Nkechi Harry Ngonadi: Doing fashion with message
She started out first as a designer; the CEO of NHN Couture. Then she got the call to gather women to pray, leading to the formation of the prayer group called “The War Room”. From then on, fashion designing for her, took on a whole new mission with one message: “Bringing decency back to fashion”.
In other to carry out her roles excellently, the Urban and Regional Planning graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, has since acquired certification in Business and then Public Speaking from Harvard University and the Institute of Communication, Dubai, respectively.
The mother of two is currently studying to be a certified Life Coach.
Nkechi Harry Ngonadi, the well-travelled, multiple award-winning designer and beautiful wife of the very supportive Harry Ngonadi, who wears a smile like a priced accessory, talks about her career as a designer and some deep issues emanating from the “War Room”.
Your slogan, “bringing decency back to fashion”, is like a one-man crusade; how well are you fighting this battle?
Yes, the vision for NHN is bringing decency back to fashion; to church first, and then the society at large. At first, it was quite a tough vision to pursue because as you know, sex is what sells all over the world. A lot of people believe that for you to sell any product, you have to portray it as sexy. That is why a soft drink company or toothpaste brand would use a girl that is almost half-naked for their adverts. This happens because sex sells. So, introducing decency and modesty wasn’t just it. A lot of people frowned at it; people used it to mock me. They were like NHN, are you sure this is going to fly? But as God would have it, it actually worked. We found out that people started buying into the idea of wanting to dress modest and decent. So it wasn’t that bad. This is a vision and we just ran with it,hoping to achieve our goal at the end if the day.
What did you find when you entered the industry?
When I entered the fashion industry, I found that there were a lot of misinterpretations of how a woman should be portrayed. I found that women put on indecent clothes because the designers themselves were ready to make such indecent outfits for them. So my coming in was just to drive the right story and to change the narrative.
What narrative is your brand trying to change?
We’re basically trying to change the narrative of indecent fashion. We want our women to understand that they can be sexy but covered. The best way we could sell this idea, is to model it and get some role models that can help us propel the message. So far, we have made a huge impact by the help of God.
It looks like there is a convergence of faith and fashion here? How has your faith influenced your creativity?
I tell people, NHN is first a ministry then a clothing line. NHN was birthed in the place of prayer. It was a vision given to me by God himself and the purpose is to teach his daughters how to dress decently and look good. Now, the only way to do this was to bring in fashion. So with fashion, I was able to get people’s attention. That is why when you see me on my Instagram page, on a magazine or on my blog, you’d see me dressed up in a look that will be able to attract people to me and when they come, I give out the message of hope and faith to them.
In line with the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebration which is “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”, how are younger designers responding to the message of decency that we preach with clothes?
Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to young girls, using my brand as a yardstick, I ask them one question. Why is it that more of half-naked women are used by designers to sell their products while their male counterparts are well covered? You check any advert out there on the streets and you generally notice that women are almost naked while the men are covered. This is so because women allow it. This is the time we should demand to do things the way they are supposed to be done. If the men are covered and they are trying to sell the same product, why should they insist that women should be half-naked? We should be able to stand for the fact that we can look decent and still sell that product just like our male counterparts.
When you showcase abroad, what do you like to project?
Whenever I showcase on any international platform, the first thing I want to project is culture and modesty. Those are basically what I like portraying or projecting.
You do more of luxury designs from what I see, why is that so?
NHN is totally a brand that caters basically for exclusivities. Like I said, the vision was birthed in the place of prayer and because it has a very strong message behind it, we came to realise that the only people that will be able to sell this message so that it impacts younger girls, are role models; movers and shakers of society, especially in entertainment, politics, entrepreneurship.
Take a role model like Beyonce for example. You’d notice that whenever she goes out to perform, whatever she wears trends for a long time among young girls. So, when you have the likes of Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey and other responsible women that are influencers, wear decent outfits, they are able to pass a message across to young girls that you can still look this good and still be successful. So, what the brand is trying to portray is to let people understand that decency is also success. For this reason, we basically focus on exclusivities because that’s how we can find role models that will be able to wear, and portray the message we are trying to pass across.
Apart from that, I love being different. I really don’t like to do what other people are doing or follow trends. Our fabrics are not trendy fabrics; they are vintage—the kind of things you can wear for a lifetime. Majoring on exclusivities is not cheap; that’s why it’s luxurious.
You created a war room for women, what is it all about?
The “War Room” is a place of prayer and the idea also came from the place of prayer. It will be three years old this year.
While I was in the place of prayer during my 40 days fast in 2018, I heard God clearly say that He needed a platform where he could teach women how to pray, communicate with Him and make things happen on their knees. He said because He knows I am able to attract a large number of women, He will need me to surrender my platform for His work. So, the War Room is an instruction from the Holy Spirit Himself; all I did was to surrender my platform and use it to pass across messages of hope, faith and encouragement. It’s a place where women come to pray for healing of the land, the church of God and for others because the Bible makes us to understand that it was when Job prayed for his friends that he got all he was asking God for. So, it’s a place of love where we try to teach women how to love one another by praying earnestly for God to answer the heart desires of others.
What specific issues are women dealing with in the war room?
I found out that women are going through a lot. I see women that are depressed, bitter but still use fashion to cover up and portray the image of a strong woman outside. But inside, a lot of women are broken. They don’t look it because they are all covered up in their make up. They use clothes and other material things to cover up but they are broken. We have women that are seeking for answers, women that are seeking for the attention of their men, women with issues in their marriages due to lack of fruitfulness, and issues of marriages that are falling apart. We also have women who come to seek help for their businesses, and then those who just come to pray for their husbands. We have a lot of broken women in the society.
With your experience in the war room, how can men and women be helped to stem the tide of divorce?
First is communication. Every woman that is ready to get married should prepare for marriage. Couples should get to know each other well before they say “I do”. Courtship is a long term thing. You can’t know somebody within a month. When you know somebody up to a year, he can’t hide forever. He must goof one day; and you get to know the kind of person he is. You can then make up your mind whether that is something you want to overlook, or something you can patiently work through or stop. So basically, there must be communication. A lot of couples are not communicating sufficiently. You don’t have to nag or shout; just lovingly pass your message across. This is to the women now. But every marriage should be based on the foundation of God through prayers. This is because when you marry a godly spouse, he wouldn’t want to hurt you. So prepare and make sure you are picking the right person.
What can spouses do to meet each other’s expectation in marriage?
They should understand one another and be open, truthful and honest. Above all, they should have God as their foundation.
You are a recipient of many awards, what do you do differently?
I think it’s grace. About 80% of my awards are from organisations abroad. I just stay in my little corner and I’m receiving mails and calls from international organisations. I think it’s because I created a niche for myself. I just do wrapper and tops and left the couture thing to others. There are just a few designers who basically concentrate on our culture. So people are watching. And they are not people I know.
How do you create work-life balance?
I believe so much in time and that time is money. So, I organise my day, make very good use of my time and eliminate time wasters. I’m actually an introvert; so, I keep a very private life. I don’t have friends. I have a zero physical social life but online, I have a social life. So I’m able to manage my time. There is time for family, time to study the word of God, time for me to meet the needs of others, and time for counseling and mentorship. So there’s basically time for everything and that helps me to balance my life totally.
Family comes first for me. My children are grown up and in school. God blessed me with an amazing man and that has helped me to balance my time.
Your life in fashion and your life in ministry which comes first?
Life in ministry comes first. I love serving God. I love God with the whole of my heart; so, life in ministry comes first before my life in business.
What role does your husband play in the glow we see on you all the time?
I have an amazing husband. I’m just one of the few blessed women who have such a supportive husband. He is my number one fan. You can’t believe that most of the ideas I carry on my brand is from him. He always wants me to grow, and achieve my dreams. So he is always all out to support the brand any time. He was the first to register me back in school. He got me an admission in Harvard Business School. I didn’t even know he did that. I was shocked when I got the admission letter. I thought it was a scam but my husband did it. When he noticed I was being invited for speaking engagements, on his own, without discussing it with me, he registered me for a public speaking course in Dubai. He did same when, again, he registered me to be a certified Life Coach also in Dubai. He’s just an amazing man that sees my dreams and wants me to achieve those dreams. He listens to me; he might not say anything but he hears me and goes ahead to make sure that my dream comes to pass. I’m blessed to have such a supportive man; someone that believes in my dreams, someone that wants to see me shine all the time, someone that believes in seeing my vision being fulfilled. That is the kind of blessed man that God gave me.
Where is your favourite travel destination?
Dubai! I’ve travelled around the world. There is no where I’ve not been to; I’ve lived in the Asian axis and been to Europe and America but there is no place like Dubai. Everything you are looking for around the world, you’d find in Dubai. It’s like my second home. I can be in Dubai and just be indoors for a week and just sleep. That’s how much I love the place.
Who inspires you?
The Holy Spirit.
If you are not wearing your design, which other designer’s creation do you wear?
I love to wear every other designer’s creation in Nigeria. We have a lot of talents in this country. I patronise many of them and wear their designs. I really don’t go out; so, I’m just a jeans and sneakers kind of girl. So, if I’m not wearing my made in Naija clothes to go out, I’m wearing my simple Zara. I love the Zara brand.
What wouldn’t you do in the name of fashion?
I won’t go naked in the name of fashion. I can’t be caught nude in the name of fashion. I can’t be caught half-naked in the name of trend. I can’t be caught wearing bum-shorts in the name of fashion. You can’t see my laps exposed in the name of fashion, or see me expose half of my breasts in the name of fashion.
By Jemi Ekunkunbor