By CHRISTINE ONWUACHUMBA
As part of activities that ushered in the 18th National Sports Festival in Lagos, a beauty contest, Miss Eko Beauty Pageant was launched, where Grace Ekeoma, a young fashion designer niched the crown. Grace first got into the world of fashion as a 15-year-old, working in an industry that appreciated very tall girls. With her 5 8” height, she broke the mould and found success on runway and more opportunities along the way. In an interview with Saturday Sun, she explains how her life has changed after winning the crown.
Are you still basking in the euphoria of being Miss Eko 2012?
Yes, it is still overwhelming to me.
What was your first reaction when you won?
I was really surprised, because I was not expecting it. There were very pretty girls there, and then, I went there not just as a contestant but to have fun. So, the winning really surprised me.
How do you feel now?
I still feel surprised. And I feel great.
What do you like most about Lagos?
I like the renovation going on. First and foremost, I like the governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola and then every other thing that he is doing, like the renovation, the development and others.
What did you love most about the contest?
I’d say I love the house where we were camped. It was very comfortable. Then, the girls. I had some really good friends there.
What other things interests you?
At present, I am doing fashion design. I have a great passion for fashion. I am also into modelling. Aside modelling, I am also grooming models. I have just started my own modelling agency that I intend to take to the top.
Could you please tell us about your fashion business?
The traditional outfit I wore at the Miss Eko competition was personally designed by me. The beads and the Edo outfit too were also designed by me. I make English shirts, modern clothes mixed with traditional. I so much love to try out innovations with the ankara. They are fun to work with. I am also planning of going to a fashion school so as to take it to the next level.
Do you make all the outfits you wear?
Yes, like what I am wearing now and most of the ones my classmates wear. I have lots of customers in my class. My family wears my outfit and then recently my programme in church the just concluded WAFBEC 2013, I designed some very nice ankara WAFBEC tops and they were really good.
Why do you prefer ankara fabrics?
It is not just ankara. I love anything and everything traditional and African. It doesn’t really necessary has to be ankara, if it is African, our African prints, ankara, wudin, akosombo and aso-oke. I use anything that has a traditional feel, because I believe that they make one stand out.
How has your life changed after you won this contest?
It has changed in a lot of ways. I have not really experienced any negative response from people except the ones I expected. Let me talk about the good side, I hate to dwell on negativity. Life has been easy for me. I didn’t use to drive before, but now I can sit in my car comfortably and go anywhere I want. I have also been financially rewarding. Things are easier now. I can buy stuffs with my money. It’s good.
What does this crown represent for you?
I think it presents some form of prominence.
Are there opportunities it has provided you with?
I have not seen anything yet. In my modelling career, it will definitely boost my profile. I could be called upon by some movie directors to come and do some roles which I could have struggled for if I wasn’t a queen. Then if I was to embark on a pet project, I believe I would get the attention of the governor faster than if I were just an ordinary girl.
What sports activities do you engage in?
I love swimming and volleyball.
Were you able to do these during the contest?
No. The only thing we did during the contest was serious aerobics, exercising, body fitness and they were really intense. By 5 am, we were up jogging around the building. We had a gym instructor that was putting us through body fitness tips. Then we had people from Cway that came to teach us about our body and why water is good for the body. Everything centered around exercising.
What was your winning strategy?
I don’t think I had a winning strategy. My winning strategy was God. I just feel no matter how much physical effort you put into anything, if there is no grace in that journey, if God is not the G-factor of your race, you are going no where. So, number one, the first strategy so-to say was grace. I had a lot of grace on me, and then I had God’s mercy. Then I didn’t forget where I was coming from. I am from a very strong religious background, apart from that, I made sure I said my prayers in the morning. And then I participated fully in every of the house activities, I made sure I was of good behaviour. Because that was also part of the judgment. And then I read a lot, some of my contestants were always laughing at me because I was always reading. I did researches on current affairs, global warming and all the burning issues in the society, questions that I felt would likely be asked. I learnt some new things that I didn’t know before. So, when we came to the question-and-answer part, I was ready. I thank God for the questions I was asked. It wasn’t very difficult though it was brain-tasking. They asked me questions on education. You know, there is something about reading, it prepares you, and it makes you more alert mentally.
How did your family feel about your joining the contest?
I have 100 per cent of their consent. After thanking God, I thank my family. They have always been with me. I started modelling since 2008. Whether good or bad, whether money is coming or not, they have always been watching my back. I had so much love from them, support and prayer. I am happy that they are very proud of me. They have always been there, praying for me and making sure that I never deviated from what I am.
What was the most unnerving part of the contest?
It was the question and answer segment. Our first outing was to show case designer outfit. The second outing was a choreography and the third one was in our traditional outfit and then the question and answer segment. That was what really made everyone nervous, even though I had a bit of confidence because I read. I was a bit uncertain but I knew God would see me through.
Did you ever think you would win?
I had faith, I was never negative. I just had this thing in my heart, I always believe that anywhere you are and you have peace of mind there is always prosperity. I went there with a peace of mind. I didn’t go there to compete with anybody. I went there to experience it. From what I know, peace of mind always brings prosperity. And then I had faith. I never stopped praying. I wasn’t even praying to win; I was just praying that God should have his way. And God had his way.
As a non-indigene of the state, did you ever think you had any chance?
The number one thing I considered in my mind was that Governor Fashola and the pageant crew did not have the mindset of tribalism. The fact that I even got a chance to come in for the audition gave me the confidence that it is not a Yoruba pageant; it’s a Lagos pageant. I am an Igbo girl from Abia State and this is Miss Eko, so I didn’t feel less of myself entering the contest. I just felt this is my place. I was born here and I know so many things here. And of course, I know that the leader we have is not tribalistic.
What was your relationship with the other contestants?
I was friendly with them. In fact, I have a lot of them as trustworthy friends.
Were you the Miss Congeniality?
No. But then I was the best dancer. I was on the funny side, because most of the stuff we did I played with them. As we had a cake competition, I was just laughing and everything they saw about me was fun. They saw that I was there for fun so they related with me on that level. Nobody was too serious with me. I just took everyone as my friend and as sisters. I didn’t portray any form of arrogance or competitiveness.
How are you handling the success and the fame that comes with this crown?
The truth is sometimes I even forget that I am Miss Eko. Apart from the fact that I have a crown, I have a car and other things, I still feel the same: my friends are still my friends; my classmates are still my classmates. It hasn’t made me feel that anyone is less than they have always been. It hasn’t made me feel that I am more than anybody. I just feel that I am just lucky to have won the crown. It could have been anybody. It’s an opportunity and I think God wants me to use it with humility.
What do you hope to achieve during your tenure?
I want to let young girls know of this fact. When I was going to come for Miss Eko, people were telling me that all these pageants already have their winners. They also said that you have to sleep with a man before you could win and that after winning, that some people would want you to be their girlfriend. I was told point blank that I was not going to win. They kept on discouraging me. But, I did not hearken to all those things. What am trying to say is that you don’t have to mess yourself up or sleep with anybody. If it comes to you sleeping with someone, then you don’t deserve what you are pursuing. If I can win it on merit, then any other girl can do same. I did not sleep my way to the top. If you know what you want, go for it and don’t allow anybody to discourage you. Go for it the right way. There is nothing as good as your peace. When you make it and people are saying that you deserve it, it is better. When you have something and you don’t have the confidence to run with it, it is useless. Really youths are the leaders of tomorrow. And the way things are happening, ladies are becoming smarter and standing up to their responsibilities. They are going to school and no longer settles as housewives. I want to show girls that entrepreneurship is very important in this our fast-growing economy. You have to either belong or you will be lost in the crowd. So, if you want to stand out, you have to come out so that people would know you. You have to do it the right way. Integrity is priceless. There is nothing as sweet as integrity. Pursue integrity with all diligence.