With over 20 years experience in the fashion industry, Nigeria’s foremost designer, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo, owner of Pan-African clothing line, MUDI Africa, says Nigeria is yet to tap into the big resources in the fashion world. The celebrity designer, who designs clothes for artistes, fellow celebrities and powerful people in the society, in an exclusive interview with FinIntell shares top secrets to his success.
You have been in the fashion industry for long. Would you say Nigeria is tapping the full potential in this sector?
We are not getting it right yet. The fashion industry is huge and the potential in a country of over 150 million is enormous. Millions of people in this country need to wear clothes. Even those that don’t have enough money still spend to look good. Everybody wants to dress well. After eating, the next thing is what to wear. So the industry is potentially viable and Nigeria is yet to tap into the big resources in this sector.
How helpful has the financial institutions been to the industry?
There is no financial backing anywhere. The banks are not helping us. All they want from you is your deposit. Banks don’t believe in us. Blacks generally don’t believe in themselves. Each time I open an outlet I go broke because I don’t get any fund from banks to operate my business. I save to invest. It is just discipline and hard work. If any bank is chasing you now it is because of your deposit. Banks don’t know how to take risk when it comes to investing in people.
What is Nigeria getting wrong?
Our value system in this country is generally wrong. Take for instance, a less creative designer who is a relative of someone in power will get more patronage than a more creative designer who knows nobody but has a brand. Even financial institution will assist the man close to power because of what they can get through him.
In this country people look at what surrounds you than what you have inside you. There is so much attached to people’s name here. We don’t look at content and what you can provide. If we can get our value system right, every other thing will be in place; corruption will reduce and our culture will be improved on. There are people who live fake lives in this country because the value system is wrong, and they call it packaging. The more abnormal you look the normal people think you are. It is now abnormal to be normal.
We Nigerians don’t have faith in ourselves. Maybe it’s a black thing. Most times we find it difficult to believe that a black man can be successful. When you see a black man making it they will attach something to it; forgetting that once you pay your dues, you will get the benefits and be successful.
It is only in Nigeria a Lebanese man or an American, or even a Briton will do well in business and nobody will say anything. But once a fellow black man does well in business, people will say it is either somebody is backing him up or he’s into a ‘fast run’. If you are not doing well after 20 years, these same people will say you have home trouble. There is poverty mentality around here. There are times I want to make some moves but will have to think twice to be sure people will not read meaning to it.
At what point did you decide to go into fashion business?
That was September 1992. Before I started this job I was leaving on goodwill because I lost my job. About ten of us were retrenched during Ibrahim Babangida sap period. I used to work with a company that deals in lightening and suspended ceiling business. I was living in Ketu area of Lagos State then, and I was popular in that neighbourhood among young men and women because of my dress sense. People say I dress well. Also, because of my passion for fashion, whenever my close friends want to buy cloth they seek my opinion on what to buy and how to combine the colours.
During my school days too, I was always the best art student in my class and also the best dressed. Most of my friends also attest to the fact that I have the ability to dress well. So there was a day two of my friends, Tunde and Emma, were discussing. The moment they saw me coming they just paused. When I got close to them, Emma said, “Clement, you need to start thinking of going to fashion school. People in this area know you as the best dressed. Don’t waste your talent.” Immediately he said that, Tunde told me he wanted to say exactly what Emma had said.
Since the ability to illustrate and design is inborn and all I needed was just the training, so I took their advice and approached a tailor to learn the basics of sewing, such as how to cut and make a good stitch. Today, the rest is history.
How has the journey been so far?
Initially when I started it was challenging. I had no capital at all; even though capital shouldn’t be the first priority. The first priority is your idea and creativity. But capital is necessary just to help you up so that you can express your ideas more.
Where I am today is the grace of God and a personal effort. It is one thing for God to give you a talent and it is another thing entirely for you to develop the talent. In life one must have a drive.
I should also say that human management in terms of staffing is another challenge I encountered along the journey. Nobody wants to be patient and learn. Everyone wants to make it now. They don’t want to pass through the process of growth. In life there is a process of growth and you must pass through that process if you desire to succeed. It took me over 20 years to get to where I am today. Even though I create designs now, I still learn from people. Once in awhile, I even consult the tailor that trained me and some people because they have more experience. There are people in this business that under two years on the job they feel they have arrived because of the glamour attached. But real growth takes more than that. You don’t rush it.
Although over the years I have been able to sustain myself in human management. With the level we are now, I have gotten my own experience, exposure and in-depth training on the job. I see no reason why human management will be a factor that will hinder me again. We’ve grown pass that.
People may see me today and say MUDI has it all. But I have not broken-through yet. I am at this present level because of dedication, hard work, and the ability to create. One must keep coming up with new ideas. There is nothing like breakthrough for me yet. If you are someone who does the same business for 20 years and you are not successful, that means something is wrong somewhere.
You currently have four branches outside Nigeria (Accra, Dakar, Johannesburg and Nairobi). Can you tell us the difference in doing business in Nigerian and in those countries?
Fashion is universal, so people buy cloth in all countries. In the four countries that we have branches, they hardly speak your language. But once your clothes are good people will patronise you. However, in terms of reward Nigeria is number one because of the buying power. Our population is high and we are more fashionable than other African countries.
Nevertheless, the ease of doing business in those African countries is better than in Nigeria. In Ghana for example, getting your papers to register your business is not as difficult as it is in Nigeria. Also, in terms of infrastructure, they are better. But mind you, nowhere like home. No matter how rosy it may be outside, there is nowhere like home.
Why did you stop designing suits?
In those days I use to design suits. But I had to stop and focus on Africa clothes that cut across the region. It is good to focus on one segment and let people know you with that. You must be able to segment because you can’t do everything and do it well. You must pick your point and focus on a particular line. My clothes are ‘Afrocentric’; not pure native. They are not the typical native you see around. You wouldn’t even know if it was made in Senegal or Nigeria.
I believe so much in African fabrics because I am first a proud Urhobo man from Delta State, then a proud Nigerian and a proud African. Overall, I am a proud black man. With all sense of humility no designer abroad can intimidate me. They operate from their own level and I operate from my own level; different environment different society. We get inspired from different aspect of life. So if foreign designers open shops everywhere to sell their suits I see no reason why I can’t do the same for African attire.
If you look at the business environment now, you will see that people have started wearing ‘Afrocentric’ kind of attire to work; not just on Fridays alone. It is only the banking industry that people still stick to suit. You hardly see our politicians in suits these days. Gradually, Nigerians will prefer local attires to suits. A lot of African countries see Nigeria as a role model, and if we can get it right, the other African countries will follow.
Are we expecting to see MUDI in every street of Nigeria?
Even though my clothes are not for a specific class of people, but if tell you MUDI will be in every street of Nigeria, that will be a tall dream. It is achievable but it is a tall dream. I believe in things happening naturally; not over forcing it. If you ask me where MUDI will be in the future, I won’t tell you. This is because if you project today and you don’t get there people will say he’s just bluffing. I’ll do my thing and then allow God take me to where He wants me to be.
What is your advice for upcoming designers?
If you are coming in as a designer, you must discover if you are good and creative. Don’t just come because of the glamour. A lot of the designers are carried away because of the glamour. Many of them don’t have the structure and they are not making money. What matters most is to ensure you are making money, not the showmanship. Some of them are happy with the glamour that comes with being called a designer, but they are not making money. So discover yourself and spend time to develop.
With so much work at hand, how do you relax?
I relax on the job. If I’m happy doing my work then I’m relaxed. When I see people wear my designs too, it puts me in a kind of relaxation mood and reduces stress a lot for me. I only go to club maybe once or twice a year.