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BN Making It!: From Business Economics to the Glam World of “Music Meets Runway”! Entrepreneur Jennifer Olize shares her “Le Reve” Story

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BN Making It! is a BN feature focused on young entrepreneurs. launched BN Making It! in 2009 and we are hoping to spotlight more upcoming entrepreneurs in 2011 and beyond. We will feature young African entrepreneurs both at home and in diaspora who are making an impact in their chosen fields. Technology, Non-Profit, Fashion, Media, PR, Music and everything else. From those who are just starting their first company to young Africans who have their companies listed on the stock market.

The purpose of this feature is to promote and encourage entrepreneurship among young Africans. We aim to inspire the next generation to be enterprise builders. Today, we sat with Jennifer Olize, business owner and fashion enthusiast!

Jennifer’s company, Le Reve Events conceptualized and produced, Music Meets Runway, the hugely successful event which debuted in 2011. It was considered the biggest music and fashion event last year and it was a launching pad for some of the biggest stars in the music industry. Music Meets Runway was the first major stage where Davido performed and it was also a platform for models forging their way in the industry today. As we look forward to this year’s edition, BN chats with the budding entrepreneur about her journey, educational background as well as her business ventures. Jennifer describes herself as “a perfectionist and workaholic.” According to Jennifer, she’s “fun loving and easy going”; she believes that everybody should figure out their purpose in life and strive to achieve it. Where did it all begin? Sit back and enjoy our chat with Jennifer Olize.

Tell us about your educational background and career history
I attended the prestigious Queens College Lagos. After this, I did a foundation program at Global College. Then moved on to study Business Economics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. After my undergraduate degree, I worked for a year at Hays Recruitment as a consultant then moved back home to Nigeria for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which I fulfilled at BGL PLC, a financial firm in Lagos. On completion, I went over to the United States to study for a postgraduate program in Events and Conference Management at New York University. I moved back home a year later on completion of my program and moved on to set up events my company known as Le Reve Events.

How did you make the move from paid employment to starting your own business
I’ve always had a problem with people telling me what to do. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to take instructions, however I am very independent and I like to do things in a certain way. I consider myself to be a creative person, which has been evident from my early days in secondary school when I started getting involved in the creative arts.
Back when I was in Queen’s College, I was involved in organizing one event or the other and this went on until I got into university. I organized a lot of events and I was lucky enough to make a little bit of money from it. And since I love organizing events, I figured, why not make a career out of something I really love doing.
I also noticed that whenever I am in regular “9 to 5 job”, my level of happiness reduces drastically. I was never really happy or motivated waking up to go to work everyday and it made me sad all through the day, which meant I spent of my time daydreaming about running my own business.

I am a firm believer in building my own dreams.

What inspired Music Meets Runway?
Music and fashion go hand in hand, without music there’s no fashion and without fashion, there’s no music. The idea behind Music Meets Runway is really not rocket science, there have been several shows where the models are strutting the runway and music artists are performing. However, what makes Music Meets Runway different and really exciting is the concept of having 10 designers and 10 Music Artists at one event. We just thought it would be a really good concept to have here in Nigeria, considering the music industry has take a huge step forward, it is basically music moving fashion forward.

How did you pick the artistes who performed at the first edition?
We pick our artists based on three things. 1. A designer requests for the artist simply because of the rhythm of their collection. 2. The artists that have hit songs and we know our audience will love to see. 3. New artists that we’ve heard their songs and we believe they have potential to be really big.

What is the criteria for short-listing designers?
Last year, we selected emerging designers we felt had a lot of potential to evolve. Most of the designers had put out look books and some of them had even done fashion shows prior to the event. However, this year, we did an open call to emerging designers out there. We got over 1000 applications and the 10 designers we chose, we felt they stood out from the rest. Plus these designers made an extra effort on basic things, and they stood out.

What’s the advantage of being on Music Meets Runway for designers?
I think Music Meets Runway is a fantastic platform for designers. First things first, the production is spectacular, and the content is good. This leads to good press, good press leads to good exposure and good exposure leads to sales. The whole essence of being a designer is to show your creativity to the world but at the same time make a means for yourself. The music meets runway platform goes beyond putting on a good show, we encourage out designers to make the best of it. It is not everyday you get your target audience of about 5,000 people sitting all together watching your pieces on the runway, then shown on international and local platforms like M-Net, Soundcity and STV.

This year, besides showcasing their designs, we are adding some extra touches, which we believe will grant them more exposure. This includes meet, and greet with the designers, and an exhibition for guests to also see and feel the pieces and hopefully order from them.

The MMR Team

Tell us about the “giving back” part of Music Meets Runway?
MMR believes in giving back. The whole idea of the foundation is support the younger generation. Our generation presently is struggling but lets make it easier for the younger generation. We basically focus on education; we believe this is very key in any child’s life especially at a young age. With the little we have we try and buy educational supplies for children in different homes, and we also provide food for children on the street.
This year we intend to do a lot more by Gods grace. We hope to get more involved in the financial aspect of these children’s lives, and support them in the little way we can.

How many people were you able to help with the proceeds from last year?
Last year was really difficult for us because we really didn’t make anything from the show despite what people think. Even some of the companies that were supposed to support us failed to do so at the last minute. However, from my companies’ good will we were still able do a few things for some less privileged children. But we pray that God blesses us this year so we can bless more of his children.

Will you be doing something like that again with this edition?
Yes, in fact we are actually planning a party at the foundation, where all the artists and designers on the show will be invited to meet the children, speak to them and encourage them to focus on school and great ways to have ambition in life. We’ll always be giving the children gifts and like I mentioned God’s grace we’ll be able to support financially too.

Word on the street is that you’re having a launch for your store “Le Reve Pieces”. Can you share with the BN readers what “Le Reve Pieces” is?

Le Reve Pieces is the name of my jewelry company. The brand name is ‘Le Reve’ which means ‘The Dream’ in French. Therefore it simply means ‘The dream pieces’. Le Reve Pieces is made exclusively for people that have a good eye for good jewelry.
There’s is a huge selection of unique fashion jewelry out there, however, we feel that there is a need for high quality jewelry that customers would consider better than fashion jewelry- at a reasonable price point.
We wish to provide our customers with something different – handcrafted jewelry pieces made with genuine stones and high quality findings and materials that any customer would be proud to wear. Our collections consist mainly of neck pieces but we have a variety of bracelets, earrings, rings, fascinators and purses.

Do you do any designing of pieces by yourself?
I actually do, some of them. I have people that are very good in handcraft, so I come up with designs and they make them for me. Other than that I source the jewelry from different parts of the world.

What determines the pieces you stock?
Well I love all sorts of jewelry; you know how some people love shoes and bags? I love jewelry! Every outfit I wear revolves around a piece. So I’ll like to say I have a special eye for a lovely variety of jewelry. I really admire the handcrafted ones. There are even some jewelry designers here in Nigeria that I purchase from and re sell. I love to have a variety of stuff for every occasion and suitable for everyone’s budget.

Tell us about Le Reve Events? When was it birthed and what inspired “The dream”
Le Reve Events is an events production and management company. We create, produce, plan and organize events. We have a creative support team to make any events vision into reality. It is also our company’s policy to not only plan events, but also make them successful and extremely entertaining.
I moved back from the States about two years ago; that’s when ‘The Dream’ started. I’ve always loved and have a deep passion for organizing, planning and coordinating. From secondary school and even more in University I was organising tons of events. I figured I might as well do something I love that won’t seem like a job for me, instead it’ll challenge me but at same time I’ll be enjoying it in the process. Plus I wanted to have events that can really make a difference in Nigeria, not the same routine and standard ones that happens all the time.

Can you share the highs/lows of running an events company?
Events are really fun. It takes a creative mind to turns your thoughts or someone’s thoughts into live. It’s very challenging but interesting at the same time. However, when there’s no support, when you’re having an event and there are no resources for funding, then that’s when it doesn’t become fun anymore. When you want to do numerous breathtaking events but cant afford to do it because things are not favourable in the country. That’s definitely one of the major lows of running an events company.

Running a start-up in Nigeria can be challenging, can you tell us about some particularly tough situations you faced?
Well like for Music Meets runway, because of the level of production that goes into it, the budget is extremely high. Every company out there wants to be associated with a good event to promote their brand. But time to put the money down it becomes an issue. This is simply because of the economy of the country. Companies don’t have budgets like that any more to finance an event to get exposure. Whereas events have indeed been noted to be one of the most effective ways of advertising to get a company’s message across to their target audience. This is where the government should come in. This is where tourism should come in. This is where individuals that have funds and can support an event should come in. Plus people in the industry don’t make it easy for each other. If people come together to support each other there’ll be more progress. One of my favourite sayings is “Blowing out someone else’s light will not make your light shine brighter”. So what’s the point really? We should all support ourselves.

How did you overcome them?
All I can say is that I don’t give up. When going to companies for sponsorship, It’s back and forth, ups and downs, and a lot of Nos. But the way life works is that people well always tell you no, but surely one person will say yes! And when the one person yes others will follow.

Did having a renown TV personality as your dad confer any advantages to you growing up?
Yes it did tremendously. I know the name Frank Olize opened a lot of doors for me when I was much younger, and even now its still opening doors. He’s a wonderful person and a lot of people love him, so people I meet that love him, automatically like me and hear what I have to say. He has supported me a lot in accomplishing my dreams. I thank God.

What do you do for fun?
When I’m surrounded by people I care about I consider that to be fun. Other than that I love to go out for dinners and I love to travel.

Who’s your favourite Nigerian designer?
I admire them all. Their works are really amazing. I really like Viv La Resistance and Virgos Lounge. Then Icons like Deola Sagoe & Lanre DaSilva Ajayi are just divine.

Tell us about your style
I’m very simple; I don’t like too many colours and too many patterns. I like black simply because it compliments me. I wear very plain stuff and style it with a statement neckpiece, which enhances the outfit.

Are you a sneakers or stilettos kind of girl?
STILETTOS! All the way. I love my heels. I love being tall. There’s this extra confidence it gives you. Well that’s for me anyway.

What are you bringing to MMR 2012 that we didn’t see last year, tell us about your plans for MMR 2012?
Hmmm plans, I can’t really say much, but all I can say is we hope to make MMR this year bigger and better. The first one was really good if I must say, so we have to meet up with the standards this year. And by God’s grace we will. We just want companies to support us and fashion and music lovers out there to come to the event and experience an amazing showcase of talent.

Le Reve store launches this weekend in Lekki Phase 1

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