The global fashion industry has grown tremendously over the years and it is currently worth more than a billion dollars! Brands and celebrities alike spend a lot of money to participate in fashion shows from New York City to Lagos! A career in fashion is very exciting but it is also very exacting and requires a lot of dedication, hard work and creativity! Sadly, women of color are still being excluded from careers in fashion. Fortunately, women like Kanayo Ebi are changing the narrative of what it is like to be black in the fashion industry.
Kanayo Ebi is a world renowned fashion stylist and image consultant. She has styled several celebrities and fashion shows including Angela and Vanessa Simmons, Dani Evans, Adrienne Bailon, Joanne Borgella, Rosci Diaz , The Saturday Telegraph Magazine and many more. She is dedicated to promoting emerging international designers and has had many showrooms around the world. She runs a blog where she shares her work and news about the fashion industry. She earned a degree in Psychology from St. John’s University where she started her career in fashion. She shared her career journey with LFE:
Discovering your passion and purpose can be tough. Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion or did you figure it out along the way? I definitely figured it out along the way, and I am still figuring it out lol. I got a degree in Psychology and even started some courses in Columbia University for Counseling Psychology ( which I later abandoned for a pursuit in Fashion). Fashion was always just a passion of mine, and funny enough even then I didn’t even realize how much of a passion it was, I just knew I enjoyed envisioning outfits and then piecing them together. I think my love for fashion came from getting to travel and experience different cultures at a young age and also watching my parents. My parents are very stylish ,and following my mum shopping or having to help pick out ties for my dad every night ( one of my fave childhood memories, especially as a little kid to know your opinion/choices mattered), as he gets ready for work the next day definitely sparked that love for fashion.
It was a difficult journey to embark on, especially back then, there was no social media to give us immediate access to people in the industry, there were not really that many people I knew doing what I was trying to do at the time but trust me when it is your purpose, your footsteps are ordered. I ended up finding myself in the right place at the right time, to lead me to people that would help teach me or grant me certain opportunities. I was always so determined, that I was willing to find a way to make it work, however I could, whether it was taking days off my regular job to be available to assist for shoots, going to sit in at apparel and magazine offices, photoshoots, etc. to soak in the knowledge and learn in anyway I could. It’s been a very interesting journey. It has definitely taught me a great deal about myself and built character. One thing I definitely discovered about myself in this pursuit of purpose is that I am extremely resilient because as many times as I have wondered what the heck I am doing , I just keep going and finding new facets and ways to grow and reinvent myself and I think that is what keeps this whole endeavor exciting and worth it for me.
You are so amazing at what you do! How do you stay motivated in such a cut throat industry? Thank You so Much, I truly Appreciate it. Definitely God’s Grace because sometimes I swear I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m just praying something amazing comes together lol . My motivation truly comes from a true love and passion for what I do. If I didn’t really love what I did, and how much happiness and joy I derive from it, I would have given up a long time ago. Also, I know once I stop feeling that same joy and happiness from it, it’s time to walk away and pursue other things. It’s about Intention. What are the intentions behind the things you do and the decisions you make, if the intentions are pure, there is a better chance of growth and longevity. So definitely from the love for what I do, the love to create, the satisfaction of helping people feel good about themselves through their image and helping people achieve their dreams by creating a platform to help grow their brands and provide visibility. These are the things that keep me going and like I said earlier, if I wake up one day and I don’t feel that same excitement and satisfaction, then I know it is time to pursue something new.
The fashion industry looks very glamorous on the outside but it is also very demanding! What are some challenges you have faced as a woman of color in the fashion industry? It is definitely very demanding and for sure NOT as glamorous as it looks. The finished product-Yes .But, it is definitely a lot of grime and toil but again, if you love it, it’s worth every bit of it and you are always ready to wake up the next morning to do it all over again with a feeling of fulfilment. It’s already hard being a woman in the fashion industry ( like every other work industry) and being a woman of colour is like a double whammy. There is always an invisible glass ceiling to break and certain limitations put with how far you can actually go but the best part is that glass ceiling can always be shattered, those limitations turned into an infinite range. It’s all about creating your own narrative and removing yourself from that box that they are trying to keep you in and letting yourself see past the “Can’t, Don’ts and No’s”. It’s not easy but nothing ever worth it, is. As a woman and as a person of colour we are constantly in an unending battle to have our own identity and prove our worth but because they feel like you are not worthy of it, doesn’t make it the truth or the facts, because people don’t want you to have it, doesn’t mean you should allow them to keep you from it. It’s all about creating your own narrative, finding your own niche- where you now are creating the opportunities -opening the doors to let others like yourself in and building a platform that can help others grow.
A lot of African parents are still very rigid about career choices and might not encourage their children to follow their passion or pursue creative careers. How did you tell yourNigerian parents that you were going to be a fashion stylist? Well, when I first started off in the industry, it was still kind of unheard of!They thought it was a phase or a hobby. They definitely didn’t understand but I have to commend them and maybe it was God moving on my behalf, because despite them not understanding and thinking it was a phase, in their own way they were supportive. There was still the occasional “get a regular job and do this in your free time” but when they visited, they brought different kinds of magazines that they felt could be helpful i.e the stylist magazine, Hello, Vogue, GQ ETC. I knew that was them making an effort to follow me on this journey, even if they were not sure where the heck it was taking me. They were still ready to help catch me if I fell and that was comforting. When it comes to most parents, especially African parents, they really just want you to be alright financially. Most of them have sacrificed a lot for their kids to have a much better life than they did and the fear of the unknown or you suffering is what scares them and of course the “status quo” of “ what will people think?” but eventually there is a point you have to come to realize, that it’s your life and you have to walk your own path, make your own mistakes and create your own narrative. Now, we see the creative industry growing at a rapid speed, especially in Africa and a lot of the upcoming generation adopting an entrepreneurial spirit and creating their own opportunities and it’s great but it took others going against the grain, showing it could be done and of course the growth in technology. It is amazing and fulfilling to see the development and growth coming out of Africa. I really appreciate my parents for keeping an open mind and being supportive, even when their peers and mines thought I had lost my mind. Heck, I even thought I did as well- lol- but hey, we are all mad here.
Do you have a Career Crush? If so, who is she/he? Oh definitely PHARRELL, RIHANNA AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT KELIS, she is the ultimate underdog. She was always ahead of the times . I love them first and foremost for their ability to unapologetically be themselves and do things on their own terms. I love how they have found a way to diversify their passions and successfully do everything they love, without limiting themselves. Most importantly, I admire how they have found a balance between their real lives and their careers/ public personas. They appreciate and embrace their anonymity outside of their celebrity status and even taking the necessary time out of the industry to explore and live their own lives and to me that is worth admiration. Many people in this “industry” don’t know who they are or can’t function without the fanfare and attention and that is very dangerous and unhealthy. Not to mention, they’ve done amazingly well for themselves in each venture they have chosen to pursue. Rihanna being the first woman ( not just Black woman) to get an exclusive deal with LVM ( What glass ceiling) and Pharrell being one of the first people to have a collaboration with CHANEL. Kelis I just love because she has always had a way of holding on to her own individuality; creating her own niche, in music, in fashion and now in her love for cooking and food.
What advice do you have for young women of colour who want to pursue a career in the fashion industry? GO FOR IT!!!! If you truly have the passion and love for it. Go for it! Find your niche and conquer. Your only limitation is you. Trust me, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be painful, It’s going to be draining. YES, there DEFINITELY will be obstacles and hurdles trying to hold you back, that is why it’s very important you love it and do it with the right intentions, but persevere, push through, and build. Take your time to find your purpose and let that be your driving force. Be kind to yourself, celebrate yourself and most importantly always be open to learning and expanding your horizons. Don’t put any limits on yourself . Your colour, your size, your sex is not a limitation, its an allowance, a way to allow people to see your creativity, talents and beautiful things that you can add to fashion history. Make them NEED YOU, what YOU bring to the table. Build your own table. Like I always say “We Do What We Want”, make your own rules. So try and fail but keep trying, keep going and WIN!!!!