Estella Ogbonna is a woman with brains and intelligence and all you need to do is listen to her speak. She has earned the education many dream of acquiring but her pet dream of becoming a fashion designer seems to be consuming her and with the opportunity to live and work in the United States of America, Estella is fulfilling her long life dream of becoming a fashion guru. Recently Taiwo Obude caught up with her to conduct this interview.
OBUDE: So can you introduce yourself to us?
ESTELLA: My name is Estella Ogbonna. I am the first in a family of 3. My younger siblings live in Nigeria and are doing pretty well.
I graduated from the University of Jos, Nigeria with a Diploma in Special Education, and a Bachelors in Psychology. In addition to a Diploma in Computer Applications from University of Port Harcourt.
And here in the USA, I have a Bachelors in Information Technology (Network Administration) and currently reading for my MPA in IT/Non Profit organizations.
OBUDE: What brings you into fashion?
ESTELLA: Hmmm… first thing I remember about fashion is when I was about 6 years old, I used to love watching DO-IT-YOURSELF program on NTA Aba then in Aba City, Abia State! And I also remember a little book my mum bought me about crafts and making things. The one thing still ingrained in my memory is this Cloth calendar we had on the wall, which expired with the new year, and when it was brought down, I decided to do something with it. And the only thing I could think of was making a skirt for myself! Imagine at that little age! Well, I did, I threaded my needle and got to work. It took me days, but I finally made me a Skirt with dates and months all around it. And I did not forget to accessorize it with a cute pink button from a bead I found lying around. The pink bead was stuck in front to mark the skirt front because I made it with a rubber band waist line! Need I say that it became my favorite skirt?
Well, you know how it is, our parents and education and all that. I continued schooling but still loved fashion! I am blessed with wonderful parents. And at age 11, I already operated my own personal savings account from the money I made off them running errands like Ironing their clothes (I hated washing!) but loved to iron clothes! Those days, while in Junior High School, I could Iron a room full of clothes without blinking! Ha ha ha! And my parents paid good money for that! Maybe, I don’t know, all those ironings and knowing to set the right temperature on the pressing iron so as not to burn the clothes could and may have helped me a lot with knowing a lot about fabric textures, and also about sewing lines, folding lines etc. I can’t really pinpoint the exact time in my life I decided that Fashion it is! No! It just has been there from my childhood! And my mum also was a fashion dresser! Boy! Mum worked in a bank and she could dress! And of course! She dressed me cute too! I can say she spoiled me with clothes as well. It was bad I could go months without repeating any particular outfit!
It was so bad that my first expenditure from my savings account was to buy a lovely pleated yellow chiffon dress! And it was expensive! But, I worked hard for my money!! Truth is, I didn’t really need to buy that dress, but it felt good to once go to the market (then in Kano State), enter a ready-made high class store and buy my own dress all by myself! Without mummy hovering over me and telling me what to buy and what shoes that would go with it etc! And my mum was impressed! And that marked the end of her insisting I pick particular dress(es) each time we went on our shopping sprees! I was that hooked on clothes!
In my mid teenage, after I had blossomed into curves (at the hips) ha ha ha …oyibo ready-made was not cutting it for me anymore! So, I switched to Custom making my own stuff. And I was lucky my aunt lived in Aba (home of fabrics of all textures and great tailors too!), so, I could actually pick out fabrics that looked like the foreign ‘ready-made’ clothes, sketch my designs and had the tailors make them to fit!
Well, the addiction continued so much so that by the time I got to 22, I had like 5 tailors! Each for like Suits, skirt, dress, pants, native wears etc! Just so they don’t disappoint me and most tailors in Aba specialized in particular outfits. I used to order them from out of State. And many a time I was in Aba on vacation, I actually used to sit with them while they cut my clothes and I just watched and learned, and some allowed me help them put pieces together (I still paid them, mind you!), but I learned a lot that way!
Most people that knew me in my University days in Nigeria would remember that I was a Fashion person. I rarely repeated an outfit on campus! I actually contested in Miss Vogue in 1990 (a fashion competition), but the cult guys threw tear gas and messed up the event when they saw that there candidate was not going to win! I had a head start on all of them!! Ha ha ha.
So, to how I got into Fashion, God always had my life planned to come back this way after all my education and everything. And I thank HIM!