As one of the most stylish young women in Nigeria at the moment with a budding career in media, Idia Aisien is regarded as one of the style influencers to watch out for on the red carpet or at any event she graces. But what is the story behind the young fashion slayer and TV host? The story of Idia Aisien is that of a young woman that took all her difficulty, everything that was a NO and turned it into a YES for herself. She’s pushed very hard so that she can open doors for other people that people didn’t want to open for her. Her life as a top TV presenter is all about doing her best at every single thing she is faced with and also looking good while doing it. According to her, what stands her out is her genuity and been true to herself. In this exclusive interview with G N E’s Enyoyi Eseoghene, she opens up on the challenges she’s faced, her journey in the world of media and her love for fashion.
How did growing up with an entrepreneurial father and a philanthropic mother contribute to the person you are today?
Growing up with my entrepreneurial father was easy because it made me extreme hardworking. Been an entrepreneur for some people is all about the profit but I think that if every single thing in your world fell today, you are mostly alone and also responsible for a lot of other people and one would take the blame for everything that happens. So having a father like that made me not to take things for granted because if for anything things fell apart, our whole world would fall apart as well. Also, it allowed me know how to be responsible and know what I wanted to do. I have never had time to just relax and be like for the next three years, I am just travelling and going to school for the sake of going to school. From when I was 12, I knew that I liked fashion, television, art and entertainment and I have always known the things that made me tick. I think that was what I learnt from my dad. My mom is one of the strongest women I have ever seen. Not that she was the most successful woman, but she is a very selfless person. She doesn’t think of herself, she thinks of the person next to her first before herself. The truth is, we are all running races and sometimes, we are even in competition. But one thing I have learnt in this world of competition is that, every single person has something that they are going through and I think growing up with a mum like mine made me very sensitive to the fact that it is important to help people around you. It also made me love children so much as my mum is very big on kids. My mum is always raising a bunch of kids and sending kids to school and I know a lot of Nigerians do that and it is very commendable from the generation before and even our generation, as a lot of people are very big on philanthropy these days. I grew up knowing that whether it is children, women, widows, orphans or whatever it is, you have to help the person next to you.
Moving back to Nigeria was a big step for you. What are the challenges you have encountered along the way in your career?
Moving back for me was a huge step and along the way, one of the challenges I encountered were people with egos. I think ego was a huge thing for me because I don’t have a big ego. I had to deal with people with chirps on their shoulders and many people felt they had something to prove. But for me, I didn’t care, as long as I needed things done. We also have some factors we can’t do anything about and one of that is traffic. It was a huge pay cut from investment banking to come here to Nigeria and even trying to do the same investment banking was not easy as the pay cut was ridiculous. Also, deciding I was going into television, which was my initial love, was an even bigger cut from what the cut would have been in banking. These were the challenges I encountered but luckily, because of the kind of parents I have, I saved up enough and told myself, ‘Idia, you have one year. If in one year you don’t become anybody, you drop this whole ‘this is my love and passion’ and sit down and work your ass off and continue what you doing.’ So I had one year to really push myself and I believe I made the best out of that one year. It was a huge and painful step to let go of my friends and my mentality, because in Nigeria, it is a completely different mentality, even though, there are a lot of people that move from diaspora, you still have people telling you that this is Nigeria not America.
People may think you built on your family influence. What is your take on this speculations?
The saddest thing that people don’t understand is how hard it is to make it and all the tears one has shed in the process. Yes, I am from a stable family, but my dad worked for every single thing he has and he came from nothing. He was a very smart man and he knew that no matter how much money he had, his children needed to be smart and independent. You don’t get to go to school and fight people and believe that you have this safety net at home. It is very different in my own kind of family, everyone had to work. What people don’t understand about success, building on what you have is that I would have a million times more if I didn’t come from the stable background I have today. I have lost a lot of deals and endorsement because I walk into places and people would be like because of who my father is, she thinks she can get anything she wants. I have lost so many shoots, interviews, covers because of my background and that has been one of my biggest pains that I don’t like talking about. But it is actually not a stepping stone as people feel it is. It is stepping stone because education was paid for, we had food to eat, not that you walk into a room and people would be like, you are welcome, sit down. People didn’t want to give me a seat at the table, so I had to work hard and bring my own chair to the table.
What drives your passion in the media field?
To be honest, what drives my passion in media is simply wanting to know more. I am a very curious person and I was always reading something different. I have read everything because I like knowing what everything is about. I love being able to speak in an educated and informed manner on any single topic. What drives what I do now in terms of my shows is the fact that I have worked in some established organizations and I love to see things grow and develop into something better. So coming to a table, bringing new ideas, seeing how those ideas merge to become something bigger than what you thought it would become is what gets me going.
You are regarded as one of the stylish young women in Nigeria. How does that make you feel?
The title of been regarded as one is really fascinating. Sometimes I want to really come out with my style but my stylist would tell me to turn it down a notch since I am not an actress or an award recipient, I have to know when to shine and when to pull back. I am always advised to come as a Style 101 host, elegant, but not to outshine the stars at the event. I will say that I have been a bit frustrated here in Nigeria, in regards to my style because I have had to dim my light a lot. Maybe because of the occasion and another is that people may not really understand my sense of fashion. I like things that are different. Not that I like to expose my body, I like things that push the envelop a little bit. I like leather, animal skin, metallic, slits, things that are different, beautiful and feminine. A lot of times, I have to remember where I am. One thing I love about Nigeria and style is that every woman has her own persona she gives to a dress.
What defines your style?
Right now, my style is all about becoming a woman, so for me, everything that I am attracted to, want to wear are mostly things that relate to where I am now in my head. In the beginning, I was always looking for florals and flowing dresses. But now, I am just loving myself, feeling powerful, bold, young and sexy. There are somethings I am never going to be able to wear again if I don’t wear them now and that is the hard truth. I have the opportunity to wear it now and also the body because you don’t know what may happen to your body later. It’s not about attention from anybody, I am just in my own space, doing my own thing and wearing things that I like and that attracts me.
You have worked with a lot of foreign designers and some Nigerian designers. Which designs actually appeal more to you?
I have to say international designers appeal more to me. Nigeria and Africa, we are still developing how we see and feel about fashion, the things we want to make based on the things we think Nigerians and other Africans are ready for. But abroad, they have been ready for a long time, pushing the envelop for years and experiment with so many different things and I think because I am such an experimental and curious person, I will have to say international designers.
You are talked about more as a result of your fashion statements than your job as a TV host. What is your take on that?
I think that popularity in general goes hand in hand with fashion, so I am indifferent about it. If you look at Madonna, it was when Madonna started pushing the envelop with her fashion that she became a global icon and others like Rihanna, Lady Gaga and so many more. So for me, I think that music, TV, entertainment as a whole is one thing, but it gets the attention it deserves when it taps into fashion. Fashion is something that no matter what field you are in, everybody can relate to it and what you are wearing. What you wear is almost like a business card, it says who you are, how you feel and what you want the world to know about you.
What makes you stand out amongst others as a media person and also style wise?
I think the fact that I am very genuine to myself is one of the factors, as well as my body. My body is something I actually spend time on and my body is one that designers have seen as a muse’s body as a result of that. Various people in the media bring various things to the table, but for me, what I bring is my fashion and my craft. I don’t care about competition or being seen by anyone. So you have to get use to me. That is my drive.
You love travelling, so how has travelling and exploring aided your fashion and career perception?
Travelling equates exposure and it changes the way one sees a lot of things. I have gotten to see a lot of culture, trends, beliefs and lifestyles that has shaped who I am today. I was bred in New York, one of the freest and busiest city in the world, so I don’t think you can get more fashion than New York and for me, living in New York just changed everything and I became so free when it comes to my fashion.
What changes do you think the Nigeria fashion industry needs to be on the same platform amongst world recognized fashion brand?
One thing that hinders us is, we have a lot of talented designers, but there is still lack of pride in our work. Yes, it is ok to make stuffs that seems quite western so as to get international recognition and break into the foreign market as it may seem, but we need more pride and confidence in what we do, in the sense that, if you are going to make real African fashion, just make it already and stop trying to play to the beat of another man’s drum. For instance, we see a lot of clothes that are so similar to works of international designers. Yes we do it well, but we need to understand that being a copy doesn’t make you stand out.
How have you used fashion as a means of giving back to the society?
The first show I ever did was a show for charity and that was a time I deeply fell in love with fashion. It was that time I realize that fashion could be used for a good cause. It was a UNICEF fashion show at the time for House of Maya and I think since then, I realized that fashion is not a one or two dimension business but can be used for various objectives that could bring about positive growth and change. I have also organized a giving back event where I got all the people that have helped me in fashion and television to meet with younger girls that are aspiring to get into these industries. By doing so, these young ladies were able to network with the people and my mentors who have contributed to my success today and these girls are now doing well for themselves. I have also started my foundation and it is not based on the fashion things I do but on an idea I had, which is outside fashion and television. The foundation is called International Development Initiative in Africa (IDIA). It is focused on poverty and education and improving the opportunities for children who want to go to school as well as improving the lifestyle of people in Nigeria. One of the project we are working is Giving Back with IDIA and it’s all about sustainable giving in a different way. It is not all about going to orphanages and giving them Indomie, which would finish within a short period of time, it’s about giving them things that you have that would actually make a difference to you.
What is your biggest achievement in your career and fashion fame?
In terms of fashion, the most interesting thing for me has been that most times when I do a fashion job with people, or collaboration, I get a lot of positive feedbacks in the sense that I want to buy the dress I just modelled and it is no longer available. That really matters because one thing brands and companies look for is people who can actually sell and are bankable. Being bankable is the goal and it is actually happening now for me. Another is people are seeing me as a brand ambassador and for me that is huge and I have represented various brands in the process and BMW is my favoriute thing to ever happen to me in my life. I see myself as a bankable brand ambassador and I want to be the kind of person that anything I touch, as long as Idia is involved, is going to be a success.
What project(s) are you working on this year?
I am working on my own TV show and my own channel. The channel is a huge deal for me and it has been the biggest thing for me because it has been so simple for other people.
What do hope to achieve in your career in the year?
I hope to gain an international reach that though I came from New York to Nigeria, this foundation, my TV show and my channel, would be so big that they can’t be ignored beyond Africa. I know that it would take time, but when I launch or when I push, I don’t push small.
Do you plan to own your own business soon?
I do own a business and it is something private that I do on the side and it involves social media.
Talking about your love life, is there anyone special at the moment in your life?
There are a lot of people trying to be special and I am still making up my mind and that is the honest truth. There is someone I care about a lot but I want to take my time. I feel that the next person that I really want to date is someone that I want to really focus on.
Can you describe yourself in 5 words?
Funny, complicated, deep, presumptuous and loving.