It’s been nearly 24 hours since I emailed Rachel (Temi’s Project Manager), requesting we shoot her as I’d seen she was in Lagos on her Snapchat and Instagram Story. Temi and I had never met before her shoot with us. In fact, all I knew about her was gleaned from her Snapchat, Insta Stories, her blog and the little our mutual friend had shared of their loving memories whenever he went to England. Social Media, you see, has played a magnanimous role in positioning Temi as not just a fashion darling but an influencer. Girls want to be like her and boys want to be her friend too. Temi has a huge following with tens of thousands of engagement per post—but we all know that don’t we? Just like the fact that she isn’t just Temi, but Temi Otedola, a billion-dollar-heiress, sister to Cuppy, and now, girlfriend to one of the biggest players in the Afrobeats game – Mr Eazi.
But that’s as far as our knowledge goes, really, and ignoring all the things previously stated, she is completely independent of all these figures in her life!
For some strange reason, I was sure Rachel would reply my email with a ‘Sorry, Temi is unavailable to shoot now,’ or say something about how it was such short-notice, which I would have understood. After all, I had sent an email a day into her Lagos trip and knew she was only here for three more days.
The idea of shooting Temi for A Nasty Boy came to me naturally because I have always been intrigued by her. Again, we all know the narrative: Temi Otedola, a billion-dollar-heiress, sister to DJ Cuppy and now, girlfriend to one of the biggest players in the Afrobeats music game – Mr Eazi. However, what I and a slew of other people had failed to see was a totally independent, proudly feminist and issues-driven Temi, who, beyond her family and love interests, is a complete woman. A woman who features in the stories of those closest to her heart but, is very much the leading lady of a life that is entirely hers. A tale, completely absent of any of these figures, and a virtual empire which she has built from the ground-up all by herself, at just 21!
I eventually resolved that Rachel would say no, and Temi will return to England without us shooting her. But that did not happen. She was very punctual to Temple Muse, the venue of our shoot, wearing a Topshop crop-top, Natasha Zinko trackies, Chanel slippers wielding a Balenciaga bag which she confessed belonged to her mum. Her skin was extremely smooth, silky smooth and glowy, I still find myself lost in the faces of women around me looking for a semblance of that same reflection. I can still recount the entire shoot from the beginning to the end, but what struck me the hardest was how feminist Temi is. I had no idea. Not the slightest!
I remember sharing a few captions we were considering for this cover— Temi, 21, Female and Unreservedly Outspoken, was top on our list. I was excited about the title, I thought she would too, but Temi replied “Could it be proudly female? or if there’s another word to use other than female. Don’t really like that word, as ‘woman’ is the actual word.” I wasn’t sure how to feel, why was she against the word female? Until she mentioned it and until I did a little bit of research, I didn’t know that the word ‘female’ could be used in a derogatory manner. (A little education: The word female is not wrong for the sake of it, but because the word female is a scientific term that refers to the sex of a species that is capable of producing children, while the term woman refers specifically to human beings. Reducing a woman to her reproductive abilities is dehumanising and exclusionary because nobody casually refers to men as males, and because it is most often used to convey inferiority or contempt, according to this BuzzFeed article.) This one lesson, among many others during the span of my time with Temi, really solidified my respect for her. The 21-year-old woman building an international brand as a fashion influencer and autism awareness advocate!
The following interview took place during our shoot at Temple Muse—and a series of WhatsApp recordings in-between Temi’s trip from London to Miami, Florida.
How would you describe some of your run-ins with everyday sexism in London and Lagos—the two cities that have defined your youth the most?
I would say that sexism is still a big big issue in both the UK and in Nigeria, and I think the main issue is everyday sexism, but there are different issues on both accounts. I would say, in Nigeria, sexism is a lot more in your face and people are more brazen about it, and just the way women are seen as inferior in society. Whereas, in the UK, it is still catcalling, general disrespect in certain fields of work—and it really is a shame, because, there is a long way to go and you’d think in 2017 we’d be there. But, I do have hope with all the resistance and the rise of feminism we have seen, I am really excited about what could happen and hopefully, women can get the equality we deserve.
Just hearing you talk about feminism really gladdens my heart, in that sense, it does go without saying that women empowerment is an issue closest to your heart. How would you say you have been able to give back to young girls like yourself?
So, a really big passion I have – and a way that I am able to contribute to helping young women who want to work in fashion, particularly young ethnic minorities living in the diaspora, is through my initiative called ATIA—which stands for Afternoon Tea in Ankara. And every year, the fabric changes as do the facilitators. The aim of ATIA is to bring together young women of African descent who want to work in the fashion industry and have them come together for afternoon tea with established figures in the industry. These incredibly established women talk to the young girls and offer them bits of advice and inspiration, and a way to break into the fashion industry. It’s just amazing for them—I assume—to see these incredibly established and inspirational black women who are thriving in the fashion industry, and see them as a source of inspiration and see the path they took to get to where they are now.
That’s pretty impressive! I do also know that besides ATIA, Autism is also an issue incredibly dear to your heart. I read your very personal story on JTO Fashion some months ago where you shared your own personal experience with autism – having a brother on the spectrum, and how you all have lived with it. How do you plan on helping others lack the awareness (or understanding) about autism to live with it here in Nigeria?
A cause very close to my heart is raising awareness about autism in Nigeria—as I have a younger brother who I love very very dearly who is autistic. Although he grew up in England, we have definitely become aware of the lack of awareness people have for special needs children in Nigeria. Sadly, Autism is still a taboo subject, there needs to be more awareness on the issue just so people are educated on the day-to-day childhood challenges special needs children face. One of the things I hope to do is raise awareness through a visual project back in Nigeria. I’m really really excited to work with different charities and see what I can do to help children living with autism in Nigeria.
Truth be told, Nigeria is definitely experiencing a cultural renaissance, a lot of amazing things and people are literally popping every day, but even that suffers from the way we as a people and society view sexuality and difference. Honestly, what are your thoughts on this?
I would say that: although things are changing in Nigeria in terms of acceptance of all types of people, despite the ways they want to live their lives, in terms of how they view gender and sexuality. There is still a long way to go, and I do sympathise with the people who are dealing with these issues. They probably feel like their voices are not being heard, or they have to live in secret and I just think for a society to not let you be who you are, that’s really a big shame. It’s amazing that even this publication A Nasty Boy is giving people of different life experiences (and views) a platform to speak on these things. They are little steps, no doubt, and there’s still a long way to go, but I am excited to see things get better.
Blogging and digital content creation is a hard nut to crack for many people. So many of them invest so much time on Instagram, curating really great feeds and some manage blogs without knowing how to cross that threshold of being a part-time blogger (with no pay) to a blogger to gets paid for every thing they do, wear or say. How and when did you start monetizing your blog and socials?
It honestly took a while to start monetizing my blog—JTO Fashion. I would say it took about a-year-and-a-half to start getting posts that were paid for by brands, which is the end goal! It is otherwise not a suitable business and it is hard to sustain blogging yourself when there is no income coming in. I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten to the point where 90 percent of my posts are sponsored—and, these are sponsored posts from brands that I already love, so that’s really exciting for me.
How do you keep your followers engaged considering your high engagements?
I would say, the key to keeping your followers engaged is posting consistently on Instagram. You also have to keep the quality of the pictures very high, but on Snapchat and Twitter—it’s keeping it real. Snapchat isn’t an idealized version of your life, it is real life, what you are doing day-to-day or the none glam bits like face-masks, or when you are walking through pouring rain and funny things you see, just keep it real! But you want the quality of content on your blog and Instagram to be very good so brands are interested in working with you.
Nigeria is such an interesting country. The blatancy with gender-role expectations sometimes baffles me as a man. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be told you can’t do the things you love to do because you’re a woman, or be told to have to shrink yourself, lessen yourself for the men in your life or around you to not feel “emasculated.” How does that make you feel? Especially with how it plays out here in Nigeria.
I think there is a really big issue on the level of judgement we put on women versus men here in Nigeria. That’s a big issue! You should be able to honestly live your life how you want to as long as you aren’t in anyway harming anyone else, obviously if you are, that is a problem, but if you’re just living your life the way you want to why should other people be in judgement of it or stop you from that? But if you must judge or set standards, why don’t you make it more a man and woman thing instead of just making it about one gender, which obviously ends up being women? We must try to hold both women and men to the same standards at home, places of worship, work places, etc. otherwise, equality will be very hard to reach. I honestly believe that there is a lot less forgiveness around the society for women. A typical case is when a man cheats versus when a woman does the same, somehow the man’s infidelity is reduced to – ‘men will be men,’ so how about we make room for cheating women with a ‘women will be women’ line too?
At 21, you’ve obviously done a lot, experienced a lot and are giving back in more ways than one. However, in my mind, I can’t get over the thought of life after death—you know, out-living life itself and legacies. So I wonder, how would you want to be remembered a hundred years from now?
In a hundred years from now, I would love to be remembered for probably three things: the impact I made in the Nigerian fashion industry in some way—being a fashion influencer you hope you are making an impact in terms of trends or improving the Nigerian identity—secondly, I hope to make an impact on the collection of our lost national arts. Because I am studying the history of arts in my undergraduate course at the moment, I hope to do my masters in African contemporary art, get into art-dealing, and also the reparation of Nigerian arts back to Nigeria. In my opinion, that’s where they belong: where our own people can see them. I would definitely love to play a role in bringing back those works that were taken from us during colonization. And finally, I’d love to have made an impact in raising awareness for autism in Nigeria, and doing best I can in that regard. These are all things I hope will outlive me after I am gone. But first, I am really excited to get the ball rolling on all these things after my university degree this year!
Photography by Isabella Agbaje
Creative Direction by Richard Akuson
Videography by Chukwuka Nwobi
Wardrobe: Available at Temple Muse
Beauty by Desmond Marcualey
Project Coordination by Adedayo Laketu
Editorial Assistant Atare Hanna
Cover Design by Godwin Wi