The story of city clothier, Mudi Clement Enajemo is that of grass to grace. Along the route to stardom, he had to trek from Bar Beach, Victoria Island, Lagos to Obalende because he couldn’t afford his transport fare. 24 years down the lane, he has built one of its kind brand that is celebrated all over Africa. Mudi’s headquarters in Nigeria is reported to be one of the most beautiful fashion houses in Africa today.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had a chat with the man of style, candour and panache as he celebrates 24 years of lucrative but challenging business.
Clocking 24 in business is a milestone, how does it feel?
I must give thanks to God for the talent and the wisdom He gave me to do this job and the will to take it to this level. Once in a while, I thumb up for myself because I have done well. I am saying this with all sense of humility. I started with nothing, no structure, no godfather.
Will you say you are fulfilled businesswise?
The word, fulfilled has a tint of pride and over confidence. When you say that somebody is successful, it might not be about naira and kobo but about the value such individual has added to the society. Do people see you as a role model? I don’t see fulfillment in terms of money but in terms of values.
What has kept you in business over the years?
Talent. People say I am good. I just try to do my work. I will also say discipline and creativity. People always say that Mudi is creative. I am enjoying what I do. I am an artist. I need a plat form to express myself through my designs.
My ability to create and illustrate is inborn. I have been pushing, I have kept on pushing against all odds. I am also disciplined. I get to the office 7am daily and I close 6pm. At times we work all night. It is part of discipline. It has become way of life because you must work to live.
Can you recall the greatest challenge in your 24 years of business?
I started from the scratch, no godfather, no money but discipline kept me going. Challenges vary. I will say managing people has been a great challenge, most especially in Nigeria. There is so much backbiting, intrigues, envy, hatred. You have to put in extra effort to remain on top. There are so much distractions but you just have to keep on working. I thank God for everything.
Mudi is already an international brand, what next?
The next step is to keep working. I must keep working. I wouldn’t say because I have gotten to a particular level, I will relax, no, I must keep working. I won’t get here by 10am or delegate the work I am to do before I come, no, I can’t do that.
I don’t like revealing my dreams. I prefer to keep working and pray to God to keep blessing me. I have a lot of things on my mind but I don’t want to reveal them.
How many outlets do you have outside Nigeria?
I have in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa. We have shut the one in Senegal. It wasn’t doing well, I had to shut it down. I don’t believe it was because I was not there physically because I don’t have to be there to make things work.
The Senegalese were not used to my kind of designs. They are used to kaftan, Senegalese attires or suit. We had to close it down.
Are you looking at penetrating other countries?
By the grace of God. It is our plan but don’t ask me where next because I don’t know. It is God that directs.
What do you enjoy most about the work?
I enjoy the creative aspect which I handle. That is the most difficult aspect of the work. There are times that I close and going back home, I reflect on what I achieved that day. It usually gives me joy because I have achieved one or two things. I derive joy in what I am doing, so much joy. That alone consoles me when things are a bit slow financially. That does not keep my creativity from flowing. I just have to keep working.
Will you consider clothing women as well?
For now, no. I want to stick to designing for men exclusively.
Was there a time you considered quitting?
No, never a time but there were two incidents I can never forget. One was when I started, I was using my one room apartment, a friend was staying with me then. One day, I went to deliver some clothes in Victoria Island, Lagos, and I was told the person had travelled. I had no money to come back home. I had to trek from Bar Beach to Obalende, then jumped into a molue bus, there was no money on me. I had to plead with the conductor that I had no money.
When I got to Ketu bus stop, I trekked from there to Cele bus stop then to my house. I was exhausted and frustrated because I had nothing on me. I was lamenting and my friend asked a very touching question. Mudi, which year you wan buy car from this work? He wasn’t mocking me but he felt my pain.
Another instance was when I got my shop, the rent expired and I couldn’t renew it. I went to see a senior friend of mine to renew my rent. I got my first shop through talented actor Richard Mofe-Damijo, famously known as RMD. I saved money to get a shop but it was not enough, I had to run to him so as to help me. After he paid two years for me, I couldn’t go back to him. I could only raise money for six months. That made me to go to another person. He told me to quit my work because it wouldn’t pay me. He said he would introduce me to a friend who got clothes from Italy. Adding that I could be selling clothes instead of designing, I will make more money from that. I cannot forget those two incidents.
The passion and excitement has kept me going, if not, maybe I would have quit. But I am still focused.
How much did you start Mudi with and how much is it worth?
As I said, RMD came to my rescue. There was no capital, no structure, no godfather. RMD paid for my first shop. He gave me about N30,000. I had about N17,000. When he wanted to give me the money, I said no, his younger brother should go with me and pay. The invoice was written in his name.
It took three months before I could move to the shop. I had to save to buy the things I needed to put there. I just started working. I had nothing at the beginning.
Talking about how much Mudi is worth, it is quite a difficult question to answer. We are in a country where people can say anything about you. Even with the level I have attained, they have said a lot. I just don’t keep them to heart because I don’t want anything to distract me.
People said that I laundered money for politicians. Some said I am into contracts, all negative things people said about me. If I now tell you I am worth certain amount of money, what do you expect them to say. It is not about money but the value you add to the society. I have contributed my own quota and will continue to contribute to the fashion industry. I will keep on working. I groom people. I have been to churches to talk to the youth.
I have counselled people for free. I will set up a fashion school one day. It is a process. It will come to pass. Adding value is most important to me.
We don’t see you often on the social scene?
I am married to two wives, my wife at home and my work. My work is my first wife. I met my matrimonial wife through this work. I used to tell my wife then, at times, we say it jokingly.
My social life is suffering. I hardly club. In two years, I have not been to one. Once a while, I party but by 12 am, I must leave because I have to be at work by 7am.
20 years down the lane, how will you describe your relationship with RMD?
It is cordial. He is my elder brother. I met him in Lagos through this work. We are still together. I am always grateful to him for his assistance.
How many cars does Mudi have?
I have only four but if God blesses me, I will go for more. Giorgio Armani owns a private jet. He is a designer. Here in Nigeria, people don’t want you to live a good life. It is a complex thing. We are too negative here. If a foreign designer owns a private jet, what is wrong if a Nigerian designer owns one too.
People feel that a black man cannot make it. We are too negative. It is really unfortunate. I have heard so much negative things about me but couldn’t be bothered. Some people have tried to defend me but I am not bothered. If after 24 years, I am still in that small shop I got through RMD, what will they say, home curse, they are following him after 24 years. They will still talk. You don’t expect me to work every day, wake up 7am, close late, got a loan to buy a building, sacrificed so much, got a shop in Ghana, employed auditor there. There is no way we can be at the same level. I can’t be at the same level with the kind of effort I am putting into my work.
When are you planning to retire?
I don’t know, Giorgio Armani is almost 80, he is still working. It is an endless job. I will keep working till I die.