She has a dark skin tone and short thick curls. It’s not just her “uncommon” look that becomes a challenge in getting work in India but also the strict laws that discourage foreigners to invest and grow in the country, Nigerian model Ugochi Igwilo says.
Hailing the India-Africa Forum Summit, which took place in New Delhi last month, Igwilo said such initiatives should happen more often.
“I would have been there if not here (in Goa). I even featured in a documentary on how Africans are doing good work in India. This kind of a summit should happen more often because the relationship between India and Nigeria has been going on for years,” Igwilo said on the sidelines of a fashion event that took place here.
“There are so many Indians doing good work in my country. I feel summits like this will perhaps allow more Africans to do work here as well… do more business here. The laws over here are very tight and strict. It’s difficult for Africans to invest and grow here. The laws force Africans to go back after five years. We can’t be like ‘I want to be in India, start a business and let it grow’,” she said.
The Indian community in Nigeria is estimated at about 35,000. Bilateral trade between India and Nigeria in 2014-15 stood at $16.36 billion – two percent less than the previous year figure of $16.98 billion, according to the official website of the Indian High Commission in Nigeria.
Igwilo said she joined the fashion industry about five years ago.
“I went back home and then I came back. I am finally going back home in March because it’s not easy (to work here). I’ve tried it. To be a proper working model here, you need to have an employment visa. You can’t do big jobs on a student visa. You think modelling is easy, but in India, it’s not,” said the 24-year-old, who came to India to study interior design from a private university in Noida.
It was her father who wanted her to pursue higher education in India.
“I thought that travelling to a different country would help me to learn as there is exposure and you grow that way.”
But soon, she started modelling.
“I started when I was in college. Fashion students used to get very curious about me. They would approach me for their shows or portfolios. Even back home, people would ask me whether I am a model or not because of my height. Then when I got the chance, I started. I approached a few agencies, choreographers, and did small shows and shoots,” she said.
It may sound like a cakewalk for her, but it wasn’t.
“It was not easy to enter the field. My look is not a common look here. There’s a preference for white models or Indian models who are fair. I am the exact opposite of that. I am black, and have short hair. So, it was bit of a challenge and is still a challenge. But at the end of the day, I just want to do modelling and no one can stop me,” she said.
Sometimes, her unique features build interest in people and work in her favour.
“There are people who want to work with me. When I am on the ramp, some people appreciate the difference. So I feel that maybe, this is my field… the fashion shows.”
It might have been a challenging experience for her in India, but she only has good memories to go back home with.
“I always have a good time here. It gets tough being a foreigner in India, but it only makes you stronger,” said the model, who has already visited Mumbai, Amritsar, Jaipur and Delhi, apart from Goa.
Her next stop would most probably be Europe.
“I will do modelling in my country and try for Europe as well. I will also start my own clothing line targeting my country,” she said.