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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Saturday, July 07, 2007


I’ve got a beautiful story to tell you and what perfect day to tell it than this triple 7 day. I of course have the triple 7 line up in my birth date. First a summarized background. If you saw that film pursuit if happiness, remember the bit when Will Smith and his son had slept in the toilet at a train station only for him to need to appear fine and ready for work the next day? Nobody cares about your story just show up and be good. Well l've been in that situation many times and this trip is somewhat like that. The reason for this trip aside from the seminar was that l had bagged a much pursued audience with one of America’s heavy hitters which was bound to impact greatly on my career. To swing it and all the logistics around doing the project l needed quite a bit of money which l didn’t have. I did all l could to get support or sponsorship but didn’t so trusting in the universe, l took out my daughter’s five year investment (l had slaved to save up some money every month and invest for her since she was one) to facilitate it. Last week l was told it was off and l sat staring at the email, numbed. I cant even tell them to reconsider on the basis of the risk l had taken, in business, you come out of the toilet, take a German bath (90s generation anyone?), wear your best rag and do the job.
The journey to this point had started on a similar trip a while back when l was so broke my daughter and l had to stay in this mangy motel, the image of she and l pushing our luggage cart down a mosquito infested (yes there are places like that in America) hallway still brings a smile to my face.

As l weighed my options, l decided to take a walk down Madison Avenue to Barneys. As l walked down the block before Barneys l noticed a nice looking store with an African looking, pregnant model like girl with stunning jet dark skin. Turns out she is Senegalese and her flat mate is the gorgeous Funmi Alaiyemola. She started to show me round and my eyes rested on a lovely maroon eyelet mini dress. The fabric is that cotton owambe party lace we so love in Nigeria and l began to feel suppressed excitement, l checked the label and my suspicions wee confirmed it is Le Shade! I started laughing and crying simultaneously.

Last summer on one of my do it or die trying trips l had needed assistance with settling down to my assignments, l needed someone to help get my daughter to Michigan to stay with family whilst l go to Aspen. In true 9ja solidarity, a friend called a friend who called a friend and that’s how this tall slim dark beauty rushed from church into our hotel room to the rescue. She wore a vivid yellow lace min skirt that l thought was divine but hang on isn’t that our owambe lace? Lara and l clicked off instantly (note our grins above) and she went far beyond expectations to help my daughter and l through out that journey. Now the thing about Lara is that aside her job, she is an aspiring designer who makes her own clothes which had always got people stopping her on the street to ask where she got them. She has an incredible sense of colour and her style is easy, breezy and wearable, using primarily our owambe cotton lace. Because we got on so well we were soon like sisters and this newly wedded younger gal confided her fears hopes and aspirations for her business in me. She had turned a childhood slur (LEPA SHANDY, like me she had been picked on for being skinny growing up) into a business name L~ Shandi. She told me stories of hardship in Nigeria, the journey to America, her mother’s bravery and how her family has overcome serious challenges to get education and make a life in America. Best of all she showed me her little “factory” in the basement. Just some old singer machines and bits o fabric were the tools with which she wove her dreams. She expressed hopes that one day she’ll be distributed all over America and that Nigerians would know her. I said amen with a conviction that it would happen but l had no idea how soon.

Back in SEARLE (that’s the name of the store), l am chatting with Amy from Senegal about Africans and she tells me how proud her mate Funmi Alaiyemola is of Nigeria and how she misses home. I saw Funmi in the 1999 face of Africa finals in Abuja and tipped her to win (as l did Oluchi) she didn’t but became more successful than the eventual winner. I interviewed her soon afterwards and was taken in by her beauty, strength of character and sense of fun. In 1997 l ran a fashion TV show and ushers agency and one of my favourite girls happens to be Funmi’s cousin, she it was who told me how tough it had been for Funmi growing up, loosing her parents and pursuing her dreams. Funmi is one of Africa’s best models and she works and schools out of New York.

As l sat talking to Amy whose husband is in Senegal, my mind is on the millions of Nigerians all over the world toiling and working, all the talents, the skills, the dreams. Same as most of us back at home. With the exception of a few deviant Nigerians and our flawed leaders, Nigerians are by and large beautiful, resilient, intelligent and resourceful people.

Even though l could not afford it, l bought a simple button down mulicolour cotton shift dress from Le Shade. When l called her this morning she protested asking me to come get it at wholesale price. I refused because as a Yoruba woman with trader grand mothers, l know the concept of (se mi lowo), you buy the good to send a message to God as a sacrifice to bless the enterprise. I also talked with my darling best friend Bose, a doctor, scientist, wife and mother who is saving and toiling to complete her research and work on maternal mortality whilst holding down two jobs and consulting and lecturing in LUTH. As l walked out of that store l knew in my core that it is only a matter of time before Le shade makes it to Bergdorf Goodman’s, she is already at many stores including Patricia Fields' the style guru of Sex and the City. I also knew in my heart that my own many years of toil will reap more rewards in due course as will Bose and Remi and Pamela and all those gorgeous Nigerian women (men too) out there. It was with renewed vigour that l returned to my hotel room determined to continue my pursuit of significance, which really is true happiness.


Toni Payne said...

nice post and a big Amen.. wow! u know lara, what a small world. Ive been saying this all week, it seems like everybody knows everybody..we are all somehow interconnected

Ms. Catwalq said...

wow, great story

and I think that our version of a german bath is called "rub and shine"

Anonymous said...

Inspiring story keep up the good work Funmi oh and do stop by my blog sometime, a new day has come:)

soul said...


We all toil, in our own different ways, no matter what anyone thinks on the outside or perceives us to be. only we know how far we have come in the 'struggle'.

Keep doing what you do.

simplykenny said...

well,am truely a first timer on your blog and must realy commend you.keep up the good work.as for le shade - she should keep the dream alive and she'll be celebrated pretty soon.chao!

My 2 cents said...

I can relate to a lot of things you wrote about cause I too have had a lot of these challengestravellingwith my son or making major decisions that has had to interfere with my son's holdings.
I am always amazed by the strenght of African women all over the world. As an up and coming enterpreneur, based out of New york and like your friend, you should see my basement. I am just limited by the fact that I still hold down a day job and run a home as a single parent.
And yeah, next time you are in the New york area feel free to and in need of help with your your daughter, I have a son about her age and she can atleast have some a play mate,While you run your errands and do grown up stuff..

sugarlomps said...

you not only have an amazing and strong spirit you inspire me. the truth is yes there are nigerians who are doing things and slaving off and using their god given talents in fantastic ways.
i applaude you and also give it up for shade and other nigerians out there slaving off and working hard to make something out of their life and be something through genuine means.

Anonymous said...

Very nice piece. I'd have like to see the dress though. Is there a website or something?

Anonymous said...

Funmi, I know your babys investment was liquidated but I hope you havent lost all the money?

I confess to being a "professional grumbler" (as Peter Enahoro terms people who write and whose style manages to wring something negative out of most situations). But what makes me so grateful - yes, GRATEFUL - to be part of naija society again after a long absence is this very thing you describe so eloquently. The passion, the irrepressible talent, the loyal support networks, the sheer charisma that our people have.
Am adding Searle to my list of places to visit in NYC next week. Of course, not being a lepa shandy, the lace dress may not be such a good idea - but that is a discussion for a previous post...

Anonymous said...

love your blog. keep it up, hoepfully something great will come up. there are lots of nigerians doing their thing here in the states. but when will you visit the dc region? and you should also host a convention here for some of your causes, just a thought.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ toni, yes babe, we are all connected. havnt forgotten my promise o. one step at a time.

@awshucks (anoder old babe slag) missed you in NY, lost my phone, thanks 4 the education.

@naijagal, will do and leave a foot print:-)

@2 cents, thank you, be sure l'll take up that offer one day. To be a single parent outside Nigeria is even tougher in a different sort of way so l salute you and offer my support with anything l might be able to help with.

@anonymous, tech failed me, for some reason my laptop is not recognising my camera so l couldnt post a pic of the dress as l had hoped. Look out for it when l rock it at some event in 9ja so l can publisize Lara's work. will post the pic then. Meantime you can go to www.LShandi.com.

AbujaBabe said...

Inspiring inspiration!

Funmi, You never fail to inspire me!

Every day i strugle trying to reach my dreams,goals to make my business a success, at times i feel like giving up! Then i read something inspirational like i have done today and it makes me keep on, i have drive i am determined and i have faith, after all NOTHING comes with out hard work!

African women are trully strong thats what makes us great!

Ciao.. The Struggle Continues

afrochic said...

e no dey, yet u could stil squeeze out something 4 dat dress. trust u not 2 let a good thing go by.
that was truly a superlative piece. could hug u 2 death wen u post such inspiring pieces that affirm d gold that lies beneath all the dirt that sometimes beclouds the wonderful pips we realy r.truly proud 2 be a 9ja.abeg al me 9ja babes out dre, powerfists in d air!!!

BOBBY said...

I just heard about her this last week and i am so proud and so in love. Great story!

Mr.Fineboy said...

Inspiring story...makes me proud to be Nigerian. Big ups to Le Shade...there's so much positive work by Nigerians that we never hear about. Well done.

♥♫♪nyemoni♫♪♥ said...

This is too sweet...Life's really about the pursuit of happYness..

bolaji said...

Been down with Malaria this week, really missed this you guys.

But today this friday the 13th that is supposed to be unlucky for me its just legenday like an awaking day.

The past 3 months i have been very lacadestical with my business not putting all of me inside because of my unsatisfying day job, and just today somebody told me that i can take my small cleaning firm to greater heights and now this.... its just a sign from heaven that small things till grow big and i have got to work my butt off till what i see in my minds eye becomes a reality.

Kudos to all i shant gree sisters out there.

Truly inspirational, great job, Funmi.

bijimi said...

I was totally & most pleasantly suprised to stumble on your blog...
I must confess i didn't understand you at first, changed channels whenever your show aired but gradually i realised you are just a real person pursuing her dreams while trying to positively affect the space around you. (What most of us only dream about) God Bless you and keep up the good fight.
Your blog was deep, touching & reveals that which is at our core as Nigerians & humans... i sincerely look forward to a day when we can celebrate a new dawn in our country. Cheers!

Eyin'ju Oluwa said...

Nice!!! I'll look out for Le Shade.

Andrew F. Alalade said...

Good post! Very very cool!

Funmi Iyanda said...

@all post my july 9 response, apologies for going AWOL, the plot thickened after that day and my experiences thereafter is the stuff for a great tragi-comic film but l am here and l,m smilling mostly because l know l,ve got a great story waiting in the offing one day soon. Glad to be part of this collective energy willing each other on to a better society.
I have noted your suggestion anonymous dc, perhaps you could help? some of our challenges are tied to the lack of depth of our industry ie the areas of management, legalize, promotion and distribution. it will change as more people engage shift away from survival mode business to business that engages our passions, talents and core competence.
Bolaji, my motto? e sha je a ma ba ise lo , lets keep working, applying wisdom, knowledge, creativity and defining a new reality, it'll come good in the end you'll see, just remember to enjoy the process.
And Bijimi, much regard.

L~Shandi said...

Thanks Funmi for posting this and thanks to everyone for their comments as well.

Funmi- I have met very few people that give me energy when I am around them and you not only do that, even thinking about our conversations give me energy. I am glad that I know you and like you always say.."mo n ba ishe lo"..its my favorite saying now.

I'll see you sooner than later