Creator Spotlight is a weekly series celebrating young Nigerians in the creative industry doing unique things. Everyone has a story, and Zikoko wants to tell it.
Bube Israel likes to be defined as a multi-dimensional creator. She’s a supermodel, designer and creative director. Bube doesn’t eat chocolate, shawarma or burgers because she’s a picky eater. Bube is very pro amala and semo. She’s a cancer moon but doesn’t like to claim it cause she doesn’t like cancers. She used to play basketball when she was younger but stopped suddenly.
We have to talk about why you stopped playing basketball. You have the height!
I played from primary school to high school. I stopped because my mom bought me one gorgeous wristwatch. I wore it to practice because I was excited. They pushed me, I fell, and the watch broke. I quit immediately. I would like to play basketball again. I also started modelling in primary school.
You know what? Fair. Modelling as a kid sounds fun. What was that like?
I started modelling before I clocked 7. My mum used to take me around for shoots. She says she was a model before, but I haven’t seen any pictures.
You said she has no proof; I’m screaming!
No, no, no., In her defence, there weren’t pictures then. But I mean, she looked like one, so I believe her. My sister was also a model. She wasn’t a professional, but I saw her on several calendars, which made me decide to pursue it full-time. My mum is also a designer, so she taught me everything I know about sewing and designing. I’ve never in my life wanted to work a nine-to-five. It’s just not for me. I’ve never been signed or worked with an agency. Corny as this might sound, I’m just a lucky girl. My work just speaks for itself. I started officially modelling again three years ago.
Even as a kid, you weren’t signed? How did you get booked?
I modelled for kids’ fashion shows. I did one in Abuja. I remember only two others. My mum knew her way around all these things and supported me. Now that I’m grown in modelling, people think I’m too short. I’m 5’8, so I don’t book runway shoots. I only work private shoots. I’ve gone for casting only twice or thrice in my life because I don’t deal well with rejection.
My 5’5 self is just stunned. What’s one of your most ridiculous rejections?
The first time I went as an older model, I was excited and flattered because people there told me I had high cheekbones. The judges saw me, and they were like, “Oh my god. You are stunning”, so I felt they were aware of my presence, and they’d picked me. Tell me why I didn’t hear my name when we were done. I’m not a punctual person. I’m trying, but in my head, time is not real. The call time was 8 a.m., my mum woke me by 5 a.m., and I was at the venue by 6 a.m., so tell me, why this girl who came in by 2 p.m. got the job? I almost gave up on modelling after that. But, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always said I wanted to be a fashion designer and model. What I’m doing now feels like I’m living my childhood dream. Maybe I should be bigger.
Does this height issue bother you?
No, it doesn’t because I didn’t create myself.
I know my height is a hindrance to runway modelling. I don’t go for castings anymore because I don’t want anyone to make me feel less or bad for not being selected. I know my strength. It’s in editorial, commercial modelling or private runways where they say height isn’t a problem. For most castings, they’d tell you the minimum height is 5’9. My doctor told me I’m 5’8.
There’s no way that one inch is noticeable
They would literally measure you. One time, they measured me, and apparently, I wasn’t up to 5’8, so the guy asked me what I was doing there. I was like, “I’m 5’8”. And he was like, “You’re 5’7.7. Please, get out of here”. God, I cried that day.
Why would anybody talk that way?
Oh, that’s standard behaviour. I went for one casting, and we were in a queue, but this tall stunning babe was on her own. Then, a casting guy who wasn’t even a judge saw her and told her to “Get the fuck out of this place”. If you see how I carried my bag and left the queue before I’d be the next target. I don’t know what devil he was fighting, but not me. Later, I jokingly asked a model what she did. Apparently, the casting guy had been a model for a long time. He said she was a new model and can’t just take up space without paying her dues.
Wait, what does that mean?
It’s a connection thing. You have to know people. He said he didn’t hate her but did that so she could toughen up. I hate embarrassment in my life. That was my last casting in 2019.
That must’ve been a tough decision to make
It was. I wasn’t signed to an agency, so I had to work twice as hard as a signed model. I made myself a brand. I had to work on how people would see me. I reached out to different photographers and handled the styling. I’d reach out to photographers and makeup artists to collaborate. I’d create mood boards and send to them, explaining that I was an upcoming model.
I followed people who I felt were doing what I wanted to do at the time. I followed models already in the industry, photographers, everyone. I started to get work through word of mouth. You know how you work with one big person, and other people believe in you automatically? That’s what happened to me. The first photographer who believed in me was Lex Ash, so shout out to him. I started modelling full-time when I graduated high school.
What year was that?
I graduated in 2015, and I think I started modelling in 2018. I wanted a year off before going to uni, and then Nigeria happened, so I kept taking more time. I’m currently in 100 level, studying accounting.
What sorts of jobs did you do?
I saw my mates get cast for all those wedding makeup jobs. I’ve never been a femme girl, but I wanted to feel included. Whenever people wanted to book me, they’d say, “Yeah, that androgynous model”. Who said I was androgynous? I didn’t want to accept that. When I’d get booked with other models, they’d put makeup on them and focus on skincare for me. I was on a low cut, almost bald, and they loved the look.
Did it affect how you felt about yourself?
No, actually. It made me come to terms with it. Honestly, I think modelling helped a lot in my self-discovery. I love myself now, and I think I’m hot, but back then, I didn’t understand what it meant to be beautiful in your own way. Even though I won “most photogenic” in school, I still wanted the attention of being pretty.
Back then, people saw models as people with strong features. I wasn’t conventionally pretty, but I did want to be one of those pretty girls. My face has brought me enough money in this life, so I’m thankful. I figured out what worked for me and stuck to it. They even bullied me for not having boobs. God will not punish them for calling me drawing board in school.
OMG. Kids are so mean
For no reason! Like, we were still developing. They made me cry a lot. It didn’t help that I started to have a shape, but nothing else was growing, so they said my ribs had bent. I called my mom the next day, crying. It was insane what they did to me in Queen’s College. At one point, I used to pray to God every day to give me boobs and ass. I made my mum buy me push-up bras to push bone, and she indulged me. Until I woke up one day in 2019 and was late for a friend’s birthday. I couldn’t find a bra, and that was it. Anyone that has issues with seeing nipples needs to check themselves. I’m not the cause of your problems, man.
So childhood insults gave you thick skin against the modelling industry?
Exactly. Now, there’s nothing you can tell me I haven’t heard before.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’d say free. I do anything, and I’m very experimental. I always say I have a hundred faces and personalities. I love being unpredictable. You’d expect me to turn up in a mini skirt, and I’d show up in a suit. I’ve always been blessed with a mom who accepts whatever I want to do, and however I present. Like two years ago, I struggled with mini skirts, now I just dress for comfort.
Modelling helps me get comfortable in whatever I wear, you can’t tell them you don’t want to wear what they give you, even when it’s unflattering. It’s my job to convince people the pieces are beautiful. I work on my poses, and the photographer contributes by capturing the right angles. Confidence completes and brings out each look.
Is it this ability that distinguishes a model from a supermodel?
I’m just so extra. I like to call myself a supermodel because there are models, and then, there’s me.
Mood! Do you have a favourite editorial you’ve worked on?
I think all the editorials I styled myself for. Those are quite old, but yeah, they’re my favourites. I design and make the clothes then curate the mood boards of what I want the outfit and shoot to look and feel like. That’s why I say I’m a model and creative director. It’s just that I can’t pay myself. This is why people believe in my styling abilities. I never came out to say, “Please, I’m a stylist. Hire me”. My work spoke for itself.
When did you take up styling full-time?
About a year ago, but ever since I started modelling, I’ve always styled myself from my own wardrobe or even pieces my mum doesn’t use anymore that I DIY. I’m obsessed with taking pictures, so it was easy to document my work and put it out there. I’ve worked with a couple of Nigerian artists.
Now’s the time to name-drop for us
I worked with SGaWD, and I occasionally make clothes for her. I currently work with Somadina. Almost everything on her page right now was styled by me. I’ve worked with Tomi Owo and Fave. I assisted with a Big Brother project in 2021. We designed different pieces and made clothes for that set. I’ve worked with some influencers outside Nigeria.
There’s also this friend of mine that was a contestant for Miss Nigeria in the UK; I made her clothes. I don’t box myself in, and I love working on new things, so if it’s something I think I can take on, I always go for it. She believed in me, and brought me the first big girl job that made me a lot of money. It’s funny because I don’t have my brand out yet, so all these people support me because they believe in me.
That’s actually so sweet. Let’s talk money. How do you charge for modelling and styling?
I made my first million naira in 2022. I’ve made close to 200 clothes just based on people liking how I style myself. Whenever I want to charge, I have to ask my mum or friends how much they think I should. The lowest I’ve ever charged was ₦5k for a velvet two-piece in 2019. The most I’ve charged for one dress was ₦600k. For modelling, the least I’ve been paid was in exposure — exposure to sun and rain. I can’t lie, modelling doesn’t really pay me, and they don’t respect your time either. As freelancers, nobody tells you how much they get paid. Some people would even steal jobs from you.
What do you do to relax when you’re not acquiring new skills?
I don’t relax. My brain is always active — I overthink a lot and struggle with anxiety. You know how people have problems and can sleep them off? My village people pursue me with those problems into my dreams. Styling was just something I used to do to relax and tension people on Instagram, and now that it’s work, it feels like a chore. One of my goals for this year is to find things that help me relax.
Do you plan to expand your team? Maybe that’ll help you relax more
Yes, I’m actually looking for a good tailor, but I’m a perfectionist. I’ve tried a couple of tailors. I’ve even tried to get a PA before, but it was like I was doing most of the work. So I started paying myself.
It sure sounds like a lot of lows. What are the highs?
For me, my favourite thing is seeing people look hot in my piece and them actually liking it. My friend, who used my piece for a pageant, could’ve hired a designer, but she spent a lot of money supporting me, pushed me to do it and was so happy with the result. There’s also money, obviously. I also just love doing what I do. I love how much I’m growing.
What do you want to do in the next couple of years?
I don’t know how to make long-term plans because whenever I do that, life will be like, “Who are you? Aired”. I’d love to own an agency far into the future. My immediate goal is to establish my brand and connect with more people. One thing I want to do differently is organise shoots for my designs that don’t restrict height, size or anything. So I have to have valuable connections so when I sign and manage models, I can actually get them good jobs. I want to try so many different things. I don’t want to lack, and I don’t even want to be in Nigeria.
Does your brand have a name yet?
Yes. It’s called Londier.co. I have a page, and some people know the brand, but I think it’s just my anxiety that’s stopped me from launching. I saved up for it and spent the money multiple times. I wanted to do it in 2022 but I lost my dad. Hopefully, this year.
I think the name is very pretty. I already make custom pieces, so I just need to release a collection.
I can’t wait to see all you get to do in 2023
Thank you. I can’t wait too.