‘People Relate With Me Based On My Work, Not Hype’

Mudi with Alhaji Lai Mohammed when the minister paid a visit on the designer at his studio in Anthony Village, Lagos.

Mudi with Alhaji Lai Mohammed when the minister paid a visit on the designer at his studio in Anthony Village, Lagos.

In Nigeria’s fashion sector, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo, otherwise known as Mudi Africa, is a household name, even across Africa. Since 1992 when the Delta State native started Mudi clothing outfit, it has been success story all the way, with numerous awards and recognitions to show for it. With outlets in South Africa, Nairobi and Accra, Mudi has been a great ambassador of Nigerian fashion and remains an inspiration to most young designers. On Thursday, March 3, 2016, the talented designer and trained illustrator marked his birthday, though in a low key. However, he used the opportunity to reflect on his journey so far, as well as counseled young talents on how to be a successful entrepreneur.

Today is your birthday, how are you celebrating?
Well, I give God the glory, but there’s no celebration; it’s a quiet birthday with my staff and few friends. When it’s time to celebrate, I will do that. You know we are in the era of ‘change; people are just trying to mellow down a bit.

When you look at all you’ve achieved so far, how does that make you feel?
I feel happy, I feel very happy because, if not for the work that I’m doing, nobody would have known me. Today, I know the level I operate; people relate with me today based on the on the work I do.

Before starting Mudi, were you in any form of paid employment?
No, I’ve never worked for anybody. When I left school, I was with my uncle; they were into suspended ceilings. Because of my attention to details, I was drafted to the finishing department to supervise finishing. While I was working there, during break, I would be sketching designs. I’m an artiste, but I picked fashion designing because I needed a platform to express myself. I was sketching deigns just for fun; I never knew it would be like this.

At what point did you decide to take it  seriously? 
I was doing that until a friend of mine called me and said, ‘come, Mudi, don’t waste your talent, go to a fashion school.’ So, I decided and went to an established roadside tailor to learn how to cut and sew. Because ability to create is already there, I just need to learn to how to sew and cut. After that, I had a humble beginning to where we are today.

How was the experience as a young entrepreneur back then and how do you fell today?
First of all, it humbles me and I must give thanks to God for the talent, passion, drive and discipline. Yes, people say I’m creative and I thank God for that; people say I put so much effort; I enjoy what I’m doing by the grace of God. As for discipline, it’s by the grace of God because there’s no way it’s 7 or 8am and I’m not here. I could say, ‘ok, let me go home and relax and delegate from home,’ but know, I’m always here. When my staff is working night, I’m there with them; that’s discipline. I see some of my contemporaries, they leave office at about 4pm and say they are going to network, what are you networking for? Sit down and do your work. Because of packaging, people are not real again, especially in a place like Lagos. To be real now, you must have self-confidence; you must know your onion, just be at your lane.

It seems most young people want to be successful, but few of them actually work hard to achieve success?
It’s the value; we have a very wrong value system. They say, when you pour water on the floor, it will find its level. But in Nigeria, when you pour water on the floor, it won’t find its level; people will redirect the water. Here, things are not done based on what you know; it’s about whom you know. Sometimes, I read the papers and I see young designers talking about brand; you just came into this profession less than two years and you are talking about brand? You can’t be talking about brand; the word is too heavy for you. By using the word brand, that means you are seeing yourself as a brand; brand has to do with over the years experience and consistency.

Are you saying most of  them are on the fast lane?
We are too fast in Nigeria; everybody wants to make it today, today. And we are not even trying to curtail it; we are actually encouraging it. You see people address themselves as veterans, icon, legends… and the media is encouraging that. In the end, you create room for mediocre to operate.

Sometime in the past, the Federal Government made efforts to support the creative industry, but it seems a lot of wrong people eventually benefited from the programme?
You are right; it’s because of packaging. So, you that don’t believe in making noise, who is practical, will go to them and they will say, ‘no.’ I’ve been doing this thing for 24 years. Hype is good, but I don’t dwell on hype; I dwell on hardwork. When you see some of these celebrities on billboards, sometime, they even pay to the agencies to use them on the billboards; everything in Nigeria, we have to lobby?

So, it has to do with our values?
Yes, water doesn’t find level in Nigeria; people redirect the water. It’s our value; we don’t want to work but we want to be known. We dwell so much on hype; we are too fast, especially the young people.

As an entrepreneur, can share some of your experiences?
Back to the issue of our value system, even the word ‘entrepreneur’ has been abused. You see a lot of people in the newspapers call themselves entrepreneurs, what have you don for yourself that you are an entrepreneur? Everything in Nigeria, we abuse it; we take things to the extreme. And all because, there’s so much competition, so, people look for all means to just cut corners, without knowing that it’s a process. Look at people like Giorgio Armani, almost 70-80 years, they are still working; it’s a process. What’s your take on ‘buy made in Nigeria’ campaign?

Like Ben Bruce used the word common sense, to rule a country, you need to be practical. If first of all we have faith in ourselves and believe in the country, to turn Nigeria around won’t take us too many years. For instance, if I have my way to see the president I will tell him it’s a simple thing. How many Nigerians go to watch our local league, but you see the level of energy we put in to watch foreign leagues; we even fight over it. If we have people, who have passion for the country, for instance, if Enyimba is playing and you see people like Tony Elumelu or Ben Bruce at the stadium watching, you can imagine the followership. No matter what we are doing, we must build passion for the country first. Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was at your studio recently, was it an official visit?
Well, I’ve known him for a while; for about seven years now. I make clothes for him and once in a while, he comes around.

When I left school, I was with my uncle; they were into suspended ceilings. Because of my attention to details, I was drafted to the finishing department to supervise finishing. While I was working there, during break, I would be sketching designs. I’m an artiste, but I picked fashion designing because I needed a platform to express myself. I was sketching deigns just for fun; I never knew it would be like this.

However, his older son, Jimmy actually mentioned to me that he might be coming over. I was sitting down out there with a friend of mine when I saw escorts. Before I knew it, he came out from one of the cars and said, ‘Mudi, how are you’ and I said fine. He just walked in and I followed him upstairs, that was it.

Has he been here before as a minister?
No, that was his first time; and he was soo impressed with what we’ve achieved. I remember him saying, ‘Mudi, you’ve done so well for yourself, nice place.’ I think he said that more than four times; when he was leaving, he repeated it. And he stressed the issue of dedication to job. He said a lot of our youths don’t have passion for what they do; there’s too much razzmatazz. Meanwhile, Kofi Olomide was here few weeks ago too.

On your invitation?
See, to be honest with you, I think it’s just God and people, who know you based on what you do. When Kofi came to Nigeria, a Congolese friend of mine, who works for Eko Bank, called to inform me that Kofi was around and that he wanted to get him some Nigerian made outfit; Kofi actually demanded for it. So, the guy said, ‘I will take you to Mudi.’ He invited me to the hotel where he was lodged; we discussed and I took his measurement. When I gave him my complimentary card, he said he knows my outlet in South Africa, that he has seen my signpost there. Eventually, he said he would love to visit my studio and see things for himself. The following morning, he was here; he was going for a studio run from here, but he ended up spending about two hours here, he played the piano; he was so relaxed. And luckily for me, because we didn’t actually plan it, I was able to get few of my friends and we did a small welcome for him.

Senegalese musician Salif Keita was here recently too?
I’ve known Salif for about ten years now; he’s my friend. In fact, he was here in 2011 to visit me; I put him in a hotel on the Island. Actually, what happened was that he was to fly from Accra to Abuja for CAF Award, but he told them he would prefer to stay in Lagos and spend the night with his friend Mudi.

What will be your advice to young people, especially those, who want to join this business?
My only advice to every young Nigerian is to take it easy, don’t do because somebody else is doing it. Because of our value system, people will tell you, ‘no, you are dull…’ Don’t worry, just believe in yourself; you need to build self-confidence and follow the rules.



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