August 15, 2012

This post is not about how I met Jim Iyke!

 Many months ago, I made a new acquaintance who for a reason I no longer remember, mentioned that Jim had opened a fabulous store in Garki, Abuja. It wasn't information I could use or so I thought, until a few weeks latter when an Editor of one of the magazines I write for became interested in running a story on Jim's store. I had the perfect excuse to seek out the Nollywood star the result of which, you are reading now.  Being granted the interview and meeting Jim in person was very exciting. As I sat in his office I dreamt of my own plush piece of dream- come- true some day. I also kept pinching myself at the thought that it was really happening- I was interviewing JIM IYKE!
Unfortunately it didnt work out with either the magazine or others I tried to publish with... for reasons tucked between editorial guidelines and poor timing, but whether the challenge was deciding to do it anyway or the back breaking work of transcribing a 34 minute long voice recording or crafting and recrafting tidious Q&A into an easy read or waiting to hear from an editor or just plain wondering what Jim or his team would think of the no- show the story was becoming... I am proud I didnt let it be forgotten, not on an editor's computer or on mine.  
It is worth telling when you find layers of a person which pleasantly surprise. It's Jim like you've never seen... enjoy!

I stepped into Jim Iyke’s Untamed closet and immediately recognized the sound coming from the speakers. A gospel song was blaring “we lift our voice to bless you, we lift our hands to reach you, we lift our hearts to love you, holy is your wonder”. I stopped in my tracks to check if I was in the right place. With the exception of a sign bearing Jim’s picture at the gate, there was little else to announce the presence of a fashion store in the quiet Garki district where Untamed closet resides. The exterior of the bungalow didn’t give it away either but once in, the d├ęcor and ambience of the store were impressive.

I wondered why the store was in Abuja. Was Jim trying to court the wallets of the politicians and big spenders in the Federal Capital? “It wasn’t really a geographical reason. It was a question of moving.” he says. “Lagos at some point was crazy for me. The traffic was sickening, it took me hours to get home from the airport because I travel constantly, I couldn’t achieve more than one meeting in a day, it was so choking. Here it’s a little bit more subtle. It is not overrated like Lagos, it is not loud like Lagos. Everything about Lagos is over expressed. It’s too colorful, it’s exaggerated. There are richer people here without them being too loud about it. I wanted a place that will have that complete aura of power and yet be demystified enough for the ordinary man to walk in and that’s what Abuja does. It takes in every type but not everybody can survive in it”.

His excitement was convincing but I reflected on his last comment. Could Jim Iyke and his enterprises survive in this city with an ever widening gulf between the rich and poor? “Abuja is crazy, I love it here. Do you know how many cars I’ve sold on the road? Somebody will cross you over and start bidding right there and I’ll be like “this is crazy”. It doesn’t happen in Lagos”.

The store had sections. The white label for women’s wear had items from other designers but the black label for men became the subject of my interest when I saw an interesting suit paired with shorts. I asked MR UNTAMED if he designed the collection himself. ”It will not suffice for someone else to put that stamp of authority or signature to my brand without me having at least 90percent opinion on it.” He replied. But did he have formal training in design school? , “It’s overrated” he said, quickly pointing out that while some people thrive in formal settings, he wasn’t one of those people.  I am not a classroom person.”

He told me a friend of his in the fashion industry took him under his wings. "Whenever an African would come into the store where I was under tutelage, I’d go to the back and he’ll call me “Jim come out here and serve the customer”. I would grudgingly come out and I’ll tell him under my breathjust know that you’re not pay me a freaking salary”, he’ll tell me, “It’s ok, my door is always open. The same way you walked in, you can walk out". I think he was the best boss I ever had. I became a better boss when I came back, a far more humble boss”.

 He also remembers a day when a Senegalese walked into the store and recognized him. Laughing he reenacted the experience like he was acting the scene of a movie.
Shopper: “Are you that actor?”

Jim: Silence
Store owner: “No he is not”.

Shopper: “I could have sworn you were the one. You look like one Nigerian actor but any way I know you are not because he will never work in this store.”

At this point I burst out laughing. He refers to all he had to do to learn as a sacrifice. While it’s hard to picture Jim Iyke in a factory somewhere, the actor says it happened. “I was taken to about eight different factories and within that time I probably crammed in what I would have spent six months learning in a classroom. I was very patient and they kept commending me on being early”. 

 Wow” I said in mocking disbelief recalling how many hours I’d been kept waiting for this interview. He cracked up laughing when he saw the expression on my face.“I am not very good with time. I know my weakness but I would wake up early in the morning, go there and they will tell me this is the way they think it should be, I’ll tell them “no you understand fashion, I understand myself and it has to rhyme –fashion and me. People are coming to wear me. Coming to wear something that I created”. They taught me the rudiments of design and I taught them who I am and so when we put that together that’s what we created.”

But it’s one thing to have style and be fashionable and another to create a style for other people, so what gave Jim the confidence to do that? Defending his street credibility, the actor said “You’re either born with these things or you’re not”. He confessed to breaking protocol by wearing sneakers to black tie industry events and admitted that stunts like that have earned him criticism. “It takes balls to come out and dare to be different but hate or love me, you cannot say that I’ve tried to be anybody else, I do it my way.”

There were shirts in his collection and i asked what made them different from those by brands like H&M or GAP? “What we intended to do in UNTAMED is deep and extensive research on the people that we were willing to serve and at the end of the day have them walk in and say “Was he thinking about me when he rolled this out? You can see this is what somebody at least thought about and I have put even our climate into consideration.”

 The actor looked pained as he addressed what he called a media conspiracy against him. “Am I responsible to the duties I am supposed to carry out as a man to every sphere of my endeavor? Yes, I work very hard. When you can truly answer that question, every other thing becomes extremely small for you including criticism no matter how loud it is.”

But Jim didn’t only feel misunderstood by the media.  Outsiders find it very hard to understand me. Even people that like me sometimes say hateful things just to say something that makes it look like they have an opinion and in the advent of the social network some of them are all of a sudden an advisor or a critic.”

 So everyone wants a piece of Jim Iyke, but who does Jim Iyke want a piece of? Marilyn Munroe! She is his darling of all time he said. Observing the light in his eyes as he talked about her, I thought about his fans who have the same fixation with him. Would he have wanted to be with her if it were possible? I asked. “I can fantasize from a distance, I don’t know about being with her and I think that’s where people fail to draw the distinction, including me because people get carried away because I am on television and they forget that there is a regular life, a three phase life- the public, the private and the secret.”

 I paused in thought wondering about celebrities courting fan love for their movies and music only to hate the attention when the same fans pry into their personal lives? I wanted to know how Jim handled it when people turned on him. “God made me a certain way and because he made me a certain way I can’t share what I have with everybody. You pick your crowd as you go and trust me the ones that are not for you will go. It is called in a sense, spiritual weeding. What you must develop is a thick skin; on my part I have developed a rhino skin.

There was pain in his eyes as he continued, “Sometimes people that are mostly strong against you are people that know where you are heading. They know that if you get there it may not serve their purpose or it may reaffirm their weaknesses so you have people of all kinds of backgrounds coming after you and you are wondering "why me?". You have rich people and you’ll be like "What do they want?" They are already successful in their own right. You have poor people and you’ll be like "wow, isn’t this guy supposed to ask for help instead of trying to kill me?", Then you have friends and you’ll be like "I’ve given this person love, his debt is to return it back". Then you have family and you’ll be like "this person shares a lineage with me". You have yourself fighting yourself, you know you can do better yet you chose to run bad because the right road is just so damn hard. Put all these things into one and you understand that your destiny is in your hands and if you choose the right path, trust me that right path is not going to enamor you with a lot of people.”

The veil was torn open then and I could see beyond Jim Iyke, the Nollywood star. His earlier mention of God wasn’t lost on me, I asked. “I’m the man that when I make a mistake I go to Him first and I know that I am forgiven and the second part is to forgive myself.  Then the third part is to ask people that deserve my forgiveness to forgive me so when you make peace with these three elements of your life, you can hold your head up high. It’s not arrogance, its conviction of God in you.

The actor who has had what would seem like a short lived music career, says his fans have been some of his best customers since his foray into fashion. But what drives him to try these new ventures? “I woke up one day and I told myself what took a lot of money from me. Fashion was one. And so at the end of the day I decided to throw every passion that was unproductive to my economy into an enterprise.”

 He also says one has to be multi faceted. “There is one talent in you that outweighs every other talent. Find it, nurture it, train it, propel it, apply it then it will give birth to other open doors. The wise thing to do is to find other men to man those doors for you. That’s how you survive everyday of a multi-faceted life.

 So what’s next for this multifaceted force or is he done? His answer was revealing. “Some people grow older and grow lazier and less convinced about their path in life. Some people get richer and compromise as they go. Some people grow less hungry as they get richer.
With an acting career, a musical stint, and a fashion line, Jim Iyke is certainly not slowing down as he gets older!
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