The global fashion industry is worth trillions of dollars every year, and fashion capitals like Paris, New York, and Milan have remained in the forefront of the industry. Working in the fashion capital of the world, New York-based, Nigerian-American Kanayo Ebi has made her mark on the fashion industry as a stylist, image consultant, and even designer. Ayiba‘s Joy Mwaniki spoke with Kanayo to learn more about the fashion industry, the psychology of fashion and what makes an outfit stand out.
Can you describe yourself in two words?
God fearing and hardworking.
How did you begin working as a stylist and image consultant?
I’ve always been interested in fashion. I’ve always appreciated the ability to transcend your personality through your wardrobe. Growing up in an African household, we were blessed enough to be able to travel, so I spent a lot of time in Nigeria, London, and New York. Expressing those different cultures, especially in Nigeria, and seeing how the clothing varied from culture to culture fueled my love for fashion. I had a lot of friends who were models and I would help them pick outfits for their events and pageants. One time, my friend needed to do a last minute photo shoot and she asked me to help style the shoot. Growing up in an African household, you never think of styling or fashion as an actual occupation. You think of it as something fun to do— a hobby. From that photo shoot, and working at different retail stores and assisting a personal shopper, I realized how much really went into it. I took it upon myself to learn more and find another wardrobe stylist I could work under, and the rest is pretty much history.
How did your family respond to your career choice?
Initially, it threw them off a bit because it was something that they didn’t understand. They were glad I found something I really liked but they thought it was more of a hobby. It was something that they weren’t used to because it’s still a growing occupation in Nigeria, so it took a while for them to adjust to it. But they were very supportive because they knew it was where my heart was. They just wanted to make sure that it was something that I could live off of. If it weren’t for their support, I don’t think I’d be doing it to date. I don’t think I would have gone as far as I have.
What was your first fashion job?
When I first started off, I was an assistant to a shopper. I was working temporarily, but that was when I really got a chance to work with other people, interact with them and help them pick out clothes to wear.
Who are some of your most notable clients?
I’ve worked with quite a few people; I’ve worked with Rocsi Diaz and Kate Winslet. A lot of people know that I’ve worked with Angela Simmons and the rest of her family including Diggy Simmons. I’ve worked with Bridget Kelly, Mack Wilds, Leona Lewis, Dayo Okeniyi, and Adrienne Bailon.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
Patience and perseverance. Those have been the hardest lessons because we are in the generation of “right now” and you want to see everything happen quickly. You feel like, “If I’m putting in the work, everything should just happen.” But I’ve come to realize that everything takes time and you really have to want it. The only difference is how bad you want it; that determines how far you go. It’s been a very humbling experience for me — that today, no matter how far I get in my career, I appreciate every single step and opportunity, just because of how much I have had to endure, how long I have had to wait, and how hard I’ve had to stick to it. This industry is not easy to break into. It has its highs and its lows. You have to work at it and not give up. There are moments where you consider just taking a nine to five job and working for someone else. But at the end of the day, you have to stay true to yourself and to what you believe in; stay true to your calling and your purpose.
What’s your number one style rule?
Be yourself and dress for how you feel. That’s my number one style rule. I feel like at the end of the day, don’t try to emulate someone else’s style, always put a piece of yourself in your outfit. So that when people see it, they see you. That’s what makes an outfit look good. It doesn’t matter who the designer is or how amazing your outfit is, if it’s not something you are comfortable in, your body language will reflect that. If the outfit speaks to you or if the outfit is who you are, then you will be happy in it. My major in school was psychology and I feel like there is some psychology in how you dress because you dress according to how you feel. That determines your whole vibe for the day. Let your outfit translate who you are and always bring a piece of you in your outfit. That’s why two people can wear the same outfit but it looks right on one person.
What’s your favorite outfit you’ve ever styled for a celebrity client?
One of my favorite outfits that I styled was when one of my clients, Angela Simmons, came to Nigeria and I put her in an Iro & Buba outfit. That was one of my favorite moments because it was good to see the culture embraced. It was good to see our culture being showcased in an amazing way.
Another one of my favorite outfits was one I put together for Diggy in his Coke Commercial because it had specifications like he could only wear red. To see that come to life and having some guidelines was a great moment.
I also liked Vanessa Simmons at the VMAs because I co-designed her outfit and it came out amazingly.
You’re a woman who has worked with all types of body types. What’s the one thing that always looks good on everyone?
I would say maxi dresses and skinny jeans, just depending on how you wear it. With maxi dresses it’s all about accentuating certain aspects like your waist, which depends on the kind of maxi dress you decide to wear. With skinny jeans, it depends on whichever top you decide to wear with it. I feel like, most of the time, you really can’t go wrong with those two.
What do you think of the representation of women of color in the fashion industry?
I think there are not enough women of color. A lot of women of color are making their mark on the fashion industry, they have so much to offer to the industry and given the right opportunity, can excel as much as their counterparts in the industry. I think that there are not enough opportunities given but we are definitely making a statement. Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Tracy Reese: they’ve broken down those barriers and made a name for women of color. It’s not been as easy for them, but I feel like women of color are strong and they stick to it. Again, it’s about the patience and perseverance and fighting their way in so that they can be recognized and respected. That is something that is commendable and that we need to encourage and support. As women, we tend not to support each other, so I feel like if there is more support from our community, and from other women, we would definitely be on a great path. There are so many things that we can conquer, both in the fashion industry and in the world in general.
If you could splurge on anything, what would it be?
Oh my God, there would be so many things I would splurge on! I would splurge on accessories, so jewelry, bags, shoes, and I would definitely spurge on a dope leather jacket. If I could get my hands on any of the leather jackets that I’ve seen, I would splurge on that. If we’re talking about splurging on fashion, those are the things I’d buy. If we’re not talking about fashion, I would splurge on owning an island! [Laughs]
You mentioned that you love leather jackets. Can you name one trend that you hate?
There are so many trends that I wish would go away. I am one of those people who trend-watch, but I don’t pay too much attention to trends. But I hate the label trend, like the “walking billboard trend” when you wear all your labels together and everything is just plastered all over you, like when they had those Louis Vuitton tracksuits. You just look tacky. That is a trend that I absolutely hate.
What’s your go-to outfit on a regular day?
On a regular day, my go-to-outfit would be a pair of sneakers, preferably Chuck Taylors, a T-shirt, and jeans.
Your favorite brands?
I would definitely say that my favorite brands are Dsquared, Balenciaga, and Ralph Lauren. I also like the simplicity of Alexander Wang’s clothing.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that I’m still here. [Laughs] I am still going after what I love and what I’m most passionate about. I’m proud that I’m doing it the right way. I guess you could say that I’m walking the straight path with it, because in this industry, it’s easy to get blindsided, sidetracked — and it’s hard to get what you want. We live in a dog-eat-dog world, so no one really cares who they are stepping on to get there, as long as they get there. I’m proud that I stick to my guns and do what I need to do, and treating every job like it’s my first job. I still have to prove myself just as hard as the first time I did it. There are so many people who tried to talk me out of it, and there are still people who doubt what I do. But despite the naysayers, and despite the doubt, I stuck to my calling; and I’m proud of that because I know a lot of people who started off on the same track but decided not to continue.
What advice would you give to the younger you?
I would tell her to stand her ground more and to go for herself more. As I said, people try to talk you out of certain things, and sometimes you let it get to you. But you need to block out the things that people say to you, and stand your ground.