Alumni Spotlight: Valerie Michael-éfe, Entrepreneurship ’13, Fashion Design ’11

Valerie Michael-éfe

Business Class
Valerie Michael-éfe
Entrepreneurship ’13, Fashion Design ’11

You’re in the first graduating class of FIT’s Entrepreneurship program. What was your favorite course? In our sixth semester, we worked in groups to create a business plan—financials, marketing, everything. Everyone in my group had a design background, so we learned a lot. For example, a profitable business can be ruined by cash-flow problems. Also, how do you get customers? That’s the big hurdle.

What’s the secret? The secret is to know your art, and have the experience to prove it.

You seem pretty confident. Do you have a business background? My mother was a serial entrepreneur in Nigeria, where I’m from. Now she owns a poultry farm, but she once had a baking business, and I was her accountant. After a few years, I told her I wanted to start my own fashion business. But in Nigeria, no one in the business environment will listen to you unless you have a degree.

What got you interested in fashion? My mother was a fashion designer, too. She made women’s wear—head wraps, tops, wrappers in wax-resist fabrics. In Africa, we like a lot of colors, prints, and details. For the best things you wear there, men and women, the tops are always lace. That’s why I love lace.

So will you make evening wear? No, luxury outerwear and rainwear. I’m getting together specially made Italian fabrics that I’ve researched during my internship at Brioni, the high-end Italian company. Some are layered and treated to make them waterproof.

What have you learned at Brioni? I work with the retail planner and analyst. They plan what goes into each store and constantly analyze data to know what is happening in sales across the U.S. It’s a lot of numbers work and Excel. Before this, I didn’t know how to analyze data to learn how much profit you’re making.

Is this your best internship? I learned something important at all of them. For Michael Kors, I did technical design. At Zegna, I learned how important inventory is. I did publicity for Irina Shabayeva, the season six Project Runway winner. With Zac Posen, I did patternmaking. He was a nice guy, very quiet.

And soon you’ll have an atelier of your own. What’s your aesthetic? For the 2011 student fashion show, I made overalls with shorts and a hood, and glitter and lace, and I won a critic’s award. I want my clothes to be art. I don’t care if they’re wearable. I want people to look at them and say, “How did she do that?”

Michael-éfe wears a jacket from her collection, OSO-EFE (it means “rain” in Isoko, a language spoken in Nigeria). See the line at osoefe.com.

This Alumni Spotlight originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Hue magazine.

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