How GQ's Nikki Ogunnaike Became a Fashion Industry Changemaker

In an exclusive interview with E!'s Lilliana Vazquez, GQ Deputy Fashion Director Nikki Ogunnaike detailed her impressive career and how she grew from an assistant into an industry trailblazer.

By Jesse Goldstone Jul 09, 2020 10:02 PMTags
Nikki OgunnaikeBryan Bedder/Getty Images for GQ

A call for diversity in fashion has been a surging topic amongst industry professionals and celebrities, but the fight for inclusion is still underway.

It's a sentiment GQ Deputy Fashion Director Nikki Ogunnaike knows far too well. Since beginning her career at Vanity Fair and skyrocketing to success at InStyleGlamour and Elle, the seasoned editor-writer has worked to push boundaries and make a change.

"I went to Glamour.com at a time where it was sort of the Wild West," Ogunnaike, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2007, recently recalled in an interview with E! News' Lilliana Vazquez. "We got to experiment and really come up with all sorts of story ideas. It was around the time that fashion bloggers were really gaining steam. I reached out to plus-size women, women of different races and used them as people who could give the readers advice."

And that's just the start of how the Nigerian-American style expert is making waves in the fashion industry. Read on for more from her sweeping interview with Vazquez for E!'s Style Collective.

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E! News: Tell us how your career began.
Nikki Ogunnaike: I started out as a Fashion Closet Assistant at Vanity Fair. Before that, I had internships at ELLE and Glamour. I always knew I wanted to work in fashion, but wasn't exactly quite sure where. As a Fashion Assistant at Vanity Fair, it's a lot of assisting, helping people with their schedules, and putting in their requests for items they want to shoot for the magazine. I worked for a year and then realized I really wanted to write. So, I left  and I went to InStyle magazine. For three years, I worked as an Assistant Editor and as an Editorial Assistant. I was able to really sink my teeth into writing feature stories. Pieces like the top 10 jeans to wear for your body or talking about different types of fall trends. It was amazing because I got to do a lot of different things across different departments of the magazine. I had also noticed around this time that the internet was gaining steam. Fashion websites were getting more and more popular and magazines were starting to invest in their own websites.

E!: How did you get your job at Glamour?
NO: I had told them honestly that I didn't have any digital experience but I was a great reporter and writer and I learned very quickly. So, if they wanted to take a chance on me, then I would be an amazing hire for them. I remember having a conversation with somebody that I was interviewing with and they asked me if I had any questions. I said, "How can I make your job easier?" I think that's what sold me...I went to ELLE.com and basically did the same....I worked [there] for almost five years. Now, I'm at GQ as a Deputy Fashion Director. I think in dipping my toes in all of these different parts of storytelling, it's really gotten me to where I am today.

E!: What advice do you have to people graduating college who want to make connections and get their foot in the door?
For people who don't have access or who may not necessarily know somebody at these companies already, I say use social media. If you can build a presence for yourself on those platforms, you will get noticed. Oftentimes, we have found some of the most amazing writers from tweets that they have put out on Twitter. Reading comments sections and really just being on our end, sort of sleuths and looking out for new voices.

E!: How do you believe the industry can become more diverse?
NO: When I worked at ELLE.com, I oversaw the Fashion & Beauty Department there. On the team, there were two Black girls, one half-Black/half-White girl and two Filipino girls. It was such a special moment to look around and really know that the people that I was able to hire with the help of my Director...to be able to do that, really was going to affect the types of stories we were going to tell. First and foremost, it's on the people who are in those jobs to be incredibly deliberate about who they're hiring. Going out of their way to reach out to the associations of journalists, whether it's Black journalists or Hispanic journalists, Latinx journalists. I think that it's incredibly important for us to realize it's really on the people who are in those positions to create space for people.

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E!: How do you believe we can keep the conversation going?
NO: We need to tackle diversity in front of cameras, decision makers, but also at the assistant levels, at junior levels. We need to tackle whose stories are being told and who gets to tell those stories. We are just getting started in the fashion industry, but the more that people look like you and I, and we get to make these decisions and we get to build a table of our own then that is an exciting premise. That's really right for progress and just building.

E!: Explain the recently launched Black In Fashion Council and why it's so important?
NO: It's a group of about 300 of us who have gathered together. We're in the midst of call-out culture right now but as the founders, [Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief] Lindsay [Peoples Wagner] and [publicist] Sandrine [Charles] would say. We want to talk about accountability culture. We really want to say to these corporations "Know where you are, but let's move forward." Really just figure out how we can add more diversity to your corporations across the board.

E!: How do you plan to partner with these corporations?
NO: The partnership is going to be a three-year partnership when a brand signs on to work with us. We are going to give them ideas on how they can add diversity to their spaces. We are helping them figure out where they are and where they need to be in three years. So, for my role I'm working with media brands, magazine companies, newspapers, television companies that want to sign on board, just to make sure that conversations like this continue to happen.

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E!: What advice do you have for readers on how they can find their personal style?
I would encourage people if they do have the time to create Pinterest boards and watch different documentaries, watch films, watch things that bring you joy. Study the people on Instagram whose style you love and see how you can recreate their style. It's really about developing your personal style and a style that works for you. The fashion industry is very serious but there is immense joy in just getting dressed. If you find what brings you joy, then that's an amazing personal style!

E!: OK, spill: What are your favorite trends right now?
NO: I think the no. 1 trend, obviously aside from wearing a mask—gotta put that out there—for me is comfort and what I can get around in and feel slightly put together, but still myself when I'm wearing these pieces. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.