My name is Richard Akuson. My friends call me Richie and the more notorious ones – RiRi (even though I literally have nothing on Rihanna). I am 6-ft tall and probably the darkest person in every gathering. I used to mind, but now I don’t. It has become inconsequential to my being.
I’m in my 5th year studying for a Law degree and will be turning 22 on July 26th. And honestly? I’m truly apprehensive about that. Generally because I’d imagined that at 22: I’d have probably conquered the global fashion industry and most probably intimately dined with Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour after my CFDA award win or the MET Gala – not because they’re the coolest persons on earth – but simply because I’d have gotten that much important.
But alas, I’ll be 22 in a matter of months, and really, the closest I’ve come to that is an exclusive interview with Karrueche Tran. See why time is of the essence and getting older is a lot harder for me than for most people I know?
I was born and brought up in Nasarawa State. I’m the second of 3 boys, my mum – an educator and my dad a public servant. My earliest meet with fashion would most definitely be those – ThisDay Style and Leadership’s Le Vogue magazines that were complimentary to my dad’s newspapers. With them I felt completely at home – and completely understood. I could finally tell what I wanted and who I wanted to be; an authority in fashion. They were escapism of sorts, until I could finally lay hands on Vogue (courtesy my good friend Ade Bakare at some point) and its likes.
Although I’m yet to win my CFDA award (or any award for that matter) or have that all-important dinner with Anna and Karl, 2016 has started-off on a properly good note for me. Add a new full-time job at BellaNaija to my periodic writing commitments at Marie Claire South Africa, Cosmopolitan Nigeria and Haute Fashion Africa, which in my opinion are all leading-up to that global domination.
So, until that dinner or award win, I’ll keep you updated with all of my life’s happenings: from my journey through self discovery, pursuit of happiness to global fashion domination
I was at a pop up fashion show some days back in Abuja when I saw a couple of people I knew, models to be exact, so I went backstage to say hello to some of them when we got talking. We talked about everything from Tinder (a new dating app that I discovered that day), boyfriends, random hook ups while on vacation abroad and how badly hardworking models are treated in Nigeria.
They had a lot to say, and I had a lot to ask as usual. I’d always wanted to know what modelling was like for Nigerian models beyond the snobbish and glitzy façade that they build around them. I thought I’d a clue as to how much Nigerian models averagely earn, until they all started talking about how meagre their pay is and the the sometimes dehumanizing experiences that a lot of them have to go through before booking jobs and even during those jobs.
Apparently getting a runway gig is harder than I thought. In my mind, all a model needs to do is come for the casting, blow the casting directors out of their minds and gbam – the job is theirs. They all bursted into a very loud laughter. According to their accounts, castings will be called for 15-20 models, over 500 models will make it from far and wide without knowing that the casting directors have already made their picks from their friends who in most cases aren’t necessarily the best from all the models that turned up for such a casting. And you’d think that they’d be paid good money – my friends laughed once more as they joyfully bursted my bubble. They claim that if you’re lucky to find the event organisers after the show then you’re lucky enough to collect your 30,000 Naira pay check which also covers for your transport to and from where ever you came from and in most cases some models are willing to work on look books, runways and campaigns for free simply because the designers promised them “publicity”.
Publicity? How much of that do the designers or show organisers have for theirselves to share with hungry models? Of what importance is publicity to a starving model who has to resort to several dubious means to make ends meet (and I hear there are a lot of those means). And how much of the publicity or press coverage that designers get for their look books really and actually trickles down to the model? Are they able to land bigger and paid jobs because of the pro-bono services they rendered or do they move on to the next designer who is looking to give them some sort of “free publicity” too?
For hours I sat listening to those girls. Thin, beautiful with towering heights. I looked them in their eyes as they talked, laughed an agreed with each other on every single point. One of them has walked runways from Milan, Dubai, Lagos to that same pop up runway which they were walking for free. I ran a marathon in my head through the faces of the many Nigerian models that I knew or have seen on the countless look books that I have reviewed on here and on several other platforms. I kept wondering to my self, how much could she or he have been paid for that job and that job? Did the designer call in a favour with their agencies, or paid 5,000 Naira for their transport (as is the case) or ran the usual go to line – I’ll give you publicity?
In that moment I realized that I owe Nigerian models a lot. Not monetarily, but by the virtue of my role as a fashion writer, I owe them a line or two in the body of all my reviews with their full names boldly in it. I know I haven’t given them the sort of spotlight they need to become recognisable enough to build their personal brands and get to that point where they can demand and negotiate their pay without being seduced with the publicity trap, because you see, if their brands get big enough, their faces a lone can be that press charm for any designer that wants them on their catwalks or campaigns which is an additional bargaining chip for the model. Just like Olajumoke who I assume because of her recognisable household name must be commanding a large pay.
How can I help make hardworking models earn better pay? It’s simple, and in the past couple of days I’ve tried so much to spare a line of praise or acknowledgement for professional models in my look book reviews and used captions like “fronts”, “stars” and “features”, especially for those that I am convinced have put in the work in bringing life to the collections. I know this isn’t enough. But imagine a situation where every fashion writer in Nigeria decides to recognize the effort of every exceptionally hard working model in the body of their articles and not at the tail end of the entire post with their full names. Wouldn’t that help place names to the faces of the many models that we recognize but are never able to even say their first names? It might not immediately make a difference, but gradually, they’ll become known and with that better entitled.
So I sat their numbly listening to them argue about how much some of the better known Nigerian models earn, they each had a different figure in mind, but they all boiled down to paltry couple of thousands which in all honestly is not commensurate to the numbing pain that I imagine they have to go through wearing and walking in those skyscraper heels all day to the satisfaction of designers, casting directors and fashion show organisers.