Close your eyes! Okay, I guess you have to open them to read this. But, imagine living in a country where you had no information or access to fashion and/pop-culture from your country of origin? What a world that would be! For Ladybrille American and European readers, yes, forget New York, Paris, London or Milan Fashion Weeks. Forget switching on your television or going online and viewing the works of skilled designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and so forth.
Shopping? What shopping? Nope! You don’t get that either. What about reality shows like American Idols, America’s Next Top Model, award events like the Grammys, The Oscars? You’ve gotta be kidding, right? Nope! You don’t get access or any information on that either. Maxwell just launched a “HOT” album. Really? “Oh how exciting!” But Oops! Too bad you had no idea and you can’t get that information anywhere in the country you live either! To get these information, you have to depend on your friends or family who visit from the USA/Europe once in a blue moon or every three to five years to bring you copies of Vogue, Essence, US Weekly, New York Times or what have you. Not cool!
While it might seem unimaginable, that has been the exact reality for millions of American and European based Fashion-forward Africans, for decades. Blame it on infrastructural issues or what have you, but it seemed absolutely impossible to get access to fashion and entertainment pop culture that paralleled those cited above, that is until 2006! In 2006 a twenty-two year old (22) Canadian based Nigerian fashion-forward woman took matters into her hands and decided to change this reality, literally causing what is now an online African fashion revolution.
This 22 year old woman, now 25, is Uche Eze fondly known by her fans and readers as Bella Naija. A big fan of privacy (this is her second interview since the first granted to True Love, West Africa Magazine), she created a blog hosted on blogger under an anonymous identity “Bella Naija” that was primarily an accumulation of scanned magazine articles, pictures and occasional interviews of Nigerian fashions and fashion personalities. Once Fashion-forward Nigerians across the globe caught on to it, they ate it up like the starved fashion victims they had been for decades. Bella Naija continued to tweak and grow her audience adding music, weddings, events, an the highly coveted ‘Aunty Bella’ column, among many features.
The Bella Naija blog readership grew rapidly and it became clear Bella Naija needed to make some key decisions about the future of the blog. Her decision ultimately involved relocation back to Nigeria, establishing Bainstone, corporate company for Bella Naija, and in July of 2009, quitting her 9-5 to pursue Bella Naija, fulltime. Today, Bella Naija the Blog is an online fashion and entertainment portal serving Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria’s fashion and entertainment culture worldwide with features that include fashion, music, film, weddings and events.
Bella Naija has been an inspiration to many including us at Ladybrille, the absolutely fantastic Senegalese blogger Yaye Marie and countless others. With the many remarkable Ladybrille Magazine Women of the Month we have had the honor of featuring this year, we couldn’t think of a better way to close out 2009 than to celebrate, for the whole month of December, this remarkable young woman, her success, achievements and inspiring qualities. Enjoy our exclusive interview and Ms. Uche Eze, on behalf of the entire Ladybrille Team, we congratulate you for being our Ladybrille Magazine Woman of the Month!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Uche (Bella Naija) we knew we had to end 2009 with a feature on you. Your accomplishments have been simply remarkable! How are you?
Bella Naija: I am great. Thank you. I am so humbled and honored to have been chosen as your final ‘Ladybrille Woman’ for 2009.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (smiles) Before we get into it, could you share with our very diverse audience the meaning of your full name?
Bella Naija: My first name is Uchenna (pronounced “uuh-chain-na”) which means father’s mind. While my last name is Eze (pronounced “A-zay”) which means King.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Bella, why don’t we start by you painting the picture for us). What was the fashion landscape like in terms of Nigerian fashion when you started Bella Naija?
Bella Naija: The fashion landscape when Bella Naija started in 2006 was vibrant. New crops of designers such as Jewel by Lisa and Lanre Da Silva Ajayi were blossoming. While icons like Tiffany Amber kept pushing things up a notch! It was so exciting . . . and it still is.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You were based in (Canada) when you started Bella Naija but you have since moved to Nigeria. Why?
Bella Naija: I had just graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario. I was resuming my first ever post-graduation job with Shell in a few weeks so I had some time off. It was never planned. I just started it spontaneously. Even the name (Bella Naija) was an on-the-spot decision that blossomed into what we have today. After Canada, I lived in London UK for a year and then moved to Nigeria. As per why I moved, I LOVE Nigeria. Lagos is the city of my dreams despite all the craziness. I just had to move back. The most important factor was my parents. I missed them and wanted to be closer to them.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Had you lived in Nigeria prior to relocating there?
Bella Naija: I grew up in Nigeria, went to University in Canada when I was a teenager.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Let’s go back to Bella Naija the company) What is the company’s mission and vision?
Bella Naija: Bella Naija’s vision is to provide relevant African content online to inspire!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I can imagine there have been some adjustments but specific to Bella Naija the (website), how have you been able to deal with the country’s constant electricity/power outages to maintain a freshly and constantly updated website? Are you running your generator 24/7?
Bella Naija: To be honest, it is really challenging but I am up for it! When I moved to Nigeria, I did not move with ‘rose colored glasses.’ I knew the issues and prepared for them by crafting a solid business plan and PRAYING!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Speaking of a solid business plan), what do you attribute Bella Naija’s success to?
Bella Naija: God. Absolutely. Every decision I have made regarding Bella Naija and every single bit of success I attribute to God and I am very grateful.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is your priority for the company?
Bella Naija: The priority is to keep delivering quality online content to our readers.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: As an entrepreneur and owner of a fast growing online media company, what would you say are the three biggest challenges, beyond power outages, of running a business?
Bella Naija: Reliable internet access, quality staff, (because it is a new sector, not many people understand the concept of an online business and what it takes to excel and deliver in their roles), valuing your business and services.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Bella Naija’s parent company is Bainstone Limited. Why the name Bainstone and are there any plans for new subsidiaries in the next year or two?
Bella Naija: BainStone is Bella Naija’s parent company. It was founded in 2009 and we have great plans for it. There are 3 main divisions: Online Media which is what BellaNaija.com falls under, online Marketing and a Bespoke Consulting Unit.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: As it stands, we can probably count less than five successful online Nigerian owned fashion companies. How do you think new technology and accessibility to these new technologies, within Nigeria, will change that?
Bella Naija: There are plans in place to improve the internet connectivity in Nigeria from 2010. That will definitely have a positive impact. We have so many talented people who are looking for an outlet to express themselves. The internet is the perfect avenue.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s talk about Nigeria’s fashion and entertainment industry. What impact do you think it will make on the world map, especially in relevant markets like the USA, Japan, China and the UK?
Bella Naija: As we have seen over the last few years, there is something truly special about Nigerian pop culture. I definitely see bigger things happening soon. However, to have sustainable success, it goes beyond talent. Discipline and planning is key.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What will you say is the state of Nigeria’s fashion industry? What strides are Nigerian fashion designers making, if any, to make their marks on the global map?
Bella Naija: The Nigerian fashion industry is growing and truly becoming an ‘industry.’ Designers are branching into diffusion lines and looking for ways to expand and mass produce their pieces. The recent showings at the ARISE fashion shows in Johannesburg, New York and London have really contributed to the success. ‘Nigeria’s got talent’ and we are going to make an impact! However, as I mentioned previously, it goes beyond talent. You have to balance creativity with bottom-line awareness.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What about music and film, your thoughts?
Bella Naija: The music and film industries are improving as well. For film, I am really looking forward to homegrown talent shining on the world stage.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are names in fashion and music that you feel have great crossover appeal that our audience should watch for?
Bella Naija: Honestly, it is difficult to predict! These things take serendipity. Who would have known Jason Wu would be the international fashion wunderkind of 2009. Only God knows.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: These days, both the West and even certain parts of Africa (South Africa) are taking stabs at Nigeria’s image, using a few “bad eggs” to brand the Nigerian as fraudster, among many negative images. Could you share with us, from a fashion and entertainment perspective, some of the efforts that the country and its youths are taking to combat and rebrand the Nigerian, especially to Western countries?
Bella Naija: Their work and accomplishments speak for themselves. If you are African or Nigerian in your office doing a 9 to 5 and you are diligent and honest in your job, you are rebranding Nigeria! It’s not about a big PR project. I truly believe it’s the power of one, everyone of us.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: For our readers who want to be in your position someday, what is the best career path you think they should take?
Bella Naija: There is no fixed career path. My advice is to look inwards, find your passion, find your niche and go for it! Don’t over-think it. While you are ‘thinking’ someone might launch your idea.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: For a long time, you were very big on not having your name revealed as the founder of Bella Naija. Why did you decide to lose the anonymity?
Bella Naija: I am an extremely private person. I really value my privacy – especially for the sake of family and relationships. I was having a conversation with someone and I said I would give up every business success including Bella Naija to have a happy family life and it’s true. That is my priority.
The anonymity was not planned but I am so grateful it worked out that way. I wanted to and still want to remain in the background. As per why I decided to “lose” my anonymity, due to some business plans and meetings, people started finding out who I was. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone published something so I decided to do it on my own terms. I’m grateful to True Love West Africa for giving me that opportunity.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Okay enough business talk. (Laughs) Let’s talk about Uche! You sound like a very busy lady. What do you do to relax?
Bella Naija: I sleep. Honestly, that is my oasis. Quality sleep. I am happiest spending quality time with my family and friends.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When was the last time you took a vacation? (Laughs)
Bella Naija: I went to South Africa earlier this year. I had been there on business trips in the past but never truly explored and enjoyed the country. I got to do that this time.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: We love shoes, clothes, makeup, everything fashionable. What is your fashion addiction, (if any)?
Bella Naija: Though I love fashion – clothes, shoes etc…I do not get attached. I give away most of my ‘fashion items’ several times a year.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you want for Christmas?
Bella Naija: I want to spend time with my family! I am also looking forward to going to my hometown in Enugu (Eastern part of Nigeria).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you Uche. You are an inspiration to many, myself included. Keep up the great work.
Bella naija: Thanks so much Uduak. I am a huge fan of Ladybrille. Your hardwork and dedication is so inspiring. Wishing you all the best and success in 2010. Thank you to the entire Bella Naija team, contributors and readers. For everyone reading this, have a great holiday and a blessed new year!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you. Wishing the very best for you as well!
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~Photo: Bella Naija in Tiffany Amber at the recent Tiffany Amber Sample Sale