very lean look, especially if they have to do shows worldwide. You have to be a size 6 maximum.
LadybrilleNigeria: What makes African models distinctive from models from other parts of the world?
Joan Okorodudu: The models from Africa are very stunning. Their skin is their best assets. The dark ones and the light ones all have their unique assets.
LadybrilleNigeria: Who are your top female models at the moment?
Joan Okorodudu: Olubunmi Ademokoya, Amaka Chira, Isi Atagamen, Cynthia Omorodion, Tinuade Adejokun, Eno Akpan, Tayo Ishola , Faith Amadi, Omoye Eromosele, and Uzodinma. I have some Russians who will be joining ISIS soon. We are looking at making ISIS an international brand.
LadybrilleNigeria: What is the driving force behind your passion for the modeling industry?
Joan Okorodudu: My passion is driven by the fact that I was once a model and I will continue to do this forever.
LadybrilleNigeria: There’s an on-going trend of talented Nigerian models migrating to South Africa (SA) and other parts of the world to pursue their career. According to critics, this trend is hampering the development of the Nigeria’s fashion industry. What is your view on this trend?
Joan Okorodudu: Blame the big corporations in Nigeria that have killed the modeling industry. I want to see reverse migration. I want our industry to do our jobs here so as to allow our models to live in Nigeria. If other corporations can use models like the “Glow Ambassadors” do, we will not have our models leaving Nigeria and getting discriminated against.
Our models from Nigeria are keeping the South African fashion industry going. From Arise Africa Fashion Week to all the adverts, from MTN to Zain, the models are Nigerians. It is very sad.
LadybrilleNigeria: As a Nigerian whose modeling agency is based in SA, in what ways do you think you have impacted Nigeria’s fashion industry?
Joan Okorodudu: I have done well. I have taken girls from this country and now they are globetrotting. I have invested my hard earned money in this venture and I get emails from young girls blessing me. Out of 13 Nigerians that modeled at Arise Africa, 8 were my models. It has been great.
In December, we are starting International Fashion Week in Tinapa, Calabar, to enable young girls and boys to have their own. With that, even when they are in South Africa they can say we have our Fashion Week too. I can tell you that I will rather have our models in Africa than in model houses in America or Europe where they are extorted and not every black model gets booked. What I want to see is models living a better life in Africa than they can ever live in any other part of the world. My models live in the exclusive part of Johannesburg and in a house with swimming pool and gated area.
I have tried and I beg God to help me to do more. Right now we want to focus more on sending winners to Fashion Weeks worldwide instead of just competitions, and so winners of this year’s Nigeria’s Next Super Model will grace New York Fashion Week and South Africa Fashion Week.
LadybrilleNigeria: Apart from ISIS Models, we know about your clothing line: House of j’OLA. Could you familiarize our readers with other enterprises you are involved with?
Joan Okorodudu: I am also the MD/CEO of International Business Consortium Nigerian Limited. I won the econet dealer of the year 2001. I founded Lagos Ageless Clinique (lagosagelessclinique.com). I produce my own cream and soap, Nature’s Enzyme Soap, which has become very popular. I am the creative director of House of j’OLA ( www.houseofjola.com). It is good to note that I was the 3rd leg of the African record holder of the Nigerian team in the 4X400 metres (meter) relay in Stuttgart, Germany 1980. I won the Lady Gator relays three years in a row 1979, 1980, 1981. I was runner up in the prestigious Penn relays in 1980 and an Olympian. I was also Miss Nigeria Kaduna 1981 and first runner up Miss Nigeria 1981.
LadybrilleNigeria: What fun activities do you do to relieve the stress that comes with running multiple businesses?
Joan Okorodudu: I relax by going to Ghana, the Upper Volta region and sometimes just by watching TV.
LadybrilleNigeria: Thank you for your time and congrats on being our Personality of the Month!
Joan Okorodudu: Thank you so much for making me your personality of the month. You are doing a great job. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
~Interview by Elfonnie Inokon
~Photocredits: Isis Models, Simon Deiner/SDR, Joan Okorodudu