Gbemi was born and bred in Lagos Nigeria and moved to Dubai when she was 16 years old for her Bachelor’s Degree in Design Management at the American University of Sharjah. Now at age 24, Gbemi has an array of inspiring ventures that she credits to her love for food, fitness and design. A food blogger, restaurant owner, web-designer, illustrator, Afro-beats dance instructor, fitness model and PR Marketing professional, she does it all.
"Growing up in Lagos was pretty special, it’s a city that’s bustling with life and raw energy. Nigerians are loud in your face people, so it felt like my childhood was witnessed by me and a thousand other people but in reality with was mostly me and my 11 other siblings and 3 parents, but yeah, still a crowd."
As a child, cooking was a big part of Gbemi's upbringing in Nigeria. Making lunch for her parents began to cultivate her bond and love for food. In Dubai, she reflected on what she had learned and turned that into an F&B concept that brings healing foods with flavors native to her land.
"Who I am today is a juxtaposition of a traditional Nigerian childhood with an eclectic Dubai teenage-hood. My childhood was heavily influenced by my family and the city I grew up in, but spending my later teenage years in Dubai I somewhat broke away from that mold and selectively built my own thought processes and opinions outside of what I’d been imbibed with."
One of Gbemi's latest projects include Catfish, a holistic kitchen with African roots. She developed the concept for not only the food, its recipes and the preparation, but also designed the logo, and the brand's identity and visual persona for its the various social media platforms.
What has been your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
Challenges are a part of life and going through it, it might seem like the hardest thing in the world but that’s only till the next one come round. Overcoming challenges forces growth and new knowledge, it is what makes us who we are. When I’m faced with a problem, I try to remind myself that this too shall pass and that “No condition is permanent” then I wear my big girl pants and try to work through it, shed a few tears, pray to my God for guidance and help, and I always survive.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
I’d say my style is very bright and bold. I love strong clean lines, geometric shapes and pops of colour. Sort of like me, I love to make a statement, If I’m going to be in a room, I want to BE in the room. From a young age, I’ve always been drawn to bold, bright and beautiful, it might be my African upbringing or a narcissistic compulsion to “shine” or just you know, me.
As an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to young people aspiring to have something of their own one day?
My biggest advice would be to “Just do it”, I can not tell you the amount of brilliant ideas I’ve heard friends and family tell me over the years but that’s all they’ve ever been so far, “Ideas” we get so caught up in that thinking and perfection phase that we never take the plunge to actually do anything. The idea of the idea becomes enough and that my friends, is where dreams go to die.
Who are your favourite designers/entrepreneurs?
Vkrees - Food Photographer - http://www.vkrees.is/
Buffet Digital - F&B Content Creators - https://www.instagram.com/buffet.digital/
Moyal - Founder of Paper White Design & Branding Studio - http://www.paperwhite-studio.com/
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
I’ve been so lucky to meet so many inspiring mentors in my life but I can’t really credit my career to have been influenced by one person as my career in itself has been a very zigzag journey.
I’m a creative and I’ve dabbled in most of the creative fields. I’ve been a graphic designer, a chef, a jewel designer, an artist, a dancer, a digital content creator, a fashion designer and the list goes on and on. Where there is an opportunity to create, I will.
One of the people who helped foster that desire to create and keep creating regardless of the field was my University professor Beatriz. She was eclectic and sharp witted and always encouraged me to keep asking questions.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Whew, again this is hard for me to define because there have been so many monumental peaks in my life. Life is a journey and I personally don’t feel like any “achievement” is ever complete. I tend to toe the line between appreciating my milestones and striving to be more and create more. I’ve won prestigious academic awards. I’ve been recognized by several reputable establishments as the best in my chosen field. I’ve graced the cover of international magazines. I’ve launched my own businesses a few times over. I’ve made my first big bucks and I’ve lost a bit of money as well. It's a continuous cycle. I think my best achievement as a human is to wake up every day with the urge to do more and be more.
Talk about a time you failed at something or thought you did – but how it molded you in some way.
Failure is normal, its routine and a part of everyday living. While I say and know this, it doesn't make failure any easier to swallow and it doesn't make it hurt less.
I’m still scared of failing but I try to focus on what lessons I learned through my failure.
For example, when we first launched my Social Media business we made so many mistakes but each mistake/failure helped teach us what not to do and despite our failure we were still able to grow the business in a sustainable way.
A quote you live by…
Just do it.
The hardest part of your job is….
Staying organised. I’ll confess, I’m a little bit of a scatter brain and I manage quite a few projects so it can get quite difficult staying on top of things.
The part of the design process you love most.
Ideation & Research. I love this process because its dreamy, its new and it hasn't been tainted with the actually feasibility of your project. It’s also the most fulfilling feeling in the world when your design project is finished and complete, with a tangible product that sums the entirety of your work. Of course no design is ever “finished” but it’s a good feeling.
The part of the design process you least like.
Presenting your ideas to others for feedback. A reality check, to see if it makes sense in the outside world and not just in your head. It’s a very necessary part of creating because you want to create a product that’s actually beneficial for others, however it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.
We all love positive reinforcement and this process is not always that. I think it’s important to be objective and take good criticism but also find a balance between going with your gut and incorporating feedback. I think we need to guard our creative energy.
How do you manage to multitask so much? What is your balance game / mantra?
To be honest I’m not very organised. I think a lot of people assume this about me and I have no idea why. I invest in PA services when I get overwhelmed.
Do you have a dream project? What is it?
Yes I do. I’m obsessed with food in all parts, but I’ve recently developed a love for agriculture and growing food. I’d like to empower rural women farmers in Nigeria through setting up sustainable food processing systems. It hasn’t all come together in my head, but it’s there and I know I’ll be working on it in a big way within the next couple of years.
If there is one thing you want people to know or be inspired by your story – what is it?
If I can do it, girl you can.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
Dance! It’s always been my happy place and I’ve been dancing since I was a wee baby haha.
What makes you happy?
Food. Fitness. Travel. Dance. Money. Creating with purpose.
What is your morning routine before you start working?
I live a very dynamic life so my routine changes often. The most fulfilling days usually look like this:
Wake up Early
Meditate/Pray and plan day
Go for Run/ Stretch
Make & Drink a Green Juice
Head out the door before 9:00am
Get through my list for the day
Go to the gym
Eat & Netflix
What music do you listen to when you design (if you do, that is)
Afrobeats, Dancehall Reggae and 90’s HipHop
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt over the years as a designer / entrepreneur that you would like to share with others?
The power of action. Never get to stuck up in your idea, seriously just do it. What’s the worse that could happen?
"I remember speaking to a “friend” when I was thinking of starting the Catfish project. He basically shut the entire idea down telling me stats about how it could NEVER work L O L.
6 very painful, sleepless, broke months in and I can’t help but laugh. The sacrifices have been immense and the odds will always be against you BUT the rewards are a million times worth it. For every down we’ve had, we have had triple the highs. We are growing and learning every day."
Gbemi has set her sights for a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, because the only way to dream, she says, is BIG. She believes in the power of vision boards and writing your dream down. Her story is that of a persistent creative that relentlessly goes after what they want. And eats a whole lot of food along the way.
Written and Edited: Kamsin Mirchandani