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by Aina Fadina, EMBA 2019

Growing up in Lagos, every weekend involved social events celebrating new births, monumental birthdays, weddings, the life of someone who recently passed, promotions and religious gatherings. Each event called for different fabrics such as brocade, Aso-Oke, Adire, Kante, Mud Cloth, Ankara and Batik. These fabrics are woven with threads and yarn or dyed with beautiful colors. The process involves local artisans creating different techniques and patterns. These artisans were the nucleus of our cultural preservation. As they conduct business in the hot sun in different villages, they listen to music made from the sounds of drums, flutes and native instruments. They are inspired through sights, sounds and hopes of the ancestors, which are passed onto their creations. My childhood and adult life has been grounded in music, arts and culture – much like the colorful woven Aso-Oke fabric – and this has driven my commitment and passion in the preservation of culture and its economic survivability/sustainability.

As an immigrant, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 13, I thought there were four careers to fulfill the American dream of myself and my parents. Graduating college, at the age of 20, I was determined that my path was to be a doctor. In my mid-20s (rather old to begin modeling), while working for a biotech startup, I was scouted to be a fashion model. This “a-ha” moment opened me to a creative soul I never knew existed within me.

It took me on a path of self-discovery, personal development and maturity. I found this space that I loved, and therefore used this opportunity to build a foundation in the creative industry. Working with world-renowned designers – including Oscar De La Renta, Versace and Alexander McQueen – I saw ideas become sketches, sketches become garments, ateliers creating masterpieces/art during production, designers selling their dream to buyers and designers and CEOs pitching to investors to raise capital. I observed the emotions consumers felt when they walked out of the stores with these piece of art.  I was part of every connecting dot that brought that item into the closets of the consumers. I was embedded and integrated into the business of fashion.

I of Africa

This opportunity, experience and journey inspired me to consult for emerging designers, and to create the digital series, “I of Africa.” It’s a simple idea to celebrate creative icons and entrepreneurs from different parts of the world who have been inspired by Africa. I saw an opportunity when I saw that African stories, told by mainstream media, were a monolithic narrative and the people telling those stories did not look like me.

These opportunities ignited my passion for building products, developing brands and storytelling. Being a model, I found the creative being that was tied up and lost in my DNA. Every day, I navigated the world thinking about possibilities that eventually created opportunities. Modeling, a career I never imagined for myself, has created endless opportunities in life.

After 13 years as a fashion model, I thought about the next stage of my life, I realized that I wanted to be a leader who was making decisions that would impact the way creative industries shifted, given the future and impact of technology and innovation, while serving consumers of different backgrounds globally. In order to become a business leader in the creative space and create market solutions, which will have an impact globally, I felt it was imperative to develop holistic quantitative and qualitative skills. I chose to do so through the rigorous academic curriculum at Kellogg.

Joining Open The Circle

Prior to Kellogg, given the society we live in and the need to label people, I didn’t know what label to use for my career. As I look back at my first year at Kellogg and my transitions professionally working as a Fashion Model, Creative Culturalist, Storyteller, and an Entrepreneur, I have embraced the title Creative Entrepreneur.  The education has fortified, expanded horizons of possibilities, and continues to sustain the intellectual cohesion of my entrepreneurial journey.

I have been able to leverage my relationships, not just in business but also within the Kellogg alumni community. I was invited to join the board of Open The Circle, founded by Kellogg alums Drew Alt ’12 and Tarra Sharp ’13 as well as local Chicago natives Jamal “Litebulb” Oliver and Wills Glasspiegel. OTC is a nonprofit organization devoted to channeling resources into grassroots creative projects in Chicago. I believe OTC is a great example of the potential for Kellogg students and alums around the globe to use our collective networks to give back to our communities, while celebrating creativity and culture.

Looking forward

As I think about my career, which is the intersection of creativity, commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship and storytelling, it has comprised different fabrics woven into one. The Kellogg MBA is the thread that connects these beautiful fabrics into a unique piece. The Executive MBA experience at Kellogg has enabled me to see my career and experience as a unique, yet beautifully crafted one that will continue to evolve.

As I look to my second year at Kellogg and launching the third season of I of Africa, I know that the EMBA program will continue to be a catalyst that will enable me to develop analytical skills, which will empower me to streamline ideas and launch valuable ventures with confidence and emotional intelligence, while creating long-lasting impact as it relates to cultural perseverance globally.

My parents had three girls and a boy before I was born, however that only boy passed away at 10 months old. Shortly after his death, I was born. Rotimi, the older brother I never met, gave me life. He gave me an opportunity to fulfill his dreams, my parents dreams, and the dreams of my ancestors who came before me. He gave me an opportunity to celebrate and document a legacy that celebrates the past, present and future. As I begin the second year at Kellogg, the common theme in my life, from birth to now, is seeing opportunities, taking advantage of them and getting personal and professional fulfillment from exploring them. With an EMBA from Kellogg, I will be able to fulfill the dreams of my ancestors, including Rotimi’s, while shaping the future of their descendants. I am thankful and grateful to the community of believers who have allowed me to seek every opportunity that has come my way.