'If you are not focused on what you want out of life, you would easily be distracted' – Guardian Nigeria

Model and serial entrepreneur, Victoria Michaels
Victoria Michaels is a model and serial entrepreneur, who has been featured in major international publications, including CANOE, Vogue, Italia, Cosmopolitan, Glitz Africa, ROOTS, Africa Fashion Week London Magazine, Glam Africa, Destiny, Women & Home, Elle and Enjoy Magazine.
She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Central University College Ghana and a Diploma in Communication Studies from the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
A social change advocate, she established the Victoria Michaels Foundation, a non-profit organisation seeking to empower women and the less privileged children across Africa to discover their potential and deploy it for greater social use. The foundation focuses on Girl Child and Women Empowerment, Youth Development and Education.
In 2019, Michaels was signed as the European Union Champion of the Environment and in collaboration with the Victoria Michaels Foundation and Africa Literacy Development Initiative, they educated and empowered both 1st and 2nd cycle schools to be more aware of their environment and how to keep it clean.
Michaels is also the founder of Fashion Connect Africa (FCA), one of the emerging social enterprises established to change lives in the creative space. Using her platform, she has also established the FCA Creative Development Hub, a centre that nurtures the next generation of fashion professionals.
She is also the Lead for Fashion Connect Africa Garment Factory, an affiliate of Fashion Connect Africa Limited. She also spearheads the setting up of a Fashion Creative Hub, which is intended to help creatives acquire extensive knowledge in order to better their craft.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, Michaels has been named among the top 50 Young CEOs for 2020 in Ghana and awarded for being one of the most influential people in the country, talks about her career, humanitarian project and life as a serial entrepreneur.
Could you share with us your growing up and journey so far?
I AM from Umuleri in Anambra State. My mum is half Ghanaian and I grew up here in Nigeria and Ghana; I have lived in Imo State, Asaba and Lagos. This part of the world brings a lot of memories, Ghana as well. I have lived in different parts of the world, including Milan, South Africa and London; this work takes me around.
Growing up with my parents was fun; my dad was a polygamist with two other wives. So, living with stepsisters and brothers was fun. I remember always scratching my father’s back, he really enjoyed it; picking grey from his hair and he always gives a prize to the person who picks the most. I also remember pounding fufu; we had a roaster because my dad doesn’t eat stale food, so his wives will take turns cooking while the children pound.
Also, we were born into the Assemblies of God and so we didn’t have piercings for earrings, but I would go to school and see other kids in their cute earrings. I told myself that my sister and I would look good in them too. It didn’t occur to me there will be a machine or method for it, so I used a safety pin to pierce for myself and my little sister and blood started oozing out. I didn’t know what to do, I was scared, and my sister and I started crying. My mum came home and gave me the beating of my life.
I was quite stubborn growing up, but my mum’s intervention set me straight and moulded me into the woman I am. They also realised I had a knack for fashion, even though I didn’t know anything called modelling at the time, but anyone who came into our space would always say they like the way I look. I carefully select my clothing and I tell my mum about colours I love and when she buys them for me, I parade around the house.
It was at the funeral of a relative that one of them asked my mum if it was okay for me to travel with them to the U.S. because she thinks I will make a good model as I had my height; I was 12 then. I didn’t know what it was and my mum was too scared to let her young daughter go, so, we let that opportunity go. Then I grew and evolved and understood what modelling was about; I spoke to my family and they were comfortable with it, because everywhere I went, they ask if I am a model and when this kept coming, I knew I could make a craft out of it.
Along the line, organisers of Miss Franchophone approached me; I was studying French at the time and the person saw me in front of the school and asked if I would love to participate in the contest. I decided to give it a shot and I came second; that launched me out. Also, I met with the late Kofi Ansah; he was the best thing that happened to fashion in Africa. He was building young creatives in Africa, sending them to exchange programmes in Milan and Rome; he made me his house model. To celebrate Ghana at 50, I was fortunate to be one of the models and that was how I got fully into modelling.
While modelling, I went on to do my National Youth Service in a bank and they took me on. I worked in the bank for four years and resigned because the bank wouldn’t let me pursue my modelling career; it was against their policy. After I resigned, I started up a marketing consultancy firm, so all the opportunities I turned down because the bank wouldn’t let me, started coming in and so my modelling career took flight.
I got signed to work in Milan, South Africa, London and Paris. Then COVID-19 happened; I was on the runway in South Africa when a message came in from the president that there is a lockdown and the show was cancelled right there. I didn’t want to be stuck in South Africa, so I came home immediately. During the period of the lockdown, I didn’t want to be idle and I was trying to figure out what I would do. My brother is a contractor and was building the Isolation Centres at the time, so one of those days, I followed him and then on our way back, he said we were visiting his friend who owns a garment factory. That brought memories for me because my dad used to own a garment factory where he employed hundreds of people and so a voice just spoke to me saying, ‘this is it.’
So, I started battling with being a model and a tailor. I thought about it for days and made up my mind; to put the necessary documents ready to get the business going and it was set up during COVID-19, my brother and myself. We got a contract to produce nose masks; that was the contract garment factories got at the time. Before COVID-19 subsided, we also got a security company that commissioned us to produce their outfit; that was how it started. Since then, our factory now produces all uniforms, including for schools and corporate organisations, but only on an industrial basis.
You have set up all of your businesses in Ghana, why?
Yes, I did and I am home now, and there are opportunities I like to explore. Before you take any business decision, you need to understand the environment, make sure your investment will yield results and don’t just blindly invest. In as much as I am Nigerian and want to do business here, I must understand those to whom my brand will appeal.
How rewarding has it been as a model?
It has taken me around the world. It has opened my eyes to things I never thought I would see if I were just at home here in Nigeria or Ghana. It has also brought me to people I probably will not have met; it is a door opener for me. One thing is that if you were not focused on what you want out of life, you would easily be distracted and swerved to doing things that would completely throw you off focus.
To be a model, you must be confident and believe in yourself, because you are going to get a thousand ‘Nos’ because there are millions of models around the world and we all converge in certain cities for casting, so when there’s a fashion week, designers call in for models and out of a thousand models, they pick only four, where does that leave you? Then you begin to feel inadequate, you are not enough. It is quite a dicey place to play, but if you are strong and determined, your opportunity will always come, because opportunities come at different times for different people.
Are you looking at mentoring other young people?
I started that already; I have a lot of mentees in Ghana. Across the globe, there are models that look up to me, and this is because they frequent my DM to tell me how they appreciate what I am doing. I am not just a model, but also a modelpreneur.
What stands your brand out?
I am beyond what you call a brand; I am a force to reckon with by the Grace of God. I am a humanitarian; I have given back to society and supported people as much as I can. I have a relationship with God and I serve in the best way I can. I have partnered with some of the best brands in the world and what I have done so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
What informed your decision to set up your NGO?
My NGO was set up in 2012, but way before then, I have always been a giver; I believe in sharing. Everyone around me knows I would rather be broke than seeing someone around me suffer or cry. While some members of my family think it’s a bit too much, I don’t see it that way, because that is who I am. I love to see other people have some level of comfort.
When I set out in 2012, my initial project was with Awudome Secondary School where we donated a library; we gave out books and other learning aids. From there, we set up a mobile library where we stock up books and take them around deprived communities. We came up with the Africa Learning Development Initiative (ALDI), which is geared toward reducing illiteracy in Africa. So far, we have served 20 communities in Ghana and one in South Africa. This is basically to help children in underserved communities be able to at least communicate because they won’t get it from the government.
We also found out that some of them do not have shoes or school bags they take to school, so we provided for them. We also had a ‘one million masks’ project where we gave out nose masks to schoolchildren, we didn’t, however, reach the mark; we had about 700,000 because it was capital intensive. I also pay school fees for some deprived kids.
So, are you thinking of coming home to set up something at least to benefit the deserved children in Nigeria?
I have Nigeria at heart; the reason I didn’t come here is because of the places where modelling took me. Now that I am back and not travelling as I use to, I have identified some communities with the help of people who have advised. My team and I are taking the ALDI throughout Africa and being that I am Nigerian, why won’t I do this home too?
What advice do you have for women who are trying to get their lives together?
First off, if you know what you want, run with it; don’t give up. We often give up, because the things we expect do not necessarily work out the way we want. The Bible says that delay is not denial, so no matter how long it stays, what is yours will come to you. It always has a way of coming.
Our generation is an impatient one; we want a quick and fast life. People are not patient enough to nurture their business and talent; they always want to use the back door to get what they want. So, for me, I will say, stay true to yourself, hold on to your beliefs and aspirations, believe in God and trust Him to come through for you.
What should women be doing differently to get to the top?
Better yourself, if it means going back to school. You cannot be a novice and be an expert at the same time, you must understand what you want to do because the competition is keen. Most importantly, find your purpose, understand what you are born to do, search within yourself and ask if you are doing what you are supposed to do.
Know what you have a knack for and go for it. A hundred people can say a ‘No’ to you, but once you start to win, everyone will rally around you and get you that support you need. Find who you are, nurture and run with it.
Did you experience challenges running your businesses especially as a woman?
Yes! There are times I was broke; my garment factory business is only two years old and with everything we do, clients don’t pay you immediately. You provide a service and sometimes, it takes them two to five months to pay and when that happens, it puts so much pressure on you. You are thinking of staff salaries, utilities, and how to get raw materials for production. It can be tough, but when the going gets tough, you toughen up.
There was a time my factory was locked down for four months because jobs were not coming and no resources. I could have given up, but if you are surrounded by people who encourage and support you emotionally, my brother as a business partner supports me a lot. So, find yourself a mentor who understands what it takes; they school you so you don’t get off balance when these things happen.
You are a serial entrepreneur and a model, how do you handle your many parts and still be at your best?
It can be very backbreaking being a multi-tasker. The businesses I do, I am still learning, because I want them to thrive and succeed. I don’t want to see them fail. First off, I have a relationship with God, but sometimes I break down because of mental exhaustion thinking about all the businesses. I draw inspiration from the success of the things I do, so when things move, it brings a big smile to my face. I derive joy and inspiration from seeing things work out and move, as I want them.
What is your philosophy of life?
God’s plan; if anything happens that is not in line with what I am doing, know that it is either not the right time or God doesn’t want it for me. I don’t live my life with many expectations and I don’t hold on to things. I live my life, knowing that all things will work together for your good.

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