Dressed in a flowing, intricately designed white and gold embroidered abaya, a black headwrap and blackened gold earrings shaped like large crescent moons that dangle with even the slightest head movement, Modupe Omonze is a picture of grace.
In the Fashion Design Studio of Middlesex University Dubai, Omonze stands in front of a seated group of students and tells them about her journey. Omonze was 13 years old when she was first introduced to fashion. During the long holidays, her father decided he wanted Omonze and her sisters to try something different and sent them to a sewing school. The sisters detested sewing but their father insisted upon it as he believed that “every woman should have a trade to fall back on”.
“Few years down the line, little did we realize how sewing had grown on us, and we found ourselves challenging each other.”
Omonze says that even though they all eventually graduated with professional degrees, their father had been right after all as he had turned their “hatred into a passion”.
Omonze reflects on how fashion transformed her by saying “I was very shy as a child. Growing up in the fashion industry changed my life. I realized that being shy in this industry limits you to what you can actually do. My mistakes and achievements made me gradually come out of my cocoon and here I am today, trying to make sure others understand the importance of speaking up for their art and staying true to themselves”.
Omonze is not only a fashion designer but also a mentor, confidence coach, and founder of ‘Runway Dubai’ which is an international platform for fashion shows. She says that she designed the platform to help transform people who are too shy to even show how creative they are – just like she had been.
“There are many people in need of this platform that is why it grew so rapidly. We now use the platform to promote fashion brands and fashion design colleges by creating a design challenge each year. Students from all over the world take part in our fashion contests which is a major part of the show. Established designers also join the platform as mentors to the growing industry” Omonze explains.
She describes her journey towards establishing Runway Dubai as a “struggle to success” and says that she “hit rock bottom” with her dreams and with trying to “fit in in the industry”.
She says that she had a culture shock when she came to Dubai.
Omonze said: “As someone that travels from country to country, it was difficult to understand that in some countries things are totally different in many ways. There is so much structure here which, in most of the countries that I have lived in, is absent.”
She says that as a fashion designer, one would want to show their collection as an emerging designer but here, there seemed to be no opportunities as such because Dubai has a very high standard of glamour and glitz.
“So, for Runway Dubai, I decided, ‘You know what? Let’s create an industry for emerging talent!’” she says. Now, Runway Dubai has become the biggest industry platform for newfound talent.
An advocate of personal style, Omonze encourages not just fashion design students but everyone to just be themselves: “Stay true to your art, you know the way you do things; your personality shows in your work. Don’t copy anyone. Don’t think that there are rules in fashion. Just be yourself and you will shine through.”
She constantly repeats her advice of staying true to oneself and strongly believes that social media is a tool that can be used efficaciously for fashion: “Use social media, don’t be afraid. When you are yourself on social media, the followers come..”
Omonze aims to impact the fashion industry by filling its gaps through awareness initiatives and emerging talents. Omonze believes that a runway must speak to the people and considers it to be a platform to address social issues.
“You don’t know about a lot unless you’re made aware. Awareness is amazing – I am also learning myself. Through the years, we used the platform to throw light on Down Syndrome, fitness, health, Alopecia – you know, I had never heard of Alopecia before,” she says.
Omonze reminisces how she was approached by “a gorgeous model” who came to her and told her that she had no hair. Omonze initially believed that it was because she had cut her hair until she was informed about the fact that the model could never grow hair due to a medical condition known as ‘Alopecia’ that causes hair loss on a person’s body.
“She would get a lot of stares but eventually her confidence came through. It’s hard, but you know that you have to live with yourself and be the best that you can. She opened the show, and people heard about Alopecia and were made aware of it.”
Being a confidence coach, Omonze says that the primary reason she introduced competitions for the runway was for the creative talents to overcome their fear.
“I started these competitions and mentored them through it. I would answer their questions regarding what they were working on. It just gradually starts bringing them out. I have known so many shy designers; the most creative ones are the shyest ones. There are many crazy talents out there that we don’t know about and we just need to see them. Fear is a no-no; they need to come out and show us what they’ve got.”
Having had years of insight into the industry, she believes in adhering to its challenges: “Challenge is good. Always challenge yourself. Put yourself out there.”
Omonze mentions how the Middlesex University’s fashion design students can partake in the designing competition for the upcoming show taking place from 6th – 9th November. All dresses must be finished by 28th October.
To the students, she advises to “keep looking for gaps in the industry and trying to fill them in.”
“That is a unique way to stand out. Try to collaborate, try to find things out there that will help your creation and everything you’re doing with your work. Just stay true to yourself. Don’t take no for an answer; keep pushing, pushing, and pushing. ‘No’ is not in your dictionary.”