Victoria Michaels is a model and serial entrepreneur, who has been featured in major international publications, including Vogue, Italia, Cosmopolitan, Glitz Africa, ROOTS, Africa Fashion Week London Magazine, Glam Africa, CANOE, Destiny, Women & Home, Elle and Enjoy Magazine.
She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Central University College Ghana and a Diploma in Communication Studies from the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
As social change advocate, she established the Victoria Michaels Foundation, a non-profit organisation seeking to empower women and the less privileged children across Africa to discover their potential and deploy it for greater social use. The foundation focuses on Girl Child and Women Empowerment, Youth Development and Education. She is also the convener of the Africa Literacy Development Initiative (ALDI).
In 2019, Ms. Michaels was signed as the European Union Champion of the Environment and in collaboration with the Victoria Michaels Foundation and Africa Literacy Development Initiative, they educated and empowered both 1st and 2nd cycle schools to be more aware of their environment and how to keep it clean.
Miss Michaels is also the founder of Fashion Connect Africa (FCA), one of the emerging social enterprises established to change lives in the creative space. Using her platform, she has also established the FCA Creative Development Hub, a centre that nurtures the next generation of fashion professionals and creatives.
She is also the co-founder of Fashion Connect Africa Garment Factory, an affiliate of Fashion Connect Africa Group. Through her many entrepreneurial interventions she has continued to help create jobs for creatives across the continent and develop platforms to acquire extensive knowledge in order to better their craft.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, Michaels has been named among the top 50 Young CEOs for 2020 in Ghana and awarded for being one of the most influential people in the country, talks about her career, philanthropy, humanitarian project and life as a serial entrepreneur.
Could you share with us your growing up and journey so far?
My Father is from Umuleri in Anambra State. My mum is of both Ghanaian and Nigerian origin and I grew between Nigeria and Ghana; I have lived in Owerri, Onitsha, Asaba, Lagos, Ho and Accra. Growing up in all this parts of the world brings a lot of memories. I have also been blessed to have lived in different parts of the world because of my career, including Milan, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London; this work takes me around a lot. My modeling career has taken me to The USA, Canada, Switzerland, France to mention just a few.
Growing up with my parents was fun; my dad was a polygamist. So living with stepsisters and brothers was fun. I remember always scratching my father’s back, he really enjoyed it; picking grey from his hair and he always gives a prize to the person who picks the most. I also remember learning how to fix pounded yam; we had a roaster because my dad doesn’t eat stale food, so his wives will take turns cooking while the children prepare the pounded yam alongside the chefs.
Also, my mum was quite religious and spiritual to the extent we couldn’t even have ear piercings for earrings, but I would go to school and see other kids in their cute earrings. I told myself that my sisters and I would look good in them too. It didn’t occur to me there will be a machine or method for it, so I used a safety pin to pierce for myself and my little sister and blood started oozing out. I didn’t know what to do, I was so scared, and cried all day with my sister. I remember my mum came home and gave me the beating of my life…Laughter.
I was quite stubborn growing up, but my mum’s intervention set me on a straight path to greatness and molded me into the woman I have become today. My parents also realized from a very early stage that I had a knack for fashion, even though I didn’t know anything called modelling at the time, but anyone who came into our space would always say they like the way I look. I carefully select my clothing and I tell my mum about the colors I love and when she buys them for me, I will always parade around the house to the cheering of everyone.
It was at the funeral of a relative that one of my aunts asked my mum if it was okay for me to travel with them to the U.S. because she thinks I will make a good model as I had the right features and height; I was just 12 then. I didn’t know what it was and my mum was too scared to let her young daughter go, so, we let that opportunity slide. Then I grew and evolved and understood what modelling was about; I spoke to my family and they were comfortable with it, because everywhere I went, they ask if I am a model and when this kept coming, I knew I could just make a craft out of it.
Along the line, organizers of Miss Francophone approached me; I was studying French at the French School in Accra at the time and one of the organizers saw me at the lobby and asked if I would love to participate in the contest. I decided to give it a shot, that was how I won the contest but was controversially declared the first runner up; that launched my career into the public domain. Also, I met with Kofi Annan of blessed memory; he was the best thing that happened to fashion in Africa during his days. He was building young creatives in Africa, sending them to exchange programmes especially in Milan and Rome; he made me his house muse. To celebrate Ghana at 50, I was fortunate to be one of the youngest frontline models and that was how I got my modelling career on alongside my university education.
Whiles modelling, I went on to do my National Youth Service in a bank and they took me on. I worked in the bank for four years and resigned because the bank wouldn’t let me pursue my modelling career alongside my work; it was against their policy. After I resigned, I started up a marketing consultancy firm, so all the opportunities I turned down because the bank wouldn’t let me, started coming in and so my international modelling career actually began.
I got signed to work in Milan, South Africa, London and Paris for a couple of years before COVID-19 happened; I was actually on the runway in South Africa when the president announced preparation towards the lockdown. The show was cancelled right there. I didn’t want to be stuck in South Africa, so I came home immediately. During the period of the lockdown, I didn’t want to be idle and I was still trying to figure out how to reposition my boutique PR firm when my consultant brother who at the time was building Covid Isolation Centers took me to one of the sites. Just on our way back, he asked if we could visit his friend who owns a garment factory. That brought memories for me because my dad used to own a garment factory where he employed hundreds people, it was like God just spoke to me, saying, ‘this is it.’
So, I started battling with being a model and an industrialist. I thought about it for weeks and made up my mind; to put the necessary documents ready to get the business going and we finally set up the factory during the thick of the Covid-19 Pandemic.. We got our first contract from the government of Ghana to produce nose masks, the rest as they say is history. Before COVID-19 subsided, we also got some more businesses commissioning us to produce their work outfits and uniforms; that was how FCA Garment factory took off. Since then, our factory now produces all kinds of uniforms and PPE’s. We produce for schools and corporate organizations, but only on an industrial scale.
You have set up all of your businesses in Ghana, why?
Yes, I started from Ghana because it is part of my history but now is the time to flip the other chapter of my story and explore the opportunities of my other home Nigeria. Before you take any business decision, you need to understand the environment, make sure your investment will yield results, no business thrives on sentiments. In as much as I am of Nigerian descent and want to do business here, I must understand those to whom my brand and value proposition appeals to.
How rewarding has it been as a model?
It has taken me around the world. It has opened my eyes to things I never thought I would see if I were just at home here in Nigeria or Ghana. It has also brought me to people I probably will not have met; it is a door opener for me. One thing is that if you were not focused on what you want out of life, you would easily be distracted and swerved to doing things that would completely throw you off focus.
To be a model, you must be confident and believe in yourself, because you are going to get a thousand ‘Nos’ because there are millions of models around the world and we all converge in certain cities for casting, so when there’s a fashion week, designers call in for models and out of a thousand models, they pick only four, where does that leave you? Then you begin to feel inadequate, you are not enough. It is quite a dicey place to play, but if you are strong and determined, your opportunity will always come, because opportunities come at different times for different people.
Are you looking at mentoring other young people?
I started that already; I have a lot of mentees both in Ghana and other parts of the world. Across the globe, there are models that look up to me, and this is because they frequent my DM to tell me how they appreciate what I am doing. I am not just a model, but also a modelpreneur.
What stands your brand out?
I am beyond what you call a brand; I am a force to reckon with by the Grace of God. I am a humanitarian; I have given back to society and supported people as much as I can. I have a relationship with God and I serve in the best way I can. I have partnered with some of the best brands in the world and what I have done so far is just the tip of the iceberg. I serve on a number of boards both in the public and the private sector.
What informed your decision to set up your NGO?
My NGO was set up in 2012, but way before then, I have always been a giver; I believe in both wealth creation and sharing. Everyone around me knows I would rather be broke than seeing someone around me suffer or cry. While some members of my family think it’s a bit too much, I don’t see it that way, because that is who I am. I love to see other people have some level of comfort.
When I set out in 2012, my initial project was with A secondary School where we donated a library; we gave out books and other learning aids. From there, we set up a mobile library where we stock up books and take them around deprived communities. We came up with the Africa Literacy Development Development Initiative (ALDI), which is geared toward reducing illiteracy in Africa. So far, we have served 20 communities in Ghana and one in South Africa. This is basically to help children in underserved communities be able to at least communicate because they won’t get it from the government.
We also found out that some of them do not have shoes or school bags they take to school, so we provided for them. We also had a ‘one million masks’ project where we gave out nose masks to schoolchildren, we didn’t, however, reach the mark; we had about 700,000 because it was capital intensive. I also pay school fees for some deprived kids.
So, are you thinking of coming home to set up something at least to benefit the deserved children in Nigeria?
I have Nigeria at heart; the reason I didn’t come here is because of the places where modelling took me. Now that I am back to Africa and not travelling as I use to, I have identified some communities with the help of consultants and advisors. My team and I are taking the ALDI initiative throughout Africa and being that I have a Nigerian root, why won’t I do this at home too?
What advice do you have for women who are trying to get their lives together?
First off, if you know what you want, run with it; don’t give up. We often give up, because the things we expect do not necessarily work out the way we want. The Bible says that there is time for everything under the sun, so no matter how long it stays, what is yours will come to you. It always has a way of coming.
Our generation is an impatient one; we want a quick fixlife. People are not patient enough to nurture their business and talent; they always want to use the back door to get what they want. So, for me, I will say, stay true to yourself, hold on to your beliefs and aspirations, believe in God and trust Him to come through for you.
What should women be doing differently to get to the top?
Better yourself, if it means going back to school. You cannot be a novice and an expert at the same time, you must understand what you want to do because the competition is keen. Most importantly, find your purpose, understand what you are born to do, search within yourself and ask if you are doing what you are supposed to do and if you are do it well.
Know what you have a knack for and go for it. A hundred people can say a ‘No’ to you, but once you start to win, everyone will rally around you and get you that support you need. Find who you are, nurture, sample and deploy it.
Did you experience challenges running your businesses especially as a woman?
Yes! There are times I really needed financial support; the garment factory business is only two years old and with everything we do, clients don’t pay you immediately. You provide a service and sometimes, it takes them two to five months to pay and when that happens, it puts so much pressure on you. You are thinking of staff salaries, utilities, and how to get raw materials for production. It can be tough, but when the going gets tough, you toughen up.
There was a time my factory was locked down for four months because jobs were not coming and no resources. I could have given up, but if you are surrounded by people who encourage and support you emotionally, my brother as a business partner supports me a lot. So, find yourself a mentor who understands what it takes; they school you so you don’t get off balance when these things happen.
You are a serial entrepreneur and a model, how do you handle your many parts and still be at your best?
It can be very breathtaking being a multi-tasker. With the businesses I lead, my team and I are consistently evolving because I want us to thrive and succeed together. I have always been versatile with my business approach, what we have done is to build a business process that is linked and interwoven.
All our endeavors actually compliments each other. From Fashion to Education, Production, Manufacturing to Job Creation. One of the major factor for me is my relationship with God, this has been a pillar for all the things we have achieved so far. I also draw a lot of inspiration from the success my team and I achieve one project at a time. I just like getting multiple result, am that kind of person.
What is your philosophy of life?
God’s big plan; if anything happens that is not in line with what He has purposed for me, I know that it is either not the right time or God doesn’t want it for me. I don’t live my life with many expectations and I don’t hold on to things. I live my life, knowing that all things will work together for my good.