My name is Taiwo Olusanya, fifty four years old - I was born on 4 April 1968 - and I am from Congo Compound in Itoku Kemta Odutolu, Abeokuta, one of the places where adire tie-and-dye fabric originated from.
It is called "Congo Compound" because that is where the foreigners who brought their own traditional fabric which we called Kampala were based in the olden days when they came to Abeokuta.
It was my paternal grandmother whose name was Tejumola but was popularly called "Mama Alaro Atijo" who used to make the fabric in that compound. My father was a butcher. But my late mother, who was popularly known in the Adire Market as Alhaja Iya Rere, worked with that my grandmother in making the adire.
I was brought up in the making of adire.
But I started to produce and sell on my own since 30 January 1989. When I say "on my own" I mean, independently of my mother or any other person.
I started by going to learn how to trade - that is selling and buying - under someone called Alhaji Ajibi. He was into the sale of trousers. In those days, to appreciate what you have, you had to go outside and learn. Even if your father was a carpenter or tailor, you took your learning more seriously, if you went somewhere else.
The learning took me three years, because I was also schooling then, at St John's Anglican High School, Kuto, Abeokuta. That was 1983 to1985 and I was in Form One to Form Three.
My father was wealthy and that opened my eyes to money at a tender age. My thought then was that if one went further in education, was it not for one to make money? So, I decided to launch straight into business after I finished secondary school in 1987.
And, I thank God, because this job has taken me to many parts of the world. I have gone to exhibit adire in Cyprus, Athens, Greece; Rotterdam, Holland; Frankfurt, Germany; France; and some African countries.
It started in 1996 when we went for the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST). Then we worked with the Ogun State Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. We did not normally go to trade fairs before then but when we went to NAFEST, I met Nike Gallery (Nike Davies-Okundaye) - I take her as my mother - who advised me to register with the Nigerian Exports Promotion Council, and that if there was any international conference, the organisation could include me, with the payment of a token amount. It was not necessarily to sell, although that is there, but to create awareness about our culture. That was how it all started, and in 1996, I went to Cyprus. It was the first country I went to.
Since then, I have gone to many other countries, even on my own and sometimes with other organisations. For instance, Rotary International once took me on an all-expense paid trip to exhibit my wares.
The contacts I make on those trips are even more valuable than the income from sales. I have met so many people indeed. And, that is why I appreciate this business. It is interesting for me.
I have also trained at least forty individuals in the production of adire through some organisations' empowerment programmes. Unfortunately, now, there are fewer people willing to learn. So, we need to do more in that aspect, encouraging more participation and even giving free training, because we need more people in the business. I have been doing that a lot of that as my contribution, under the auspices of my company, Real Concept Nigeria Limited. I also give certificates to the trainees which they can use to work anywhere in the textile industry.
I am happy with what I am doing.
I, however, wish that I had gone further with my education.
I have had many instances where I had been asked to bring higher education certificates in some competitive contract bidding; usually when they wanted to knock off people.
So, I advise younger ones that being educated is important to a certain high level. Thank God, I now have children who are graduates; one is a geologist, another a lawyer…. Although they know how to make adire but only me and my second wife are in the business.
You are likely to find me displaying my wares at seminars, conferences and such other events around the country.
After my first marriage, which produced four children failed, I travelled to Israel in 2008 and I lived and worked as a cleaner in Tel Aviv.
I returned to Nigeria in 2010 and decided to return to the fabrics business. It was one customs officer who introduced me to taking my wares to conferences. He had invited me to a conference of the Nigerian Institute of Builders in Gombe that year.
Thankfully, with internet, we are able to get information on where these events are taking place. We also get invited by organisers to some events which we had attended before.
That is one of the benefits of the contacts we make.
We must be certain that marketers are allowed before we set out on the journeys.
We also must be sure of the expected number of participants at events to determine if they would be worth the trouble.
I look for affordable hotels to spend the night or nights, as the case may be. For instance, for this event at Eko Hotels and Suites, I am staying at a guest house inside Mammy Market, Bonny Camp which costs five thousand Naira a night. One has to be mindful of one's expenses. For this trip, I brought three fifty pieces valued at a little over two million Naira. I just might make close to half of that, because, really, these times, buying clothes may not be the priority of many. But, we thank God that we are still productive. Doing nothing is (not an option).
If anyone is interested in inviting me to sell at their events, I can be reached through my WhatsApp number: +234 803 211 1540. Thank you.
TO KEEP US GOING
This initiative which started as a demonstration project for an intern of The Journalism Clinic has, before our very eyes, taken a life of its own, demanding a lot more resources than envisaged.
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Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900