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You Belong Everywhere You Want To Be, with Ngozika Okeke

You Belong Everywhere You Want To Be, with Ngozika Okeke

We sit down with Ngozika Okeke, designer of Ngozika Okeke Clothing, to discuss how she got her start as a model in high school, navigating being an entrepreneur during a pandemic, and how to support survivors of sexual assault. Content warning for discussion of sexual assault and domestic abuse.


0:00:00.1 Maricella Herrera: Hi everyone. Before I get to the episode, I want to take a moment to address the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, which stripped away the right to have a safe and legal abortion. Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health and independence of all people, which we have already seen with abortion bans and restrictions in countries like Poland and Malta. This decision has dire consequences and could have hard repercussions for other landmark decisions within the United States. I encourage our audience, American and otherwise, to learn more about what you can do to help I encourage you to speak up, take care and spread the word.

0:00:44.8 Intro: Welcome to be Ellevate Podcast, Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your host, Maricella Herrera.


0:01:08.1 MH: Hi everyone, welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. I'm Maricella Herrera, I'm here with my colleague Johanna Pulgarin, aka JP.

0:01:20.0 Johanna Pulgarin: Hi.

0:01:22.2 MH: How are you doing JPs?

0:01:22.2 JP: I'm good. Feeling good. Excited to be back. I had so much fun last week, I just had to come back and do more.

0:01:29.5 MH: Yeah. How was your Labor Day weekend?

0:01:32.6 JP: Good. So I didn't actually have any crazy plans, so we just kinda hung out at home, trying to pick things up a little bit since we're moving in a couple of months, it's like a month and a half, so I'm trying to declutter and throw things out, trying to Marie Kondo my life a little bit before we have to pack everything up.

0:01:55.0 MH: You'll feel so much better though, once you have. Every time I move, I do that and I don't move often 'cause I'm... I like sticking to one place and you never... It's just incredible. How long have you been in your apartment?

0:02:12.3 JP: Four years.

0:02:12.9 MH: Yeah. You're gonna be finding lots of stuff you forgot about.

0:02:17.1 JP: Yeah, I know. I'm not looking forward to it be honest, but it's exciting though. I'm excited for it. How was your weekend?

0:02:24.7 MH: Well, so it was my birthday.

0:02:27.0 JP: Yes it was. Happy birthday.

0:02:29.9 MH: Thank you. I'm, inching closer to the big 4-0, Very, very close. It was good. It was good. It was pretty chill. I'm training for the marathon, so like, honestly I can't do a lot except run. So that's continuing. I'm planning on celebrating in the next couple of weeks when we go... When I go to Sea.Hear.Now music festival in Asbury Park, which we've been together too a couple of times.

0:03:04.4 JP: Yeah, we have, but I'm skipping this year, which is sad.

0:03:08.7 MH: It's so sad that you're skipping. I'm going, Jess... Our colleague Jess who lives in California, in LA is coming and she's going too. Can't wait. The lineup is pretty great and the headliners are Green Day and Steve Nicks, so I cannot wait.

0:03:28.2 JP: That's The coolest.

0:03:30.6 MH: Yeah. So that's my... That's gonna be my celebrating. I decided Labor Day could be, running, relaxing weekend.

0:03:40.6 JP: I would never put the words running and relaxing in the same sentence.

0:03:45.5 MH: You learn to love it, you know?

0:03:47.7 JP: Yeah. People say that. I don't know if that's true for me.

0:03:51.4 MH: It is. Like, I hated running. I couldn't run a minute. I would be out of breath. And you know who kept saying this to me was Tina. Tina was our team member, colleague, years ago who moved to San Diego to pursue a very successful, now professional MMA career.

0:04:12.8 JP: Yeah.

0:04:13.2 MH: And she used to tell me all the time, like, no one likes running, everyone hates running until they like running, like it grows on you. And she was right.

0:04:21.1 JP: Yeah. Maybe, I don't know. I don't know. I'll take your word for it.

0:04:27.9 MH: Yeah. It was hard to believe her 'cause she does like to fight people. I am not in... I don't.

0:04:33.3 JP: Right.

0:04:35.2 MH: But I do, I do like running and, you know, getting ready for the marathon coming up in a few, a couple of months. Exactly two months from now. Wow.

0:04:44.8 JP: It's exciting. You're gonna kill it just like you always do.

0:04:50.1 MH: Yeah. We'll see. Anyway, so what have you been into? Still looking at the home, the home check.

0:05:06.7 JP: Yeah. We've narrowed down our furniture, I think, to a few pieces and we need to just like bite the bullet and order some stuff so that we get it in time. But it's inching closer and I'm getting nervous and... But it'll all be fine. Still watching Chip and Joanna every Chance I get.

0:05:25.5 MH: I Love that.

0:05:26.8 JP: It so great.

0:05:29.7 MH: Don't be nervous though.

0:05:29.8 JP: What's That?

0:05:30.5 MH: Don't be nervous. It'll be so great to have your own home.

0:05:34.6 JP: Yeah. It's definitely gonna be different. This is our first home ownership experience and it won't feel real until we step in, I think. But yeah, it'll be good. And then I can have people over. There's gonna be enough room to have more than like five people in my living room. It'll Be great.

0:05:52.3 MH: I don't know what that feels like.

0:05:55.0 JP: Amen. But you live in New York across from the museum.

0:05:58.5 MH: I do live in New York across from the museum. I do love my apartment. I'm not gonna... I'm not gonna lie but it is tiny. The choices we make.

0:06:09.6 JP: Exactly.

0:06:11.1 MH: So do order your furniture. Remember when I moved, I ordered my couch and it took like four months to get here.

0:06:17.2 JP: Yeah. Yeah. I'm hearing that there's some delays on stuff so you gotta get on that.

0:06:24.3 MH: Yeah. Have you been besides Chip and Joanna watching or reading or anything else?

0:06:29.2 JP: Yeah. Well the last two books I read have... It's been like a few weeks ago, but, I read The The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue recently.

0:06:38.7 MH: Oh. I loved It.

0:06:39.4 JP: I loved that book. It was so fun. And like such an easy read and such like a really fun concept too.

0:06:47.9 MH: I liked that too. It was a good book.

0:06:49.9 JP: Yeah. I saw your good Reads rating on it so I was like, Oh, okay. I'll give it a shot.

0:06:56.7 MH: Yeah, it's an easy read. I like easy reads. Before I go to bed, I need something like that.

0:07:03.2 JP: Yeah. And then, after that I've read Book Lovers, which is another easy read, more of like the...

0:07:09.0 MH: Tell me more.

0:07:11.5 JP: Yeah, it's one of those enemies to lovers kind of genre, really funny. You can kind of picture it as like a romcom in your head as you're reading it, which I'm... I won't be surprised if that's the direction it goes in if they end up making a movie out of it. But I've just been looking for stuff like that 'cause there's so much other stuff going on that I need something that's gonna help me shut my mind off and not have to think too hard.


0:07:37.6 MH: I'm on the other boat. I've been nerding out as per us, so I... What was the last one I was reading? So I basically have like four or five books out that I'm reading all at the same time. One is the one we're reading for a book club at Ellevate and it's called Hook Point. We have our marketing book club and that's... It's been an interesting book on how to catch people's attention in an overcrowded world where we are getting so many messages. So it's been good. I'm also as I usually do, skimming around on The Startup Owner's Manual just because it's always a good refresher to come back to. So yeah, nerding out. I feel like I'm back... Going back to school, kinda.

0:08:27.5 JP: Yeah. I didn't join the book club this time around. I did it for last... The last book we read, which was Bird by Bird, which I loved, which I had read in college and it was one of those really great ones to refresh.

0:08:42.8 MH: So I didn't finish reading that one.

0:08:46.9 JP: Oh no.

0:08:47.3 MH: I couldn't.

0:08:48.7 JP: Couldn't because you couldn't get through it.

0:08:50.7 MH: Yeah.

0:08:50.9 JP: Really?

0:08:52.9 MH: I don't know why.

0:08:54.7 JP: Oh, that's funny, Ann, I enjoyed it.

0:08:57.1 MH: I feel like I need to give it another try.

0:08:58.9 JP: But it's more about like... It's more of like writing. Yeah, life, writing about life, type of thing. So not so much like tactical marketing or like startup tips so I can see how it's not your cup of tea.

0:09:14.7 MH: No, but I love writing. So like you'd think I would be into it a lot 'cause I like writing, I write, I try to write as often as I can. I was telling someone the other day that that's what I... Just like you guys, like you and Megan and Raquel wanted to go into publishing, when I was younger I wanted to be a writer.

0:09:34.3 JP: Yeah.

0:09:37.7 MH: Yeah. Who knows?

0:09:39.6 JP: And maybe you do need to finish it.

0:09:42.5 MH: Maybe I do. Maybe you'll have to give it another another shot.

0:09:46.5 JP: Yeah.

0:09:47.0 Megan Oliver: Content warning for it though. It does have some kind of outdated language with regards to people on the autism spectrum. Not Like so far that it's offensive but just kind of infantilizing a bit and very like... Just as a person who is all on the autism spectrum, there were a couple things that she said that I'm like, I don't know that this would make it through 25 years from when this book was written.

0:10:14.7 JP: Yeah, that's fair. That's right. I do remember that.

0:10:18.1 MH: So many things that don't make it through to today though. Which can you believe that the nineties weren't 30 years Ago?

0:10:27.7 JP: No they weren't. They were 10 years ago. What are you talking about.

0:10:30.6 MH: I'm like, every time I think about it I'm like... I was listening to My Favorite Murder because that's what I do. And I love it and I will forever love it. And if I can meet Georgia and Karen, I would be the happiest person on earth 'cause I wanna be their best friend. So Georgia and Karen, if you ever listen to the Ellevate Podcast, not that I think that you do, but if you ever do, I would love to be your Friend.

0:10:53.1 JP: I can see that being a really easy crossover, Ellevate podcast and My Favorite Murder.

0:10:58.8 MH: I mean, honestly, I would love to have them as guests because the amount of stuff... The reason I love them, not only because I'm basic and I love to a crime and they're extremely funny, but they talk so much about mental health And the importance of taking care of their self and being so open about it and I think that it's a refreshing take and I believe wholeheartedly that it is important for us to talk about mental health, that everyone needs to take care of themselves first, and so yeah, I just... I think I'd love, love, love to interview them. Anyway, That's me talking about my dreams. But what was I... What I was gonna say... Why I brought... Why did I bring them up? Oh, the '90s. Yes. They always been there talking about murders or things that happened in the '90s, they're like, oh, it's the '90s and I still feel like it wasn't that long ago.


0:11:56.6 JP: No, the '90s were 10 years ago, the '80s were 20 years ago, and it's just always gonna be that way.

0:12:05.9 JP: And yet, and yet the things have changed and it's important that they're changing. And actually our guest today, which is someone I... This is an interview I did so you'll have... You'll listen to me for a long... A lot longer today. Ngozika Okeke, she is, I would say, a person who embodies a lot of what the changes that have to happen in the world that are happening. She was a marketing consultant. She actually was a model first and then turned marketing consultant and then turned socially conscious fashion designer. And I think that that's where I'm saying like, this is where we have to go to. It's not just fashion, it's fashion and philanthropy and social responsible and ethical fashion. She not only competed in a reality show, design reality show in 2017, but her company donates a portion of all revenue to organizations that work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. So this is an episode that touches on a lot of these topics. So I do want to put that out there if you're gonna listen to it. But I do think Ngozika's story is really, really powerful and the work she's doing is amazing and I can't wait for you to hear her story.

0:13:38.4 JP: Can't wait to listen.


0:13:47.2 MH: Hello. I'm very, very, very excited today to be here with Ngozika, to talk a little bit about your journey. I know you're a marketing consultant or have a background in that, but you've changed your path to something that's more of a passion. So why don't we start by going into a little bit about who you are and, and, and your story.

0:14:11.5 Ngozika Okeke: Okay, perfect. Well first off, thank you for having me. I'm super excited to do this. You guys are Great. So I guess the story starts just at a marketing firm in Arkansas. That's where I'm from and I... Basically, right after undergrad, I waited... I took a little bit of time in between undergrad and grad school to work a bit in my field, which was amazing that I found something right off the bat because that usually like never happens. But I was at a marketing firm and doing multicultural ad work. It was a really good job. I really thought that was a great career starter. But somewhere in between there, I just kind of decided that I wanted to get serious about the fashion that I was already doing part-time. So I wanted to figure out a way to do that where it wouldn't be any turbulence to kind of leave one career and start another. And also you have these little things called bills that are pretty important so I wanted to make sure that those stayed paid as well. But I pretty much just made the transition to designing by just doing it part-time and getting the brand placed in boutiques just locally and for a while that actually worked for me, for a few years, and then I try to... Kind of slowly transitioned out of marketing and that led up to my relocation to LA in 2013 and the rest was kinda history after that.

0:15:43.5 MH: So what were you doing before? You said you were kind of dabbling in the fashion industry?

0:15:49.2 NO: Yeah, so I actually did print modeling when I was really, really young.

0:15:51.7 MH: Really?

0:15:53.8 NO: Like basic, I know. It was really an interesting time. It's like going junior high school and then leaving school for a photo shoot. Yeah, it was interesting but I did like a few things and a few magazines just locally. I think we did a commercial, I think that eventually went national for a split second. So it was a really... I was already kind of in the fashion industry just a bit, but once I... Once I grew up and decided to kind of forge my own path, it's funny how it just kind of came back around full circle. So yeah, it was already kind of like I had a toe in the fashion pool and then once I kind of figured out what I wanted to do, it just kinda came back to me in a sense.

0:16:35.6 MH: And this is fascinating. And like when you were modeling and younger, especially when you were, you know, in high school or in school, what was that like? What was the culture around it for you? And did it make any impact on how you saw yourself?

0:16:52.9 NO: I think at the time, especially growing up in Arkansas as an African little girl, I'm also very dark-skinned so at the time it wasn't really, for lack of a better word, cool to look like me, right? So I feel like print modeling kind of ushered in this new wave of confidence for me as a kid that was still kind of building that healthy self image that everyone should have. So in a way, it did a lot for me. It basically transformed the way I saw myself and like, "Okay, my beauty... I have unique beauty," and you can be beautiful if you don't look like the typical whatever you see on TV or in the magazines right now. So as far as that, it was actually a great confidence builder for me but also it kind of saw or it allowed me to see how, I guess, how the world worked, right?

0:17:41.5 NO: Because we did, a lot of projects at home in Arkansas, but then it was a few times where we flew out to New York and did work as well. And so of course, my mom, agents, everyone went with me so it wasn't like I was left to my own devices or just kind of out but it was really interesting to learn how just kind of at a very early age between... At this point between elementary and junior high, how to sort of interact right with adults, how to have the confidence to do that, how to just kind of know just where you belong. And I just kind of realized you belong everywhere you want to be. So that for me was a huge, huge part of just kind of my self-image, self-confidence, and just kind of gave me the confidence to walk through life, in a way that otherwise I probably would not have.

0:18:33.0 MH: I think we have an episode title here, you belong anywhere you want to be.

0:18:35.8 NO: Yes.

0:18:36.6 MH: I love that so much. And actually, you're pricing it with your answer 'cause when you think about modeling and you see it on... I'm going from what I see on TV, basically but It sounds like it could be a very... It is a very cut-throat environment and that you can...

0:18:54.4 NO: Oh, for sure.

0:18:55.5 MH: Your confidence can get hurt and here, for you, it was a builder, it built you up. And I think that's so great that you were able to put that instead of saying, there's not people who look like me, who are in the space. It's like, "Oh, I am unique, I have a unique beauty and I deserve to be here." And I wish we could all have that, that confidence that you have. I'm fascinated.

0:19:25.7 NO: You know, and that's not to say that it didn't change over the years, that it didn't go up and gown and up and down, such is life, right? But I feel like I... Considering where I started, again, kind of being in the position that I was in in the South at that time, it definitely gave me the confidence I needed to get through the years, the formative years, if you will in such a way, again, that I probably would not have had it not been for that opportunity, so yeah.

0:20:01.0 MH: And I'm sure... So you went through this part where you... Again, you were a person that looked different than what was a norm and then became an entrepreneur in an industry that is also, I mean, pretty pale and stale.

0:20:21.2 NO: Yeah.


0:20:22.6 MH: How did that... That confidence you got of like, I belong wherever I wanna be, is sort of how... How did that push you forward in starting your own business and actually going from, I'm doing this thing in marketing but I'm really passionate about this other thing...

0:20:41.3 NO: Right.

0:20:42.6 MH: Let me go... Let me take that jump?

0:20:44.7 NO: You know what? Now that I think about it, I think that it was a mixture between just a little bit of naivete and a little bit of confidence and a bit of audacity to just believe that I could do this thing, right? That I hadn't seen anyone else on from when I was from at the time. I feel like it was a combination of all those things. And somehow, some way, it just kind of all made sense to me at the time. Even now, what? 14 years later, I can't even say that I would have made some of the same decisions as I did then when I was trying to get things started up but it was just kind of the right things, the right combination of things at the right time, I'll say, it just kinda worked out.

0:21:33.2 MH: What do you think was the biggest mistake you made?

0:21:35.1 NO: Ooh. Probably trying to start things and do everything myself. It took me a while to kind of be okay with delegating, with building a team, with being okay with not being there for every single step of the process. So I know now that as long as you know how things work, as long as you know your business, you don't have to be and you cannot be, depending on how large you wanna grow your company, you can't be there all the time for every single step of every process. You have to be okay with kind of letting people do what they're good at and that's another thing, kind of recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses, and being okay with letting someone that's really good at something that you're really bad at or just not so great at, take over that. I think had I learned that, I don't know, 10 years ago, I would have... I think, for sure, for sure, the business could have been in a completely different position but you live and you learn...

0:22:37.9 MH: It's hard to let go of all the things when you're... Especially when you're starting something and you're so passionate about it, right?

0:22:48.0 NO: Absolutely.

0:22:48.9 MH: And for you, it's not just fashion that you're passionate about, you wanted to tie fashion with philanthropy and with social entrepreneurship. Can you tell me a little bit about how that works in your company?

0:22:58.7 NO: Yeah, so basically right now, I just give a portion, whatever that is gonna be, to organizations that work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Being a survivor myself very early on in my kind of entrepreneur journey, I suppose, just kind of going through the process that you have to go through a recovery, whether it's medical, hospital, therapy, anything like that, I just kind of noticed as a person, that at the time, I would consider myself in a really privileged place at the time because I was at university, so I had access to a lot of resources that I know a lot of women just don't typically have had this happen to them outside, just in the real world, so to speak or outside of the blanket of university protection, I should say.

0:23:55.1 NO: So I noticed just the disparities and the resources available and I was just thinking like, this is not okay. So I thought for a while what I could do to actually kind of do something a little more than just sharing a link or saying something about something on... Just on my platform. And I guess the most effective way I found to do so was to actually give money directly to these organizations that I see them doing the work. I can go and sit down and have a meeting and they can even go as far as to pull out the accounting sheet and show you where exactly they need funding, and it's just with the government regulations rolling back their grants like literally year by year, it's just really, really unfortunate that the services that could be provided had they had adequate funding, will not be for so many other survivors. And in considering that this is something that happens every 30 seconds, whether it's sexual assault, domestic abuse, whatever, it's something that is...

0:25:13.3 NO: In a way, the demand for it is inelastic because it's been happening and unfortunately, it's happening now, and people need help. They need those services. And I don't know where, honestly, the trajectory of my life would have gone had I not had the support of a team of basically people that pool together to help me after my situation so... Yeah.

0:25:38.7 MH: Wow, that's... I mean, the fact that you took a situation that was hard for you, that was complicated, that was, I mean...

0:25:51.7 NO: For sure.

0:25:52.1 MH: I can't imagine...

0:25:53.9 NO: Yeah.

0:25:54.7 MH: And turned it into, how do you support others just says a lot about you and I just wanted to say that 'cause you are helping a lot of people.

0:26:04.4 NO: Thank you. Yeah, I feel like it's... Every little bit helps. My brand, it's not a multi-million dollar conglomerate but...

0:26:11.8 MH: Every dollar helps.

0:26:15.8 NO: Yeah, literally every penny helps, every dollar helps. If it's a couple of thousand dollars a month, if it's a couple of hundred dollars a month, whatever, it's enough to pay for, let's say, a therapy session or it's enough to pay for an assault kit at a hospital, or if it... Just whatever it is, it doesn't matter. I feel like every dollar helps literally.

0:26:34.3 MH: And is it right? Every 30 seconds?

0:26:37.8 NO: Yeah, it's like gut wrenching how often these things happen but that's also putting two issues together, right? So sexual assault is one thing but then the domestic abuse is another. So if you just take into account both instances and just put them together, I wanna say it's between 30 to 45 seconds or something like that. It's not even... Yeah, that's insane.

0:27:03.4 MH: Wow. That is so disheartening.

0:27:06.5 NO: It is.

0:27:07.5 MH: But it is heartening to know that there are people who are doing this the way you're doing it. And how did you decide to do it through your business instead of just saying, me as Ngozika will donate X amount every year?

0:27:26.5 NO: Yeah, I think it was because I felt like the only thing at the time that kind of made things make sense for me after everything just kind of happened and the dust settled was sitting on the floor, cutting fabric, making patterns, making dresses. And so it was just kind of like a light bulb like, "Oh, well, I still want to do this so I should find a way to attach a piece to the business so that if my brand really does take off and it does become a household fashion name or whatever in the future, then this can be one of the first high-end fashion houses that have a philanthropic piece attached to it, period." And that was just... That just kind of became division, that became the goal.

0:28:18.2 MH: You're doing this philanthropic efforts, but you're also bringing stuff from your background, from Nigeria, from other cultural elements also to the brand that make it richer in a way.

0:28:33.0 NO: Yeah, yeah, so I try to... I don't consider... I know how some collections or some brands are specifically, they work with on Ankara material to pay a direct owe to our culture as Africans, and I think that's amazing but I feel like the things that I design kind of run the gamut. So if I feel inspired to make pieces that incorporate that, that's exactly what I do and then if I don't, then I don't do those. But I kind of keep myself open to the creation process when it comes to that, and one thing that just made so much sense was back in 2020, I had a bunch of Ankara material still here in the studio, and I decided to do face masks out of the material, and it just so happens that they went viral, and I thought that was amazing, because not only did I get a chance to sort of educate people on Ankara material and the time and the skill that it takes so many people in different countries in Africa to create these materials, but it was also a way of sort of bringing people together at a time when people were so isolated, right? So I just think that it was a really good... Again, I feel like it just kind of fell into place and it made sense, and I go with that a lot, whatever makes sense.


0:29:56.7 MH: I like that though. That's a good way to go with things.

0:29:58.4 NO: Yeah, right?

0:30:01.8 MH: And the masks are... They're beautiful. I was looking at them on your site.

0:30:04.7 NO: Thank you.

0:30:05.6 MH: Also, I have to say, I want to get everything on the Comfy collection. That jump suit looks like I would wear it and never wanna take it off.

0:30:15.2 NO: I love it and that's so funny because that's like the number one selling piece from that collection and that's exactly the emotion I wanted to invoke with it.

0:30:23.9 MH: Yeah, I was checking and I am like, the colors are in my size and it seems like they're sold out.

0:30:30.4 NO: So we're gonna do a restock soon, just to throw it out there but yes.

0:30:36.4 MH: They're really, really, really beautiful.

0:30:39.8 NO: Thank you.

0:30:42.9 MH: And I'm a true believer that brands that stand for something, that come back to their consumers, trying to give something to their community, trying to do something for the world, are brands worth it, brands worth supporting and I think that that's very, very clear in what you're doing.

0:31:02.2 NO: Yes.

0:31:05.2 MH: How have these last few years really or months... How has it been for you as an entrepreneur navigating the pandemic, then inflation, then we're in middle of waiting for recession?

0:31:20.8 NO: Yeah.

0:31:23.3 MH: It's not an easy time. So how have you navigated it?

0:31:29.1 NO: So I think mine started probably, like I mentioned during quarantine, I just started off because everyone was basically just at home. So I started off making face masks and donating them to nursing homes initially, and then once they started with the shortage, then we started getting filters and then I started making them then, and then I said, Okay, if I can sell one, then I can donate one, that kind of thing. So did it, it went viral, I think on Twitter, I don't even really use Twitter that often so I had no clue where it was coming from at first but that just kind of turned into just a whirlwind. And again, it was right on time because at the time, there were so many seamstresses that were out of work, because all of the fashion houses in LA, in the fashion district, had shut down, no one could work, everyone was home. So basically, we just created a chain of people to sew at home, and I think at the height of the production, I was full-time employing, I think 21 people, and I just could not believe it. Because for me, that was huge, right?

0:32:46.1 MH: It is. For someone who's... For starting a business. At Ellevate, we're less than that.

0:32:50.6 NO: Yeah, so it was just like, Oh my gosh. And that was amazing. We were able to make sure that everyone had income obviously to pay bills and stuff, and just make sure things didn't get too, too crazy, which I know that was a time where things were just not great for a lot of people but it just kind of... The chips just fell into place. It was another one of those times where it just happened and I was just like, Oh my gosh, this is so crazy but that kind of sustained us throughout 2020 and then 2021, and I feel like now, the kind of recession is hitting the independent designers and independent artists here in the fashion community in LA, now it's kind of hitting us. So now, it's like, Okay, what do we do? And now it's kind of a regrouping and we're trying to figure it out, everyone is pooling together whatever resources and or going back to contract work, so there's a lot of things that you can do on set. So I'm a designer that actually sews, right? So I do a lot for music, video productions and a lot of tailoring. So it's a little bit of... You have to get creative once things slow down a bit, but the work is still pretty much the same, and then I feel like you can always feed yourself as long as you have a tangible skill. So we'll see what happens. We're just all trying to ride it out.

0:34:20.4 MH: What kind of support system or support network are you leaning on right now? You talk about the artists in LA, it seems like it's kind of a community of people trying to navigate this time.

0:34:33.2 NO: Yeah, so it's... That's one thing I could say about LA specifically in the Art District, the artist district, the fashion district, it's so many creative people here, and LA is huge, but LA is also very small as far as the industry is concerned. So you just kind of get to know. When you're a fashion designer, you need other designers, you meet the stylist, you meet the entertainers, you meet the people that are behind the scenes for like your favorite TV productions so it's all sort of a community. There are Facebook groups, there are text threads, email threads, and everyone pooling together resources to say like, Oh yeah, well, I know this production needs a new wardrobe person for the next six months, so it's like they'll send that out or, I know so and so is looking for... I don't know, a new wardrobe for their European tour right now, so here's their info, contact them. So it's like the resources are vast, you just have to get plugged into a community, plugged into a network. And I think it's very, very helpful if you could do that, for sure.

0:35:37.6 MH: Yeah, I 100% believe in... Clearly, I work at Ellevate, but I do believe in surrounding yourself with people that can help...

0:35:45.5 NO: Yes.

0:35:47.0 MH: And also giving back, right, to helping as well and building that community and we never do anything alone, that's a reality.

0:35:54.8 NO: Absolutely.

0:35:56.7 MH: What else was I... Oh, so I did wanna mention this, I did wanna ask you about this 'cause I was a huge Project Runway fan and a fan of all of these design shows, and I know you're were in one.


0:36:14.2 NO: Yes.

0:36:15.4 MH: Tell me about that experience please 'cause I am so curious of how that goes.

0:36:22.6 NO: Yeah. So, you know, Project Runway so that's like the reality show design competition. So I don't know if they do it on every single season but I know there's been a few seasons where they have like an unconventional materials challenge where the designers... Yeah, they'll have to make something out of something that's not normal fabric or something. So basically, the show that I did is called Design genius, and it's produced, filmed, everything in the Philippines and they basically... The entire competition is the non-traditional fabrics.

0:37:00.3 MH: Oh my God.

0:37:02.0 NO: Yeah. So it was really, really interesting. Yeah, we did Season 3 of the show and that season was designers that were all based in Los Angeles. So it was really, really nice because the first two seasons they did, it was designers from all over the world, and I think they started with between eight and 10 designers for each season, and then of course, throughout the week, they narrow it down to the winner, and it was a really... Definitely a live training experience, I would say, probably one of the most significant experiences in my what? 15 year design career now, because not only did we get a chance to participate on a competitive reality show that was basically just based on what we brought to the table as far as skill, but we got a chance to meet other designers from other areas of design that I feel like in fashion, in LA, you kind of typically only meet the people that are in your particular sector, but during that show, I met cosplayers that were fashion designers and they only make costumes, or I met wedding dress designers that only did wedding dresses and they are ready to wear, I met men's wear.

0:38:17.1 NO: It was really interesting. Nerve-racking, yes, because you're having to sew these things in three or four hours on the clock, on the camera, and it's not even normal material, so there was a lot of sweating, a lot of running around, a lot of seams flying. It was very, very interesting. A really good experience though, I enjoyed every second of it.

0:38:45.6 MH: What was the weirdest thing you used?

0:38:48.1 NO: Oh, probably Easter basket grass. You know that stuff that's in the Easter baskets?


0:38:58.9 MH: Oh my God, what did you do with that?

0:39:03.4 NO: I think that was a partner challenge too so we made like a prom dress or something. If I can find the pictures, I'll definitely send it over.

0:39:09.4 MH: Please and we'll post them.

0:39:11.6 NO: Yes, I will. And that's so funny 'cause now I'm thinking like, "Where are those photos?" I don't think it aired in the States, but it aired in different countries in Asia and Europe, so it's an international show, it's really interesting to get emails every now and then when it's starts airing again from people all over the world and they're just like, "Oh my gosh, I saw you on design jeans, I love your work. Blah, blah, blah. I love it, will you just come here and do a tour?" It's just like, "Oh my gosh, I don't know." But it's... To know that it's out there and that people are inspired by creatives that they see take a chance, and then we all like... We got our own platforms on issues on what we were really passionate about so also just bringing awareness to those issues that we feel most passionate, I think that was just one platform to bring awareness to some of... Yeah.

0:40:06.5 MH: That's amazing. And I feel like a theme here with you of being an example and an inspiration to others, right?

0:40:17.9 NO: Yeah.

0:40:19.8 MH: You weren't... Again, in the modeling space, then in building your business, and in giving back, and also putting yourself out there that people could see, "I could do this. I've never thought about this, and this is something that seems like it would be great, you inspired me to do that."

0:40:37.5 NO: Yeah.

0:40:38.0 MH: And I can say that's really, really, really amazing.

0:40:40.8 NO: Yeah, well, thank you, I appreciate it. I'm just kind of doing my thing, trying to figure it out.


0:40:47.0 MH: And that's the best way. You're doing your thing and then it's the impact that that thing has.

0:40:52.1 NO: Absolutely.

0:40:55.0 MH: So we always end our sessions or our recordings with a lightning round, so I'm gonna ask you questions back to back and you have to answer in a sentence or less.

0:41:11.5 NO: Okay.

0:41:11.9 MH: Okay? Okay. Cool. They're easy, don't worry. Okay. Introvert or extrovert?

0:41:15.9 NO: Introvert.

0:41:18.9 MH: Really? I wouldn't...

0:41:19.4 NO: I know it's...the brain maybe because I feel like I am definitely a social butterfly when I need to be but it's crazy because then I have to come home and be here for five days to kind of recharge.

0:41:35.3 MH: I'm the same way.

0:41:36.0 NO: I don't know.

0:41:36.7 MH: I understand.

0:41:38.4 NO: Yeah. Right.

0:41:40.4 MH: Yeah. Early bird or night owl?

0:41:43.1 NO: Night owl.

0:41:43.2 MH: The same here. Dream dinner guest?

0:41:49.6 NO: Oprah.

0:41:55.7 MH: Yeah, that would make... She would make a great dinner guest.


0:42:00.8 MH: What is your top self-care practice?

0:42:07.6 NO: Sleep.

0:42:09.2 MH: Sleep?

0:42:12.2 NO: Yeah, sleep.

0:42:12.3 MH: Getting your eight hours?

0:42:12.3 NO: Yeah, I rarely do, but I think that's become a biggie though, trying to at least get it.

0:42:19.6 MH: Okay. And finally, what's one question or thought you'd want to leave with our listeners?

0:42:33.9 NO: One thought. I would say do the thing or the things that feel good to you in the pit of your stomach. A lot of times, we do things that we think we're supposed to do or we do things because we see other people doing them and we assume we should do them as well, or we do things because we've been doing it for so long, and we think we can't do anything else, but do the thing that feels good to you in the pit of your stomach. You know. You know what that is, so do that.

0:43:14.3 MH: Oh, my God, that is great advice actually. Thank you so much.

0:43:21.1 NO: Absolutely.

0:43:21.2 MH: This has been a lot of fun.

0:43:22.1 NO: Yes, it has.


0:43:31.3 MH: So JP, what did you think?

0:43:32.6 JP: That was incredible. I wanna be her friend.

0:43:35.6 MH: I do too. We had so much fun taping that interview.

0:43:40.5 JP: Yeah, I can tell. You did great, by the way.

0:43:43.3 MH: Oh, thank you. I really enjoyed doing the podcast interviews, I'm not gonna lie, I get to meet such incredible people and you're all so fun, and I really enjoy how with Ngozika how the conversation just flowed so I hope guys enjoyed it too.

0:44:00.8 JP: Yeah, it was great and I loved that it's a hard topic and hard things to talk about, but it's all done with respect and awareness and it's important to hear.

0:44:15.8 MH: Yeah, so if you wanna come and join us for a round table or two this week, entrepreneurs are meeting on Thursdays at 4:00 PM, and they are going to be networking in an open networking hour, I guess, an open forum. So if you're an entrepreneur, if you're looking to start your business, if you're even dis-considering starting and going on your own, I would highly suggest you come and meet the amazing entrepreneurs of Ellevate, who I'm sure will inspire you and have your back and give you all the advice that you need. What's going on with the rising leaders JP?

0:44:56.8 JP: Yeah, so the risen leaders roundtables meet every Thursday at noon, I'll be there every week. And this week on the 8th, I'm really excited for, it's about finding your zone of genius, so if you're someone who feels stuck about your next move, you know that there's something else out there and you want to get there but don't know how, this will be a great topic for you and I'm really excited for it because our host or our guest speaker is Sophia Patus who is actually going to be our regular host for the holding space for Latina and Hispanic women at Ellevate, so that is launching on September 20th, which I'm really excited about. I'm gonna be at those as well. So this week you can meet Sophia before those get started, I hope to see you all there. And then after that, on September 15th, the round table horizon leaders is hosted by Kelly Nolan about setting boundaries at work to protect your time and your sanity, which I'm sure so many of us can relate to because it's so easy to get focused on your job and you're doing hard work and you wanna do the best you can, and it's hard to break out of it sometimes but necessary. So if that sounds like you, I hope to see you there.

0:46:20.0 MH: Yeah, I wanna join both of these. Sophia is amazing. I met her at some of our executive round tables. She's really, really, really great. We were in a breakout room together and I was so excited, I'm like, "Oh, my God, you're gonna be hosting our holding space for Latinx community." And I will also be in this, JP. I'm very excited to meet more of the community.

0:46:43.2 JP: Yeah, as for me too.

0:46:45.3 MH: And to celebrate our history makers this week, Nonkululeko Nyembezi is the first Black woman named as chairman for Standard Bank, Africa's biggest lender.

0:47:01.2 JP: Jenna Carson became the first female military chaplain endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

0:47:10.6 MH: Martiza Chan-Valverde became Costa Rica's first woman Ambassador to the United Nations.

0:47:17.8 JP: Jaqui Rice Gold launched GOAT Fuel, the first Black-owned energy drink.

0:47:20.8 MH: Shannon Bream will become the first woman anchor of Fox News Sunday.

0:47:27.1 JP: And Captain Elizabeth Somerville became the Navy's first woman to command naval test wing Atlantic.

0:47:32.0 MH: Congratulations to all of our history and makers, and if you have anything you wanna celebrate with us, let us know. Send us an email, hit us up on social media, we're happy to celebrate with you. And next week, we are back to one of Christie's interviews. She is gonna be talking to Poppy McDonald. Poppy McDonald is the president of USAFacts. She previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Political USA, publisher of The National Journal and partner at galloping. So join us next week for a conversation with Poppy.

0:48:07.6 JP: Can't wait to hear that one. I think it will be really interesting.

0:48:10.0 MH: I think so too. See you next week.

0:48:14.4 Outro: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter at ellevatentwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's And special thanks to our producer, Katherine Heller, she rocks, and to our voice over artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.