I feel fulfilled and happy. I really feel fulfilled.
Looking back, can you recall how it all began?
It started in late 1992, 20 years to be precise. Initially, it was rough, but consistency kept me going. I also had that confidence that I will get somewhere, some people felt I wouldn’t. But that confidence and feeling was all over me, I knew I will make it. A friend of mine saw me sketching in my one room apartment one day, he saw the zeal in me and told me, look, you go make am.
There was a day I went to Victoria Garden City to deliver a client’s cloth. I decided to just drive round the area; I looked at those beautiful houses and said to myself that people building these houses wear clothes, so I decided to remain focused. In fact, that propelled me to keep going. I have done well for myself. I know I am good. I know with all sense of humility, I am. I thank God that I am good.
bThe skill is inborn, the ability to imagine and illustrate is a gift from God. I thank God for that. What I learnt is how to cut, how to know a good stitch then the managerial aspect of the business.
When you started, did you envisage you will go this far, even internationally?
No, but I had that feeling that I could do the work.
Where did you start from, how many staffers did you start with?
I started in Ketu, Lagos. I started without my own tailors. I was designing but giving it to people to make for me. I did that till 1996, after then, I got my shop, got my tailors.
How many staffers do you have now?
I don’t like disclosing such, but all in all, we have 35 staffers both in Nigeria and internationally. We have four outlets outside Nigeria, in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal.
What is the secret of your success?
I will say discipline. You can be very creative, have all the contacts, be good in whatever you do but are you disciplined? I have come to realize that most people who are successful these days are disciplined. Discipline has a key role to play in their careers. Discipline cuts across, it includes how you treat your work, the time you resume at work, your lifestyle in whatever you do, you must be disciplined. I get to work 7.30 am every day. Now, we are working all night, I have to stay with my boys to work as well. I just don’t give instructions, I stay to supervise them.
Can you remember the first fashion show you participated?
That was 1999, at Nigeria of A Thousand Laughs at National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
What are the pains of being a designer?
Sourcing for capital isn’t easy. Some people started on a platter of gold, they had parents who gave them huge capital. Some even started from their father’s house but I started with nothing. That is why I told you that I have done well for myself. I have tried.
What about the gains?
The greatest joy is when you see people wear your clothes, knowing that you are touching lives. There was a time I went to Kenya with a friend, we went to a club, he introduced me to a Kenyan, the guy was happy. He shook my hand and told me, he thought Mudi is a big man with big tummy. He shook my hand again and told me, ‘you make us look good,’ that is enough joy for me.
Can you remember the very first client you had?
It will be a little bit difficult for me. I can’t remember that. I was going from one office to another, giving my complimentary cards, I also went to the people that I knew, gave them my complimentary cards. From there, they ordered for clothes. So, I can’t really pin down the very first client.
What are the unique selling points that distinguish you among competitors?
People say my clothes are unique, I also know that I am creative. Consistency is another factor. We are focused and consistent. I can’t say because we have international outlets then I should sit down and do nothing to improve the lot of the brand that is not it. I believe those qualities have kept us going stronger.
Can you share your greatest challenge in the last 20 years?
Human management, our environment is not conducive to express our talent. There are a lot of distractions, a lot of people don’t believe that with hard work you can excel. That has cumulated to a very big challenge. Some people will say it is not only designing that we are doing. I have heard some say we include 419, drug trafficking. This has become a very big challenge. They will compare you with Mr. B and say Mr. B is not doing well in the same profession so you must be doing some underground business. They don’t know what Mr. A is doing to rise above others in his business. Mr. A gets to work at 7.30 a.m while Mr. B gets to work at 11.00 a.m. Do you expect them to be on the same level? No, it is not possible. Mr. B sells only without Nigeria, while Mr. A has gone international. No matter how small the amount he gets from Kenya, Senegal, it can’t be the same as servicing only Nigerian market. A lot of people have lost faith in themselves, tell me how will they do well.
How will you describe your style?
My clothes are Afrocentric, a white man can wear it, a black man as well. So, they cut across all races.
How were you able to build the brand that is called Mudi today?
It came into being through creativity. There are people who are making mockery of the fashion industry today. They are there because they have someone to sponsor them. Most of them are not creative. We pay attention to details, a lot of people just put so much glamour into it, no creativity, no attention to details. Mudi was built on creativity, focus, consistency and we pay attention to details.
How viable is the industry in the present day Nigeria?
It is very much viable. Nigerians are fashionable people, we like wearing well built clothes. Once you do it, you will make money. Though you need other factors to compliment it as well. But the industry is viable.
You have gotten to this enviable height now, what more should we expect in a couple of years?
I don’t like telling people this is where I want to be in so, so time. All I do is to put in my best. I keep coming out with new ideas, then I leave the rest to God. Once you are good and your hands are clean, God will surely direct you and place you where you ought to be. Just do whatever you do well, have passion for it, you will make money from it and go places.
How do you get these ideas, what fires your creativity?
I think a lot, I think every time so that I can come out with new ideas.
Are there really things a man shouldn’t wear?
Fashion is dynamic but you must be careful not to break the rules because there are rules in fashion. Women are allowed to play with colours but there are some colours a man shouldn’t wear. There are some colours I can’t wear. You can’t see me wear red or yellow trousers. To me, it is odd. But if you are an artist, fine, you are a show man, you are just expressing the showmanship of your business. Everything has a limit.
What is the fun about your job?
I enjoy the work, I am always happy when I am working. I derive so much joy in it. That is why I can be so tired physically at the close of work but mentally, I wouldn’t be tired. When I look at the things I have done, I console myself with the end product.
Is it hard to be a designer?
It is difficult to be a designer because you have to be creative. There are people who just duplicate foreign magazines, they put it into Ankara, no, they are not designers. They go to Vogue and translate designs. No, it shouldn’t be, you must create your own styles.
What styles are in vogue by your reckoning?
I make timeless clothes, I don’t follow what is in vogue. I don’t follow things that are in, I create my own, things you can wear even 20 years from now.
How are you celebrating Mudi at 20?
I want to keep what I have in mind to myself. I only opened up to people who are close to my heart that Mudi is 20. There is something that I am planning, when the time comes, we will celebrate.
It seems Mudi is a car freak?
I am not a car freak, it is just that I like good things. I can’t afford to drive regular cars, that doesn’t make me a car freak. If you have only two unique shoes, it doesn’t make you a shoe freak. I have just three cars, it is just that they are unique. If I see another one I like now, I will sell one and buy it. I don’t keep more than three cars at a go.
Who makes what you wear, which other designers do you patronize?
For the past 20 years, the things that I bought to wear from other designers can’t be more than two or three. I have only one jeans, I am not a jeans person. I wear what I make. I can buy inner wears, turtle neck, T-shirts.
Tell us about your family.
I have a son, there are people who don’t even have at all, so don’t ask me why one. I am not in a hurry, I am still waiting on God.
If you have an opportunity to change something in the fashion industry, what would that be?
I will work on unity, there is so much hatred in the industry. Though it is not limited to the industry alone, it cuts across other sectors. There is too much envy and acrimony.
Has your son shown interest in what you do?
Yes and I have a plan for him but I don’t want to disclose it now. I have seen it in him, the way he dresses, the way he carries himself, it shows.
Who is your friend in the fashion industry?
A lot of them. I have so much respect for a lot of them, but if I mention one or two names, others will be annoyed. I have so much respect for all designers, it is not easy to be in business in Nigeria.
It seems Mudi doesn’t really work with Ankara?
No, I do. See these pictures (shows the reporter some pictures) they are all Ankara. I use a lot of pattern fabrics. I just try as much as possible to interpret the fabric. When making some shirts, I can use six yards for just one shirt because I just have to create something unique from it.
How affordable is Mudi?
That is a difficult question. We are affordable, irrespective of your field if you want to spoil yourself, come, good things don’t come easy. I put so much effort in the work.
Why is Mudi not for women?
I used to but I stopped three years ago. There was so much pressure, but now, I am more relaxed, I work at my pace. Women are very emotional, if you don’t meet up, they flare up, so I had to stop. I now concentrate on men.
With your busy schedule, how do you relax?
Even working is a means of relaxation for me. I feel happy and fulfilled working, so I relax on it. As for my family, I close every 6 p.m and go home. I hardly socialize. My social life is suffering. If I am in Nigeria, every Sunday, I stay at home with them.
How do you react when you hear bad things about you?
There is a lot of envy in Nigeria because some people believe they can’t make it, they will start spreading negative rumour about others. Such people have lost faith in themselves. I have heard a lot about me, but I don’t bother anymore. I just keep my eyes on the ball. 2Face sang that if they don’t talk about you, that means you are nobody. If you keep thinking about the things they say, it will distract you. And for 20 years, I have not done anything aside cloth making. Anybody can go to hell.
What advise do you have for upcoming designers?
You must be creative, discover yourself first, have passion and drive for the job, make sure all these are complete. Then cap it all with discipline, that is all. Even if you are not making so much money at first, all these will keep you going until the profit starts coming in.
- SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN and JOKE ONITOLO
This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, June 5, 2012