by Akan Ido
YNaija recently met with Rodney Emeka Igwedinma, the winner of MTN Young Designer of the Year award and the young ambitious designer spoke about his background, career trajectory, his hope for the Nigerian fashion industry and his dream of working with the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
Read the full interview below:
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your educational background?
My name is Rodney Emeka Igwedinma and the winner of MTN Young Designer of the Year award 2013. I am currently a student of University of Lagos, studying Accounting. I am from Anambra East Local government in Anambra state. I come from a family of seven, of which I happen to be the last born of the house. My parents are Ebenezer and Monica Igwedinma. My dad is a retired civil servant while my mom is a tailor and we are a happy lot. Growing up, I schooled in Rivers state, Port Harcourt. I attended the township primary school, Oyibo for my primary education while I went to Government Secondary, Oyibo for my secondary education. As for my tertiary education, I started out at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) Ogbomoso where I was studying Biochemistry. But when I developed my talent as a fashion designer, I had to leave LAUTECH for University of Lagos, UNILAG where I started seeing things happen for me in my career. Although I spent many years at LAUTECH, I think it was a wise choice moving to UNILAG because it exposed me to a lot of things. I started my career in 2011 after leaving LAUTECH while studying a science based course and was forced to begin my university education afresh in Lagos having gained admission to study Accounting. Interestingly as a kid, I had enjoyed art based classes but due to family pressure I went through school as a science student. My decision to transit to Accountancy was based on my belief that the course would provide the best platform to fulfil my vision as a fashion designer. And it wasn’t hard to switch because I already had a combination of science and arts courses in my O’Level.
How was it competing against other designers who had trained abroad?
I really don’t believe that someone’s background should be a limiting factor in how far one can go. It’s all about what’s inside of you – so I think that was what paved the way for me. During the auditions, I saw a lot of guys come in with swag, and I was challenged, amazed at some of the designs but I wasn’t intimidated. Yeah, they came armed with fashion degrees from Paris, UK, Vienna but they didn’t move me. When I showed my brother what I was up against, we were just laughing. It was like a David and Goliath situation. Most of my friends just wished me all the best. When I made the top ten shortlist, my close friends told me that they won’t shout or celebrate with me and that they only time they would rejoice is when I am crowned winner. This is the extent of belief and confidence which my close pals had in me. This kept me going. I had no fashion qualifications, whether local or international but I believed in my work.
Who are your favourite designers?
As a bespoke men’s suit designer, I find inspiration from the Okunoren Twins, maybe because we are in the same line of business. But I dare say that they have got some interesting designs in their kitty. On the international front, I admire the works of Tom Ford, Oswald Boateng and DSquared2. I also look up to the works of Tiffany Amber, Mai Atafo and Lanre Dasilva.
What’s your go-to style inspiration?
I draw inspiration from art, the environment, nature and music. They provide the stillness with which I birth my design concepts. I listen to Enya, you don’t get to hear or understand the lyrics but you are immersed and sucked in. I love rhythmic music and not a big fan of words in music. But then guys like Seal, Sade Adu, Barry White do it for me. On the home front, I love Asa, Praiz. I think Nigerian artists need to create a unique style for themselves. They can’t all dress the same way. The dress style in many of our music videos are boring because you see a lot of copycatism and borrow-borrow. I would love to work with Lynxxx and D’banj, these guys have style.
How would you describe your personal fashion style?
My style is predicated on comfort and flexibility. It isn’t something that is so loud, it is usually very simple. Even though it looks like what everyone can put on, it is sophisticated and classy. That’s my style.
What are some of your fashion goals?
I want to go international someday. Although I usually plan my movement. For example, early on in the year, I already had it in mind to participate in the LFDW. So I love to prepare myself ahead of time. My goal as a fashion designer is to be the number one Nigerian’s men label to go global. I want to sell on a worldwide scale. And this explains why I have a tilt towards the British cut.
What are your favorite colors?
My brand colors are wine and ash with a touch of navy blue some times. But my colors depends on the fashion season in which we are working. For the next season which is autumn/winter, we’ll do a lot of navy blue but in spring /summer, we had orange which is my favourite color. When the orange suit came out on the runaway, it really caused a stir and blew most people away. I heard people say that it was a risk that paid off. The essence of the ensemble was to get people talking and I’m grateful to MTN for the opportunity to put my stuff out there.
Since you are still in school, what’s your take on the ASUU strike?
The ASUU strike has been a blessing for me. God has a way of doing things. As a student of UNILAG, if school was in session, it would have been very difficult to find the time to participate in the competition. I was apprehensive when the call time came in because I submitted my application two days before the closing date. Once I got the invite to audition, I began to pray and ask God for his help – make a way for me to win this competition. And so when the strike was announced, I was very happy as it would afford me the chance to compete. While my friends were groaning and complaining, I was thankful. Even when there were rumours of the ending the strike, I prayed that it would happen only after the show was over and I was glad it happened for me. Making the collection was stressful and it would have been more demanding having to combine preparing for the show with exams looming. God bless ASUU. (General laughter)
Do you have favourite fabrics that you work with?
I love to work with wool. It is very rich, expensive and good for men. Any man that loves wool knows what he wants in suit making. Even with the climatic conditioning of Nigeria, there are shades of wool that fit our weather patterns. It all depends on the personality and the purpose.
What are your favorite patterns?
I have my own signature. My suits are always straight. If you check out my shirts, I don’t have these slanting cuts. I keep the cuts straight and this is the key differentiation for my brand.
What has been your most surreal fashion experience to date?
It has got to be winning the MTN Young Designer of the year award. It was blissful and very exciting. I couldn’t contain myself as I was filled with joy with so many emotions running through my mind whilst hugging everyone backstage. It was WOW!
What would have happened if you didn’t win?
It would have been a whole lot of shame for me because I so much believed in myself and prayed very hard for this show. I had the firm conviction that if I was going to do the show, then it would pave the way for me and as God would have it, my fasting and prayer wasn’t in vain.
What does a typical day in your life looks like?
I am usually awake from around 5am. I start with my devotion – prayers, meditations and reading the bible after which I spend at least twenty minutes planning what my day is going to look like – meetings to attend, people to visit, shopping sites to go to. Once I’m done with trying to look good for the day, I hit the road for the factory where production usually takes place. There. I try to find out what the deliverables are and generally find out what’s happening. I also inspect the work which my tailors have done for me and look into their needs. I also have two hours online- checking and replying mails, networking, chat up with family and friends. Some days, I head out to meet with clients after this routine in the afternoon. In the evenings, I go back to work and check out what has been done and what’s amiss. Then I head home around 8pm depending on the traffic, I might find myself getting home close to midnight. Once I get home, I say my prayers and snooze off into dreamland. Fortunately, I try to socialize during weekends, mostly on Sundays as my schedule permits.
Do you go clubbing?
Well, I do that once in a while, like say once in three months. I find it difficult to party, so when I get the chance to, I utilise it. This is because I am always very busy – so many things to cater to. The calls keep coming in from right, left and centre and this was even before the LFDW.
Did you get funding to start this business?
I started this business with ten thousand naira and I wasn’t funded by anybody. The first order to design a dress cost me ten thousand naira which was the first capital for my business. I sent the dress over to a dude in Abuja who placed the order and till tomorrow, I still haven’t been paid. It was a painful experience and so I had to start all over again. I made and still make a lot of sacrifices coupled with hard work.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
My dad used to tell me that the ants usually gather their food during summer and then in winter, all they do is sit down, enjoy and eat. While staying with my uncle, he would say to me every morning that you must follow the early morning moon wherever it goes, follow it. When the time comes for you to enjoy, you will. My victory has inspired a lot of my friends.
What would you do with the 4million naira from MTN?
Well, the money is not for Rodney Emeka. It belongs to McMeka. It would be devoted to pushing the brand.
What is the story behind your brand name, McMeka?
Well my name is Rodney Emeka, so it was derived from my native name. Mc gives it the British feel.
Are you married?
No. I am twenty six years old and happily single.
Has your girlfriend played any role in all of this?
Laughs. Well, she always encourages me to keep my dream alive and she is very understanding with my busy schedules. She is very patient and inspires me a lot. We are two different people who understand ourselves. We have been through so many things together and she knows what I’m capable of.
Is she into fashion and design?
She likes fashion but she doesn’t design. She is among my closest allies who are my backbone of support and pillar of strength. When I was growing up, my mom would usually call me to come and examine her looks. I would check her out and say mom I don’t like this. She is that kind of person who I can call on.
What would you say about the MTN Young Designer of the Year Award?
I think the initiative is a good one. I so much appreciate the fact that the organisers of the LFDW are working so hard to bring out young talents in Nigeria’s fashion space. They are giving young talents a voice. Josh, who won last year is doing well. McMeka will also do well.
If we walk into your wardrobe, what are we likely to find more?
Something that has the highest number in my wardrobe will be… Shirts! Shirts! Shirts!
Are you a jewelry person, like blings, chain or even wristwatches?
No. I love the minimalistic approach to my dress sense.
What fashion item do you love so much that you will love to have no matter how expensive?
That will be shoes and more shoes.
What are your favourite colours?
I love colours like burgundy, orange and grey
Which car is your dream car?
Mercedes Benz G wagon.
What is your favourite food?
I love pounded yam and nsala soup of 10 lives.