Editor’s note: As the years go by, migrating to other countries has become increasingly popular, particularly for Nigerians (and Africans generally). Japa, we call it. For the next 10 weeks, Imo Ekanem, in partnership with BellaNaija Features, will explore what it means to live in Italy as an African professional.
Work & Life in Italy is a weekly series where we talk about how Africans live, work, deal with discrimination, and so on. Did you miss our third episode with Mark Emeka Obi Kalu? Read it here.
This week, we’re having a conversation with Kevin Beaulier, a fashion expert and founder of Ottonovo Agency and Maison Beaulier, an art gallery in Rwanda. Kevin moved to Italy in 2018, although he’s been a regular in the country since 2013. He has had an impressive journey in marketing while living in Stockholm and he said everything he’s been through forms who he is.
Hey Kevin, we trust you’re doing well
Yes, I am. Thank you for having me.
We’re happy to have you too. Tell us how living in Italy has been for you so far
Milan was a dream. Since 2013, I have been travelling for work to the city to participate in every Milan Fashion Week. On those occasions, I experienced the beauty of the creative and fashion industry. In 2018, I had the opportunity to relocate to Milan. It was then I realised how difficult it was to live in Italy as a black man compared to other countries I’ve been to. I had to learn Italian to be able to live my life fully. I started learning more about the culture to relate more with people during fashion weeks and fashion events. It became easier after I learned Italian. I built a great community in the creative industry and invested my time in growing my network.
Good work, Kevin. Give us a glimpse into your background and what brought you to Italy
I was born in an African country but moved in my teenage years. I grew up in Stockholm because my family was living there. I learned the language and graduated from a university in the country. Afterwards, I started working for a marketing agency. At the time, we were creating campaigns for BMW, and this brought me to Italy.
You started your professional journey strong. Tell us about that
In 2013, I worked with an Italian publisher and we developed a marketing project that involved collaborations with bloggers. I was an assistant and my role was to scout for new talents in the fashion industry. So I had to be present at fashion weeks; I attended fashion weeks in London, Milan, and Paris. A few years after, I worked for a French marketing agency based in Stockholm, and my career in advertising took off.
Then I moved to Munich to work for another marketing agency that was curating BMW campaigns. For this role, I moved to Milan. My experience led me to my passion. I developed a platform to promote creatives and started working with artists. Every year, I organise events to promote fashion and design artists. Through my immersion in art, I understood the beauty of African art. I went back to Rwanda and opened an art gallery called Maison Beaulier for emergent African artists. So with the nature of my work, I share my time between Europe and Rwanda. In addition to my art gallery, I also run my PR agency – Ottonovo Agency.
What are the lessons and high moments from your career journey as an African in Italy?
What I have learned is to understand and embrace cultural differences. I don’t need to be Swedish or Italian, the combination of these cultures forms me. I embraced my African side and blended it with my European side to define a new culture.
What I’d consider my high moment is that my design and lifestyle project that revolves around my concepts will be presented at the film festival in Cannes and Rwanda.
That’s brilliant! We’re proud. Have you experienced any form of discrimination?
Yes! For instance, it was very difficult to get an apartment despite having a German work contract. I grew up in Scandinavia, Stockholm, a very white country but never found discrimination at the same level I found when I lived in Milan.
What would you consider the special ingredients in your success story?
I am unapologetically me. I accept everything that is part of me – the culture that generated me and the journey that made me who I am today.
Love that for you! What are the things Africans looking to relocate keep in mind?
There is no one way to be successful. What works for me might not work for another person. Also, relocation may not be what you think you need. You can be successful right where you are. But what I can say is to be curious about other cultures when living in another country.
Many thanks to Kevin Beaulier for having this conversation with us and to Imo Ekanem for making this possible. Catch up with the next episode next Sunday.
Do you want to be featured on BellaNaija or share your essays with us? Shoot us an email: [email protected]