July 14, 2014

Are you a D.E.E.V.A.S?

Rekana Sharon Ojong is the brain behind D.E.E.V.A.S—Different, Elegant, Eclectic, Versatile, Ambitious, Sassy.  As Creative director, she believes every individual woman represents one of these attributes and it drives her creativity.  "Be You" campaign is open to creative minds and collaborators, individuals with talent looking for an outlet.  Nigeria is brewing with much talent but not enough creative outlet.  There an individual is concerned with survival and not living their best life.  Even the creatives have additional challenges compared to the rest of the world.  In Nigeria, there are lots taken for granted in the Western world yet to be attained in the country.  The issue of unreliable power supply continue so pervasive and entrenched, it can be considered the culture there.  To a lot of us who can relate to our homeland and the outside world, we know how vital something as simple as having electricity is.  Along with that is another developing infrastructure—the internet.  This now vital commodity, easily accessible in most parts of the world can as well be considered a luxury in Nigeria, not everyone can afford it.  For those that can, they can't rely on a strong network signal.  So if you're doing business in Nigeria, these are factors to consider.
Sharon is pioneering individual creativity, helping to develop a culture that nurtures passion and dreams until it's fruition.  She kick starts Be You campaign in 2014 and with plans to make it seasonal.  This season showcases some young women that are creatives in their own right, among the people to watch.  Collaborators and partners are welcome.  This is a chance to show another facet of Nigeria on a global scale.
During our work session at Spice TV, a sister network of SoundCity, I couldn't help but be curious.  Naturally, anything that has to do with the children of my motherland standing out is fascinating to me.  Sharon was hard at work with the team when I arrived at the studio.  Ever so sweet and nurturing, she walked me through my segment in the program. I snuck in one-on-one time with her between takes.  Sharon wears a lot of hats: Creative director for D.E.E.V.A.S, a burgeoning company she founded, associate producer at Spice TV Africa.  The media house operates like a well-oiled machine, walking into the building and observing everybody in it is akin to Andy walking into Runway magazine (you've got to watch "The Devil Wears Prada").

Sharon shares with me her passions and her dreams of changing the world, one creative individual at a time, her love for Game of Thrones, Comedy, my favorite guilty pleasure—Sex and the city and how she wants to become the next Oprah.  So what does it take for one that wears many hats?  Lets find out.
As Rekana Sharon Ojong, you wear many hats.  Tell me about some of those hats.
I'm the creative Director of D.E.E.V.A.S.  I started D.E.E.V.A.S as a platform to have young entrepreneurs like myself, to push them, to motivate them, inspire them, not just to dream, but also to pursue their dream and to know the right thing to do in our new modern world, so that's what D.E.E.V.A.S is all about.  Personally I'm a fashion stylist and I'm also a dreamer.  I have a dream to one day run a fashion and media house where I can produce my own TV shows and commercials and stuff like that, a fashion house where I would also get involved with the designing.  Since I have not had the opportunity of going to school for it—there are no design schools in Nigeria, there are no production or films school in Nigeria, I thought "Okay, it's time for me to get experience."  I've worked so far in the fashion industry, magazine publications, online media.  But I hadn't really done TV.  So I got the opportunity to work with Spice TV as a producer and also a stylist.

What inspired this dream?
Ehm, I've always had a love for fashion.  I've always loved dressing up and it wasn't just about me alone, I loved dressing people around me.  Oh if you want to go somewhere I'd say "where are you going to looking that way?  Common! I have something for you to wear I can pull out from my wardrobe" I never knew the word "Stylist" ever existed until I kinda moved to Lagos and, you know, even if you asked me "Well what do you do?" and I'm like "for now I want to do designing."  Someone asked me one time "what is your passion?" and I said I love to dress people and he said "oh! So you're a stylist" and I said "what does a stylist mean?..." So someone can be a stylist and make a career of it.  So I got myself more involved, started learning more about it—the process of styling, contacting and getting clients, what you do after you get your clients... Apart from dressing people, I used to watch my dad growing up.  My dad had great style, he loved fashion.  He used to mix up patterns in his dressing and when I was little and he'd watch me sashay up and down the house.  I thought I was going to model, I wanted to be one of those girls that walk on the runway.  By the time I tried it I realized it wasn't my path.  However, I realized I loved fashion just like my dad, I wanted to design clothes, for some reason I had to do it.
So would you say your dad was your role model in that sense?
Yes I can.  He's always been my role model growing up, I've always looked up to him.  Unfortunately, he passed on December of last year.  My dad was the sole person who always supported me, always telling me "oh you know what?  If you want to do it, while I'm not so keen on fashion schools (he was a lecturer) you can study something that leads to a career someday in the university, if you're done doing your university studies, like Banking and Finance, or Policy making, or something in that line that has a career path to it, then you can exploit the world and go wherever you want to.  I actually appreciated the fact that he pushed me to study something that I studied because I ended up learning stuff in policy and administration.  So when I finished I told him I wanted to start my company, he supported me and financed my initial company start up.  He was really proud that I was doing something like this.  And every time he kept saying, "oh why can't you go and work in the bank and make money? You're so intelligent, you're so smart.  You can make money doing a 9-5 in a bank where they can pay you for what you deserve, rather than struggling with this company.  When you've made enough money, you can come back to this company and to this dream."  Whenever I speak to him, he'd be shocked at some of the things coming out of my mouth.  I basically tell him that I know people start up from scratch.  No company goes up in one or two years.  There's a plan and my plan is not to make money now, my plan is actually to build this thing from scratch, have a foundation and hopefully in the next five years, we can start talking about making money.  My main dream is to empower other young women like myself.  I was lucky to be empowered by my own parents, people around me like my brothers and sisters who supported me to do what I wanted to do personally.

You just brought out a point that's so important for young people like us coming up,  and that's support.  May he rest.  Support is very difficult for someone like you or me, that wants to do something different with their life, a lot of times we want to do stuff outside the box, something that makes a difference in the world.  In my own world I say instead of being a consumer, I want to be a producer.  At certain point in our lives we realize we're not just here for ourselves, to be mundane and just go through the motions and that's it.  We're supposed to do something big with our lives.  For a lot of us that realize this, we have no choice but to pursue it.  It becomes absolutely important to have support and not just from people rendering lip service, cause you have a lot of those, but from people who genuinely want you to succeed.  It becomes so vital in the beginning stages.  I'm kinda glad you pointed that out.
From where we come from in Africa or in Nigeria, you say "daddy I want to be an Artist," and he says "ehm, what does an artist do? What do you mean an Artist?"  Nobody wants to hear that.  People want to hear "oh I want to be a Doctor, I want to be a Banker, I want to be a Lawyer or an Engineer."
That's what our Nigerian parents want to hear.  You actually have to work hard and prove to them that  this other dream or passion you have is actually something that is reasonable and something you can boast about tomorrow and he can say "My daughter is an Artist" and someone can look at them and say "oh, an Artist is actually a career," which our new generation now, people have dreams, people have ideas.  Young people have so many ideas.  I met so many people who have good ideas but are not motivated; people don't support them.  I've met someone who's into designing.  She had loved fashion from childhood.  After school, she started working with the bank.  She'd been working in the bank for three years and I kept telling her "there's no money in the industry we're in, except you have a good strategy to make money.  But where there's passion, it's the passion that drives you, you won't want to stop.  You won't think about "oh I want to be a millionaire," you think about "how can I expand my business in terms of growth and go from just being a designer to showing my stuff on international runways?"  It's not about the money.
It can't be about the money, it really can't be.
The money is very important...

Of course! The money is essential, there's no downplaying that one bit, however that cannot be a focus.  It's like you have an ailment, you have a symptom and I'd use the example of people that go to the gym and they just wanna loose weight like tomorrow and when it doesn't happen they give up.  Loosing weight should not be your focus, just like having money should not be your focus.  You can equate loosing weight and having money just like a symptom to a disease.  If I make it a regular routine to work out daily and forget about loosing weight and just make it a habit to get up everyday and do it for my well-being,  just like a symptom is to a disease, eventually, without even paying attention, it would start showing up on my body.  My focus is not on how it'd make me look, my focus is on the habit.  Eventually, the symptom of that habit becomes weight loss or the money that we talk about.  A lot of times you have a good idea but your focus is on the wrong thing.  

People ask me personally, how do I make money doing this and I tell them it's not about the money.
The money comes...

Eventually the money comes, there's no question about it, and when the money starts coming, the money would not stop coming! (laughs).
That's my own principle.  If you go the fast lane, you get the money and the next thing the money won't be there anymore.  But if you take the proper structure, the money will show up.  That's the honest truth.

I see you everywhere on red carpet events interviewing celebrities and dignitaries.  How do you like that?
(Laughs) Right now I have no choice but to do what I have to do.  I produce a red carpet show for Spice TV, it's like one of Spice TV's most pivotal shows.  You know Spice TV is all about fashion and there's no red carpet without fashion and because I produce this show, I have to be on the red carpet for every major event happening all over Nigeria.  It's an opportunity for me to meet people, I've met a lot of people working, it wasn't because I was sitting down at home, but it was because I was doing my job.  Most of the time, the red carpets are fun, most of the events are fun, but I always speak to people who tell me "so you're having fun at so so and so...I saw your picture on Instagram."  And I feel like "to be very honest with you, I wasn't really having fun, don't let social media deceive you.
It's work and when people see it from the other end and they think it's fun, but on your end, you know it's work and when you have to think about it as work, it's not so much fun anymore (laughs).  I know the feeling.
Most of the time people just say "I love what you're wearing" and I'm like "okay, I'd post it on Instagram, let me tell you where you can find what I'm wearing so you can also get it.  I enjoy taking pictures (laughs) goes without saying.

How did you come up with the acronym D.E.E.V.A.S?
Back in the university, I used to have a friend, who still motivates me till today, she's still my friend till now.  She's a lawyer.  We are hanging out you know, we'd be at home gisting.  We'd talk about work, we'd talk about our future, we'd talk about food, we'd talk about everything that's so serious and within a second we can just start talking about fashion and how fabulous we look and stuff like that.  She used to laugh at me and say "Oh we're divas, we're divas" and I'm like "I'm not a diva because the general perception of a diva is someone who has attitude..." you know what I mean?  And she says, "you know what? We are Nigerian divas, that means we're different from every other kind of diva" and I said "Okay.  You know what? I'm gonna start a blog and I'd call it '9ja Divas.'" So I started 9ja Divas and at first I thought the name was too childish and I kept thinking.  Every time I had a tiny idea, I always prayed to God about it, next I came up with Deevas.  I thought "okay I like this."  It became an acronym when I thought "I am a diva, my friend is a diva, but we are not both the same—we don't have the same attributes, so how do I generalize all divas?"  So I decided that each letter would stand for something which would describe every type of diva, each word would encourage people to be who they are.  Some people are daring, some people are not, some people are elegant, some people are eclectic, some people are versatile, some people are ambitious and some people are sophisticated—we are all D.E.E.V.A.S, we are one and the same with different attributes.  I'm not elegant, I can't describe myself as an elegant woman, but I know so many elegant women around.  I can't describe myself as an eclectic woman, but I can describe myself as ambitious.  So other D.E.E.V.A.S can find something to relate to under the acronym.

I initiated the campaign when I thought "this is a platform that's not making money yet.  How can I make it popular? How can I push it out there? How can make people aware of it?"  I called friends who are photographers, make-up artists and told them about my dream for D.E.E.V.A.S and everyone was interested.  I explained what I'm trying to do and everyone was supportive and so I came up with campaign idea.
Describe each chosen woman in D.E.E.V.A.S.
These are people I knew already and I knew the characters that make them.  I approached them about the D.E.E.V.A.S campaign and to each one I said "I want you to stand for D (or a particular letter).  No body had an argument about it or said "I don't want to do this one."  Each one said I would love to represent for what this letter stands."  The girl who did Different, I thought she was daring, she doesn't care what anybody thinks about her.  She cuts her hair, tattoos her body, wears whatever she wants to wear, in crazy colors sometimes.  She walks into a place and she stands out.  So I thought this was the perfect person for someone I could say is different.  For the girl who's Elegant, I know her well and if someone asks me to describe her, one of the two words to come out of my mouth would be elegant woman (not that she's not different or eclectic).  The girl who's Eclectic is an Artist, she's a rapper, an Igbo girl.  Sometimes she'd dress like a tomboy, sometimes she's dressed girlie.  You can't understand her; you have to be close to her to understand how she thinks.  I'm sure people close to her would tell you to just leave her the way she is.  The girl who's Versatile is an actress and a model. When you can have different careers and hustle to your name, it means you have versatility.  The woman who's ambitious had to be me.  I always hear people say "Sharon you're too ambitious, I can't stand your ambition."  I'd say to them "This is everything that I have—my career and my dreams.  This is what God had sent me to do, so I have to put my head down to do it and I'm not going to compromise because of my relationship with a person, or people who can't stand the fact that I'm ambitious.  I won't change anything about myself."  The girl who's Sassy but classy, she's an actress who's known in the industry as someone who's very subtle in her personal life, but given any role to play she plays it very well.  She's very subtle, sexy.  She covers her body most of the time, wears tight stuff, she's very curvy.  She's the kind of girl you'd find in a night club and then find her in a jungle.  She's has sass.  That's how I picked them and that's how I'd pick every other person.

What's the response to the campaign so far?
People liked it, gave me their constructive criticism which I accepted and saw reason with.  Some thought it was a bit laid back.  Some people loved it, liked it, thought it was different.  People want to get involved.  It was mostly positive, media houses posted it.  I didn't really push the campaign, my website, which is supposed to be the agent that represents potential collaborators and artists is still under construction. This particular campaign is been on the works since last year and I plan to make this annual.  So I have to move forward with this one, so I went ahead and launched it.  The website should be ready end of July.
Who can contribute to the campaign and how do they get involved? 
People in the creative industry.  For example, once the website is launched, it will be a platform for young photographers who don't have a website yet where people can see their stuff.  They can show people their work with a link to our site, i.e www.deevasworld.com/photographers/[yournamehere].  People who'd like to get involved can invest in their careers.  They'd come up with a business plan for me to look at to know how much investment is needed.  There are so many creative people on the street.  People say "I really want to be a designer."  They're already making pieces now but don't know how to put it out there, they have no idea.  They just know that "okay, I sew clothes for my friends, neighbors, people but I also want to be a designer, make a collection for the runways.  Often times they don't know how to go about it.  This is where I come in.  I'd say "okay, we'd do a shoot, and we'd put your shoot on our website."  They're not paying for it.  D.E.E.V.A.S make a return on its investment by sorting jobs to the artist and once paid, D.E.E.V.A.S would make a percentage from it. You as the artist can have other agents.  D.E.E.V.A.S hopes to partner with agents.  People contact me a lot for photo shoots and are looking for make up artists and I tell them I know five available and they charge differently depending on the brand, how big or small.  Depending on your budget I will match you with the right make up artist.

Is the campaign just for women?
No.  My next campaign will feature a guy
Any celebrity role models?
Oprah.  I've always looked up to Oprah Winfrey in every aspect of her life.  I follow her life, her stories, how she started.  Her life story pushes me to follow my dream.

So at some point you hope to be a one-woman shop for everything—the producing, the movies, the shows, the magazine, stuff like that?

That's Oprah.
(Laughs) yes.

What does Sharon Ojong does to unwind in her busy life?
(Laughs) Before I had the opportunity to say "I love to travel."  Maybe in a year's time, once D.E.E.V.A.S is more established, I can say "okay it's time for me to go on a Summer holiday, have a lot of fun traveling, spending money."  Right now I don't have that luxury.  I'd rather reinvest into D.E.E.V.A.S.  When I'm not working at D.E.E.V.A.S or Spice T.V, I'm at home in front of my computer with a glass of wine, still working, doing research, acquiring more knowledge.  It's fun surfing the web, checking out websites, seeing what others in the world are up to, getting inspired.  If I'm not doing that I'm watching a movie, catching up on my guilty pleasure—Game of Thrones—read the books so I kinda know what's ahead, Shameless.  I love comedy, I love shows that make me laugh after a hard day's work.  So I'd come home, have a glass of wine, turn on my computer, turn on the T.V watching Shameless or some comedy.  Lately I find myself watching Sex and the city all over again.
Oh my God! Now you're hitting a spot!  I have the whole series and I watch it over and over.  I always learn something from it I didn't realize before.  Always an epiphany with the same episode I'd seen many times before.
I have all six seasons and the two movies.

Yeap!  That's me.  What is Sharon Ojong up to now and where can we find you?
Right now I'm building the brand, Spice TV.  Spice TV is fairly new in Africa and it's difficult getting African content.  Our team  is focused and give our one hundred percent into it.  I have a personal blog where I put up my personal style, thoughts and ideas, articles I read.  My website is www.sharonojong.com, you can find me on all social media under Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr.

Wow.  You're everywhere and do wear a lot of hats.
I have to (laughs).  I have to learn what's going on.

Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you.

All images courtesy of www.deevasworld.com.

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