How 26year old Emeka Rodney won the MTN Young Designer of the Year 2013 Award.
Twenty-six year old Rodney Emeka, the Creative Director of McMeka, won the MTN Young Designer of the Year competition at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2013. He runs McMeka, a Lagos based menswear design label which solely focuses on bespoke tailoring which he founded in September 2011. The young PH bred designer came up against formidable names like Waneami, Diana aLa Vid (DLV), Ayo Van Elmar, Reni Smith, Ladunni Lambo, Sho by Adesola Obebe, Tumilla by Tumi Ladega, Kenneth Ize and Siaiano who were also shortlisted as finalists for the MTN Young Designer of the Year. However, his hard work and resilience paid off and he was crowned as the winner. He takes us through the hard and arduous journey to achieving this feat.
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. Yea, 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.
How do you feel about winning?
It’s everyone’s dream to be a winner. And so I was very elated when my name was announced as the winner. I have a certain fulfilment from winning the competition because I have put in a lot into this craft.
Did you know that you were going to win?
(Laughs) I so much prepared for it. At the last edition in 2012, I attended the closing finale where the winner was announced. I studied the process and workflow of how the models and designers presented their materials. That was on the 28th of October. From that point on, my preparations began for this year’s edition.
What were the high points of your preparation?
As part of my preparation regime, every month or at least once in two weeks, I tried to go through the some of the collections from the last edition of the MTN Young Designer’s competition at the LFDW. I meticulously studied the collections from Josh, last year’s winner. I also studied the show generally, trying to gauge the perception of people about their fashion choices and needs. It was a journey that has taken about a year and has seen me crowned as this year’s winner.
When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
My mom is a tailor and she always put us through tailoring when we were young. Although back then, I was a bit stubborn and didn’t find the experience pleasurable but she insisted that we all learnt the art. It was as if she knew what was coming ahead in the future. When I got to LAUTECH, I became very serious about the craft when I saw some things that inspired me – there was a business case for it and I was hooked on it. I am into men’s clothing, so while at LAUTECH, I saw boys looking good, fresh and wearing made clothes that were tailored here in Nigeria. My plan on entry was to change motifs in terms of the way boys were dressed.
So what steps did you take?
I went to Yaba market and bought a piece of fabric. I designed something good from it and when my friends saw it on me, they all loved it. They were surprised to find out that I had made the shirt and called me a genius. That was all the motivation I needed to start making clothes and before I knew what was happening, the dresses were moving round and attracting a lot of compliments from other students in school.
What was the first piece you designed?
It was a chinos pant. I bought the fabric for seven hundred and fifty naira at the Yaba market. I made it while we were on vacation then. So when we got back to school, people loved the pants on me. It stood out because back then a lot of boys were making shirts and we didn’t have people who designed pants. So I began to make chinos pants and shirts at LAUTECH.
What’s next for you professionally?
First things first, as a designer I want to go through the process. My immediate plan is to shoot my spring/summer collection which we just showcased at the Lagos Fashion and Design week. When we are done, I will be doing my Autumn/Winter in the first quarter of next year. I also intend to launch my site and put my collections online so as to increase point of sales. The LFDW is my first fashion show. I hope to showcase my stuff at the ARISE fashion show and maybe the Mercedes Benz Africa Fashion show. The key to my success is planning. I planned to win, it wasn’t accidental or happenstance and then the God factor. I am so grateful for this platform given me by MTN.
Who are you 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.
Has fashion been profitable for you so far?
Yes it has been, especially if you know what you are doing. Also your ability to reach the target market determines profit margins.
Who are your major clients?
My major clients are those who understand the essence of bespoke tailoring.
Could you name some of them?
Well I have had the privilege of working for a lot of Nigerian celebs. Guys like Nollywood actor/director, Desmond Elliot, Uti Nwachukwu, Chinedu Ikieze (Aki), Gbenro Ajibade of popular TV series, tinsel, Elenu the comedian, Ushebebe, an OAP and Yomi Casuals to mention a few. I have worked with Veronica, a popular fashion stylist.
How would you describe your two years sojourn as a designer?
It’s been two years of hard work. I haven’t had any rest because I know what I was gunning for. As such, it’s been a gruelling experience with great achievements like the Young Designer of the year award. In the first year, I brought out a collection and had a shoot for it but only my friends and close associates saw it. Then in 2012, I did another collection which was a bit more colourful. It was featured on BellaNaija and this launched me into the industry, people got to know about me and my works. In 2013, I launched another collection – Work Hard, Play Hard which gained more traction than the first before doing this last collection, Man about town, which was showcased at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week. So as you can see, it’s been a season of hard work these last two years.
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 Lynnx and Dbanj, 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 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 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.
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 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 boyfriend or girlfriend played any role in all of this?
Laughs. Girlfriend please. 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.
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.