Nonye Goodie-Obi: Feeling Special At Christmas
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Sharing your birthday with one of the most important holidays of the year can be really special, as our cover personality can attest.
Nonye Goodie-Obi, an ex-banker who was born on Christmas Day many years ago, broke out on her own as a fashion designer seven years ago after 17 years of banking experience at various managerial levels and in multiple functions. Nonnistics, a high-end fashion and ready-to-wear contemporary company, soared to prominence, garnering global attention, for her keen craftsmanship and commitment to details, only two years after launching her own fashion line. The celebrity designer has appeared at numerous international fashion shows, including the famed New York Fashion Week, and has received a few industry accolades.
A UN Ambassador for Peace and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Nonye is a member of the Chartered Management Institute United Kingdom and the Institute of Loan and Risk Management of Nigeria. She has a first degree in Mathematics/Computer Science from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, and a Master of Science in Corporate Governance from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom.
The Nonnistics Managing Director/CEO, who is also the CEO of Gnebbb Projects Limited, a consulting firm, is happily married to her closest friend, Goodie, and has three children.
In this unique Christmas celebration interview, she discusses her experiences of Christmases past and present, offers her favourite holiday memories, and focuses on her profession, industry, and aspirations.
What’s the significance of Christmas to you, also being your birthday?
For me, Christmas is a reminder of God’s unmatchable love for mankind. God gave us the greatest gift of all, His only begotten son, to save us from destruction and condemnation. It’s a time of giving and reconciliation. It embodies celebration like the celebration of someone who was sentenced to death rightly but suddenly was forgiven and set free. I honestly feel special having my birthday on Christmas Day. I believe God has a special thing for me and I pray always that He fulfills that purpose in my lifetime.
What would your ideal Christmas be?
Have my whole family around, gist, crack jokes, eat, and sing because we sing a lot and generally catch up on each other’s life throughout the year.
What do you wish for this Christmas?
Permit me not to be humble about this. I would love to wake up and see a text, call or email saying; hey Nonye! I have this building in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, to gift you. You can take it for your proposed factory! Away from my sweet dreams, I really wish the country gets a sudden nudge in the positive direction; sudden right policy and implementation that will restore the dignity of the Naira and help Nigerians live a wholesome life. I really wish something good happens to save businesses in Nigeria. I really wish we can begin to get it right. There is so much hunger and thirst in the land.
Best Christmas gift you ever received?
I would say, my second daughter. She came during Christmas.
In what ways do you think people should express love this season?
I believe love means different things to different people. Everyone is permitted to express their love in their own love language and terms. It should come from within and not forced; nor for clout. However it is expressed, let it have its core— cheerful giving.
What was your worst Christmas experience ever?……..and your best?
My worst Christmas was the year I turned 40. My husband had waited to celebrate that milestone for me and we were looking forward to it and boom! On December 23 that year, my father-in-law was kidnapped. Everything went upside down. It was a gloomy Christmas that year. Thankfully, he was released at year end. Aside that gloomy Christmas, each year has been awesome!
You have been in the fashion industry for some years now, what sparked the idea to establish a flagship store after a long time?
I have had a cumulative time of seven years in the fashion industry, out of which I have spent six years as a fashion designer and a brand. I had dreams before setting out and I put all those dreams into my strategy document to guide my steps. Some of the dreams came earlier. For example, I knew I wanted to go on international shows, especially the New York Fashion Week, NYFW, but that dream was like a distant one. However in my second year as a designer, I got invited to showcase my collections at the prestigious NYFW. The process was truly different, highly professional and absolutely well guided. In the course of that experience, my vision of having my own flagship store or showroom was reinforced. The reason was simple— I needed a place that my customers could walk in and interact with the brand as well as shop our ready-to-wear pieces.
What is your first fashion memory?
I would say that was in my Primary Four when I was introduced to needlework as an extra-curricular activity. I remember how fascinated I was, learning the different types of stitches and actually practicing them on our school-provided calico fabric. We did the stitches in different colours that made the fabric turn out like hand embroidered work. I loved it so much that I always looked forward to our needle work activity every week. I proceeded from there to make hand-cut blouses for my younger sister out of my mum’s head ties. I made rosettes and stitched them on the blouses to add extra feel. From needle work activities, I learnt how to crotchet. I crocheted socks, armrests, headrests, table runners, and little purses. I could crochet with any sturdy stick when I didn’t have a crochet hook. My sister and I reminisce this whenever we talk about my journey into fashion.
Where do you look to for creative inspiration?
My work is inspired by my beliefs, my wacky imaginations, my environment, the people I meet, the needs of my customers and my passion to create timeless pieces that give true value for money.
As a fashion-prenure, how do you walk the line between being unique and having commercial appeal?
In here lies the business of fashion; the ability to hold both ends in a manner that keeps the brand architecture untainted and the revenue in good shape. It is indeed a daily struggle for every creative business. Uniqueness in fashion speaks more of originality of design, fabric, and style. Uniqueness without commercial appeal puts the product in the ‘museum’, maybe temporarily. Each innovation or product design must be made with the customer in mind. There must be a targeted audience for such a design. Nevertheless, there are times of design misses, which do not necessarily mean ‘not marketable’ but might mean ‘not for the current market’. What is required is to keep that product in view of the market until such a time that the demand matures.
Before fashion you were in banking; what informed your switch from banking to fashion?
When I decided to quit banking to pursue my personal interest, fashion was not anywhere in the radar. All I wanted to do, which I started the next day after my resignation, was, infrastructure funding consulting. That was and is still driven by my passion to see infrastructural development in my dear country, Nigeria. While in banking, I was involved in the review and funding of many key projects in maritime, real estate, and manufacturing. That created a deep interest in project finance for me and I still consult on that till now. Fashion was accidental but when I got into it, it appeared God had already destined it and guided my path to it. It was meant to be a side hustle but grew faster than I had projected, and I am grateful to God for that.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?
I have loved feathers and fringes so much recently. Incorporating them in both my high fashion creations and street style wear is amazing. It has a way of raising streetwear instantly to luxury.
What advice do you give young designers?
For young designers, I would advise them to be wary of trends and copying. It is important for them to start developing their own brand architecture. They should not fall into the trap of social media overhype without substance. Think wide. Think international. Ensure the quality of your work compares with top works internationally. Learn the rudiments of great customer service and institute them in your business. Brand integrity is critical to the success of your business. Do not block your aggrieved customers. Most importantly, be humble when the fame comes.
Let’s talk about the penetration of technology into the modern fashion world. What are your thoughts?
With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it is inevitable that a lot of human propelled functions will be lost to technology. AI is now analyzing trends, consumer preferences and using that information to create designs that are commercially appealing. When rightly implemented, it could have the capacity to reduce incidences of burnout and over-production that is notable in the industry. The fashion ecosystem is already experiencing it. In 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic held everyone indoors, technology intervened in handling the fashion shows. Despite these technological successes, it is still agreed that fashion is a human-interactive business. To this extent, I believe that human interface will continue to be germane in the business of fashion.
How do you relax when not working?
This is the question I honestly do not know how to answer. I thoroughly enjoy this creative work that it doesn’t feel like work anymore. When I’m not imagining anything fashion, I love to hang out with my husband or my small circle of friends. Having a good chat over lunch with the ladies is always soothing.
Where is your best holiday destination and why?
I love to experience people away from my domain. I’ve travelled to different continents but one place I always feel at home is the United States. I have done a quarter of the country and intend to visit more states in the next few years if God permits. There is something about the United States— the huge buying population, the opportunities and the way their local entrepreneurs are willing and open to discuss their business strides in a random chat.
What’s your view on the Nigerian fashion industry; do you think we are there yet?
The Nigerian fashion industry is enlarging by reason of the many entrants into the sector. There is no denying the fact that we have abundance of talents here but what remains for us to do, is to grow these talents to worldclass brands. The quality of work needs to match with international standards. We have many fashion businesses but few are building brands. It is true that brand building is expensive but it is doable if we focus on it. The local fashion show platforms also need to showcase more local talents in each of their seasons to help the industry. Talent discovery and support can go a long way for the industry.
What do you think can be done by the government to improve the sector?
The fashion industry is in the real sector of the economy. It is manufacturing. It is capital intensive too. The government can support the industry in many ways like free training, funding through grants and single digit interest loans. It can also ban the importation of fast fashion items which compete with local fashion designers and then create opportunities for regular chit chats between industry members and the agency of government that handles export.
Your Christmas message to Nigerians, especially at this time?
The country is really tough right now but let us be thankful for the gift of life. Let us celebrate the season albeit not excessively, remembering and helping those around us as much as we can. Let us not overstretch ourselves. The time calls for caution in all areas.