Fashion icon and Editor-in-Chief for Vogue, Anna Wintour, is one personality that helped raise the profile of fashion/lifestyle magazines from mediocre to excellent. In Nigeria, Bola Atta, Editor-in-Chief for TRUE LOVE West Africa Magazine a subsidiary of South Africa’s Media24 Publications, has had the same effect.
Atta through her management of TRUE LOVE West Africa has succeeded in raising the bar of fashion and lifestyle magazines in Nigeria from mediocre to superior quality, commanding millions of loyal readers. Her hard work, brilliant creative vision and managerial skills earns her Ladybrille®Nigeria Personality of the Month for August. Read on as we delve into media/publishing in Nigeria and of course reveal a lot more in our exclusive about the seemingly mysterious brilliant Ms. Atta!
LADYBILLENigeria.com: Many in Nigeria have heard of Bola Atta or read your credits on TRUE LOVE West Africa’s mast head, but you still remain somewhat mysterious. Who is Bola Atta? What’s your personal background?
Bola Atta: I am simply a regular, hard working Nigerian girl. I do not have a background in journalism. I studied economics as a first degree and got an M.B.A majoring in finance and marketing in 1991. Before most people knew what M.B.A stood for!
LADYBILLENigeria.com: (laughs) It is my understanding that your professional experiences run deep in both media and television. Share with us briefly what you were doing prior to taking on the reins at TRUE LOVE West Africa?
Bola Atta: I started off working in the banking industry but knew after 4 years that it wasn’t for me. I don’t believe in working just to earn a living. I had worked as a fashion model when I lived in Paris and in the States and was always interested in the fashion industry. I loved to read magazines and would subscribe to so many even as a student. I decided that I would start up my own magazine.
Yes, just like that! I started Flair magazine with an old school friend of mine from way back in England, Janet Mbu. It was so much fun to do. We learnt the ropes through discovery. We had to be involved in every single aspect of the process and it turned out to be an amazing experience. We stopped publishing after two years because it was not financially viable and we couldn’t do it the way we had wished to on limited resources.
I then went to work with M-net as the programme Manager for West Africa where I produced the M-net face of Africa in West Africa. I also worked producing for Carte Blanche and Studio 53. I would say what I am most proud of though, is the Africa Magic channel. I conceived of the idea about 2 years before it launched. I had a hard time selling it to my bosses in South Africa because the quality of Nollywood movies was so poor at that time. I decided to do a feature on Nollywood for Carte Blanche as a way to prove that the industry was phenomenal.
What I discovered during the production of the documentary was incredible. I knew then that every Nigeria needed to be acquainted with the gem we had in Nollywood and went on to push for the implementation of the channel. Initially I was only given a six hour block when I finally got the approval to start up the channel. Within 6 months however, it had exploded. The Africa magic channel caught on so fast. Even I who had believed so much in it hadn’t expected that it would be so big so soon. I was really pleased that I had carried it through because I had then begun to work on project TRUE LOVE and print media was really where I had been longing to be.
LADYBILLENigeria.com: (What great accomplishments.) I remember when you sent me copies of TRUE LOVE Magazine. I think it was 2002? What immediately struck me were the full page editorials. It wasn’t something at the time you saw in any magazine in Nigeria. It felt like Nigeria’s Essence Magazine. What was the general attitude towards fashion/lifestyle magazines before you became Editor-in-Chief (EIC) for TRUE LOVE? What is it like now?
Bola Atta: Actually TRUE LOVE was introduced to Nigeria in 2002 and after only one edition, it was scrapped because it hadn’t been well thought through at that point. I was working with M-net then and wasn’t involved at all with the first edition. I started to work on the magazine in 2003 and our first edition came out at the end of the following year.
I didn’t realise that other magazines didn’t have full page editorials before TRUE LOVE. I am not sure there were that many magazines in the genre before TRUE LOVE and so it would be difficult to correctly asses the attitudes of people towards fashion and lifestyle magazines before TRUE LOVE came on the scene. However, what I do know that we have done is to improve general standards and quality. We set the pace for a new type of editorial.
I never believe in things being impossible. So when people would say, “do you think a magazine like this can survive in Nigeria?” (referring to TRUE LOVE), I would wonder what on earth they were on about! I kept getting asked to introduce gossip into our editorial because that’s what sells in Nigeria. I was offended by this because I knew that people were keeping expectations low and assuming that Nigerians were not interested in quality content and only wanted to read about gossip! This was of no interest to me and so wasn’t going to be an area of focus in TRUE LOVE. I wanted it to be world standard and luckily this time, unlike when Janet and I were producing Flair magazine, I had the backing of a huge publishing company and could do it the way I had always wanted to. I wanted pages to be styled and photographed professionally. We trained photographers, worked with them constantly to improve their ability with fashion photography. We paid make- up artists well to encourage them.
We went out of our way to make people feel good about appearing in TRUE LOVE. It wasn’t always about the story, we had to make the subject feel the experience and time it took to get them on our pages were worth it. We wanted to stand neck-to-neck with world publications. I wasn’t going to do it if that was not the case. Even though I am not able to speak about attitudes pre TRUE LOVE Magazine, attitudes have changed since we started almost five years ago. People have higher expectations and will demand it. Other magazines are doing a fairly good job keeping the pace that we set.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: You made NIPRO’s 2008 top 40 under 40 Nigerian female professionals. How did that feel being acknowleged for all of your hardwork?
Bola Atta: Oh that was really nice. I wasn’t expecting it at all and it felt good to be acknowledged as making a positive contribution to society.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Who was the first fashion personality you featured after you became EIC?
Bola Atta: Gosh that was so long ago. But I think it was the trio of Teddy Inegbedion, Oke Oyibu and Patrick Osaghae. They were all based in different countries and owned a fabulous label together. We subsequently decided it was better to focus on the designs of the designers rather than their persons and we rarely interview designers now but always very happy to showcase their art.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Give us three of your favorite TRUE LOVE features so far?
Bola Atta: That’s a rather difficult choice to make. We have had so many beautiful stories and it is hard to decide which would make my top three but some of them are: An issue story we did many years ago on Fistula disease. It was an eye opener; A style spread we did on top fashionable women in Nigeria featuring from young to older women. That was a lot of fun to work on; And one of the top on my list would be the interview I did with the late first lady Mrs. Stella Obasanjo. Just a month before she passed away. She had never granted an interview to any publication before and trusted that I would do a good job. She allowed me and the team to spend three days with her in Abuja and she was such a pleasant lady. Fun and full of energy. I liked her. Unfortunately, she died just as we had gone to press. We were fully printed and it was too late to change anything or add to what I had written in the interview. That is definitely a keepsake edition for me.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: As you know LADYBRILLNigeria is about connecting Nigeria’s fashion industry professionals worldwide. You’ve had the chance to work and feature some of the best in the country. Where is the industry now and where do you see it headed?
Bola Atta: The industry is growing Uduak at an amazing pace. Nigerians are so incredibly talented. We discover new designers each day. I think it won’t be long before we get foreign buyers coming to source one of our labels for big department stores like Macy’s … not long at all.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: The BIG question in Europe and the USA is how do we keep print magazines relevant. Many publishing companies did not anticipate the revolution the internet would bring in publishing. For Nigeria’s market, while it still has a long way to go before it reaches that hurdle, is TRUE LOVE planning ahead for Nigeria’s internet revolution?
Bola Atta: Yes indeed. The internet has revolutionised the way people get their news and we have to keep up with this generation. We are working on a very interactive website that will give people a different type of access to TRUE LOVE. But I still think that readers would want to continue to feel the pages through their fingers for a lot longer. There is something about fashion and beauty that makes them more attractive in print than on your computer screen.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Most Nigerians on the ground know about TRUE LOVE magazine. Abroad, it’s not the case. Share with our global Nigerian fashion audience how to get their work featured in TRUE LOVE.
Bola Atta:This will become more relevant once we launch our interactive site. We do not have a presence in many countries internationally so it becomes difficult to feature designs and products that are not available to the local audience right now. Once we have a wider audience across the world, it will make more sense to introduce designers who are not based in West Africa.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: How much Naira does your magazine retail for?
Bola Atta: At the moment, 700 Naira.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What’s your favorite thing to do after a long day at work?
Bola Atta: Have a shower, a glass of red wine and watch a little Africa magic.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Your favorite hangout spot in Lagos?
Bola Atta: I like to eat out a lot and any new(good) restaurant in Lagos is my favourite hangout spot until there is a newer one…..
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Three makeup items you have in your purse?
Bola Atta: I don’t carry any make up in my bag!!! Not very lady like is it? Make up gets messy and can stain your handbag, cheque book or other important documents….I think I sometimes carry a lipstick.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What is currently playing in your IPOD?
Bola Atta: All summer, it’s been Michael Jackson of course. Now even I have listened to his songs a few too many times and I was just listening to the Bee gees this morning.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: What’s your favorite place for a spa treatment in Lagos?
Bola Atta: I recently went to the Clear Essence spa which was very nice…
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Thank you Bola and congrats on being our personality of the Month!
Bola Atta: And thank you for asking me. I feel honoured!
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
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A running feature for 12 years on Ladybrille.com, The ‘Ladybrille Woman of the Month’ celebrates women in business and leadership, who empower themselves and others through their contributions and actions in their local and international communities. In 2014, the feature expanded to include a podcast show. If you would like to nominate a woman to be celebrated, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.