Born and raised on a small farm in Nigeria, Niké (pronounced nee- KAY) is more than just a fashion blogger. She’s a larger than life personality, openly sharing the stories of her struggles in the hopes of inspiring other people to continue going after their dreams. Even at her lowest of lows, the sky was always the limit. She managed to persevere, and overcoming adversity to build her own empire. From sleeping on couches to building a brand, Niké is a fresh reminder that the American dream is still alive as long as you’re willing to work for it.
What made you decide to move out to California from Florida?
I actually didn’t decide to move to California. I came for LA fashion week. I had never been to a big city other than New York before that. And I was like, oh I’m gonna see what LA looks like. I just want to see the palm trees in person. I went and I had like one little bag and like twenty bucks to spread. And I fell in with LA. It was home.
What did you love about it?
The weather is amazing.
Yeah, we’re pretty spoiled out here. What else made you fall in love with LA?
You hear all these stories about how people in LA are horrible and fictitious. I met the kindest people that week when I was here, and everyone was so nice to me. Everyone was just so polite and pleasant. I fell in love. There can’t be a place like this anywhere else in the world, and there isn’t.
So I called my parents and I said yeah, I’m not gonna go to law school and I’m gonna stay in LA. And they were like, oh my God this girl is crazy, she’s just saying that. She’ll be back tomorrow.
I just never went back. I stayed on every couch I could find. Anyone who could give me a couch to stay on is where I slept that night. And I stayed in hostiles, which I recommend to anyone that first moves to LA cause they’re like 40 bucks for two weeks. They’re amazing.
And at one point I ended up in a shelter cause I ran out of money. But I just stayed. I’m obsessed with LA. I’d rather be under the 101 bridge in LA than in a mansion in Tampa, Florida. That was just it. My parents were like, if you’re going to stay, you’re on your own. When people you love the most give you that kind of ultimatum, you kind of have to make it. You have no choice.
How did your parent’s ultimatum affect you?
My dad is a professor. My mom is a doctor. They come from a very educational background. And I have two siblings, and they both did the right thing, whatever the right thing is. So it was more of a competition at that point, and more of like I have to prove my parents wrong. I just have to top it. I just have to do everything I can.
I am incredibly lucky, even though it sounds like my parents are very strict people. Until that point I grew up in a very stable home. My dad kind of spoiled us emotionally. I grew up with him constantly telling us we can do anything we set our mind to. If you want it, you just get it. That’s how he raised us. So I’ve always had immense self confidence, a little over the top at times. I’ve always had this I could do anything I want kind of mentality.
And I’ve always been a very stubborn child. My mom always told me that my very first sentence was, “No, I can do it!” And I was like two. So I’ve just always wanted to do things on my own, and I never grew out of that mentality. I am a fiercely independent person. So when my parents were like, oh you’ll have to make it on your own, it was actually a good thing for that to happen because I realized that if you’re gonna give me that ultimatum, I’m gonna prove you wrong.
When did you first fall in love with fashion?
When my ex- boyfriend left me for a girl that was very fashionable. So I thought that was the only way I could get him back.
Where’s your ex- boyfriend now?
I couldn’t care less. (His loss.)
How did these struggles shape you into the person you are today?
It’s made me a very strong person. I always say the blessing in being homeless, if there is any blessing in that, is that you could never get there again. You could never hit that low again. There is a blessing in everything that happens in life, if you look at life as one big lesson.
Being homeless, you just say ok, I took risks, but they weren’t calculated. So now I take calculated risks. It was a little too risky to do what I did, and so what I know now is that I can’t hit a bottom like that anymore ever. If anything happens now, I would know how to survive.
What’s your one piece of advice for anyone going after their dreams and facing similar struggles?
The storms will pass, and tomorrow will be a better day. It gets better. It always does.
Before you got to the point where you could work for yourself, did you get encouragement from people you worked for?
I remember trying to go to New York Fashion Week and getting excited. I asked for ten days off, and my boss at the time said she could only give me three days. And I’m paying everything out of pocket to go at the time. I’m thinking, I’m screwed. Three days to network? But I was gonna take it anyway.
And I said I can’t wait for one day to sit front row at every single show. I remember her literally rolling her eyes, turning around and saying, “Niké, you are so delusional. That will never happen. Those seats are reserved for the famous bloggers, the celebrities.”
And I quit. I just walked out. Because I’m going to sit front row at New York Fashion Week, and I actually sat front row at Givenchy’s show which was fabulous.
What makes you different from all the other bloggers out there?
I think I have definitely a very unique look than most bloggers. I wear my big hair, and I’m quite dark. But more than anything, I have a story to tell.
And I don’t just want to blog. I want to inspire people. The number one source of heart attack is when you clock into a job you hate on a Monday morning. And my goal is to get people to chase their dreams and believe in themselves. Because the American dream is still very much alive, and I’m living proof of that. If you really do believe in what you want to do, and you work at it fiercely, you can make it happen.
So that’s my goal. I did a TED talk recently last month at UCLA. So I definitely want to continue to do more speaking engagements for my blog where I tell people, hey just chase it. Go for it. One hundred percent. That’s my goal with my blog, and I think that’s what sets me apart. It’s not just fashion.
It must be a long, busy work week for you.
I work like an 80 hour work week. When you work for yourself, you work much more than when you work for somebody else. It’s a fun job, and I’m not complaining by any means. I love what I do. But I don’t sleep anymore, it feels like.
You negotiate with brands all day. You sell yourself. It’s a hustle. You try to bargain. You try to figure out a way you’re better than other bloggers. It’s very hard, but it’s fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I work a lot.
What keeps you going?
I always take a nap. I don’t play with my naps. That’s the secret for me. No matter what I’m doing, at exactly 4 o’clock, I have to take a nap.
At what moment did you feel like all that work was finally beginning to pay off?
When I had a billboard in Downtown Los Angeles. In October. It was Fig at 7th. I will never forget that day. I bought Thai food. I was driving home and hit my breaks, and my Thai food flew onto the ground. And I was like I have to pull over and eat this shit off the floor because I don’t have a cent to spend on food. And I get that call saying, hey we would like to set up a meeting with you. And I remember crying a lot.
And right before that actually, my mom was working the night shift and someone had left a copy of People magazine on her desk. She flipped through it and the very first page was me. And she called me crying. She is not an emotional person at all. I have never seen her cry in my life. And she said, I can not believe for five years I have doubted you and didn’t believe you could do this. You’re actually doing it.
If you hadn’t taken that huge risk and stayed in California, what would your life be like today in Florida?
I would have three kids, working a 9- 5 somewhere, maybe as a lawyer. I’d probably be living at home in my parent’s house with my kids. That’s how the Nigerian community works. You don’t really move out. Ever. You just kind of die where you’re born. It’s freaking weird. It’s not me.
There’s the quote that I love, I have to find it but I prefer life un-expectancies than the routine. I need to not know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I like the fear of the unknown. No one here is secure.
An additional thing about this city that’s so amazing is the fact that you have to be so self aware or you’ll get lost in all the madness. LA just makes you constantly work on yourself. I do so much work on myself everyday; spiritually, mentally, emotionally because this city just enforces you to do that. This is the one place that’ll put you through something but when you come out on the other side, it’s beautiful.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping the sky is just the beginning. My goal is to have my own sunglass line. So I started sketching. That would definitely be my “I’ve made it”, when I can physically touch the sunglasses that I’ve created.
What do you want your legacy to be?
That I lived fiercely.
Both my parents lived a very safe life because they both had such a horrific childhood that when they had us, I was so sheltered. They didn’t want us to have the kind of childhood they had, which I understand now in retrospect. I wasn’t allowed to have friends or go to the mailbox past 6pm. That’s how I grew up.
I want my kids and my grandkids and my great- grandkids to say man, my great-grandmother was so fierce. She took no bullshit from anybody, did whatever made her happy.
She was so fierce.
To find out for yourself just how fierce Niké Ojekunle is, visit her blog at www.specsandblazers.com.