Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Aba, a city that prides as the ‘Japan of Africa’, is the hub of creativity. The appellation did not come by accident rather through the dexterity and ingenuity of its artisans which has endeared it to buyers within and outside the country. Made in Aba products are fast capturing the world market and wears are not exempted.
Before now, made in Aba clothes, like other made in Aba products, was treated with derogation and disdain, but when Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu announced during his inaugural speech on May 29 at Umuahia Township stadium that he would only wear made in Aba dresses all through his tenure, the Aba tailor did not envisage the effect of the governor’s action on his fortune.
The governor also pledged to turn the fortunes of Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the State around, adding that he will equip at least two hospitals in every local government area within his first 100 days in office.
The decision was propelled by the governor’s desire to popularize the products, and to patronize and promote the products. According to him, if the products are given the right exposure by the government, they could compete favourably in the international market.
The governor’s decision has changed the fortunes of the Aba tailor for good. Demand for made in Aba wears has increased tremendously and has affected both local and international market for the products.Aba, the ‘commercial-hub of Abia and the entire South East’ and which is fast assuming the leadership of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) of the nation is now the destination for fashion.
Elder Gospel Nwakwue, a tailor, whose business is located along Abam Street, within Ngwa Road axis of the city, said that the governor’s action has increased his clientele.
“There is increased patronage of Aba made wears since the pronouncement of Gov. Ikpeazu.Our products are now receiving boost because of this singular decision by the governor. Residents in their bid to emulate the governor are now going for Aba made wears.
“The products are even more popular outside the state. My clients cut across Port- Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja, and Onitsha. Aba made wears have captured markets in Cotonou, Lome, and several other places,” Nwakwue said.
Not only has the market for made in Aba wears improved but one of the factors for which the products were derogated, quality, has also improved.
Wears sewed in Aba are exported to neighbouring African countries, repackaged and smuggled into Nigeria as foreign shirts. This assertion gives credence to a story where it is alleged that an Abian based in abroad visited home and flaunted one of his wears as foreign only to be told by one of his brothers that the cloth was sewed in Nigeria, precisely Aba. The story is further narrated that when the argument lingered, the tailor brought out the button and the label which featured on the cloth. It was then that the abroad-based Abian was convinced.
Amaka Obi , a client to one of the tailors, said that she decided to patronise made in Aba products when she discovered that most of the designer wears they bought in supermarkets in major cities in Nigeria or supposedly made by the top designers, which they paid exorbitantly for, were actually sewn in Aba.
The ability of the Aba tailors to download designs from the internet and copy them exactly has given them an enormous edge in the business. They equally interpret designs from fashion catalog.
The Aba tailor has a lot of things going for him and enjoys comparative advantage over his counterparts operating anywhere in the country. There is availability of quality clothing materials which are imported into Aba by some businessmen. Because of the nearness to the market of these imported fabrics, these materials are bought at a relatively cheaper rate and this enhances the sales of the wears because the cost of making them is cheap.
Another tailor, Ben. Ihekoromadu, attributed the boost in their productivity to the adoption of mechanized operations. He said that manual era which the manual machines represented is no longer in vogue as the in thing now is industrial machine.
“Industrial machines have contributed immensely to the success we are recording in our businesses. It has made sewing operations decent and has provided a boost to our productivity.
“Sewing business is no longer the dirty business it was regarded as before because of the use of manual sewing machines and charcoal iron. There is ease in the operations of the tailor now because almost every segment in the cloth making process is mechanized,” Ikekoromadu said.
There is always an odd in every prospect. The success of the Aba tailor is sometimes undermined by the activities of unskilled tailors who parade as professionals thereby serving as the clog in the wheel of progress.
The unskilled class is mainly constituted by people who are not trained tailors but are into fashion designing business. One of the tailors narrated that some of them take inappropriate measurements from their clients and brought to the professional tailor who is confronted with some challenges making such cloth.
The problem of the Aba tailor is not limited to the above. The tailors are scattered in mini clusters around Market by Kent, Market Road by Mosque, Tenant Road, Etche Road, and Ngwa Road. This arrangement leads to poor regulation of their activities, and may in turn; affect the quality of their products.
Just like Gov. Ikpeazu has proposed a cluster for garment, shoe, belt and bag workers at Umukalika, a shouting distance from Aba, tailors in Aba also deserve a cluster.
This cluster will ensure concentration of men with similar skills will promote competition and then innovation and will provide the common spirit that is necessary for cooperation and cross fertilisation of ideas.
The shoe makers will easily learn about changing economic conditions, adapt and benefit from the changes; and the physical proximity of these tailors would encourage interaction and promote the exchange of ideas and expertise and this will, at the end, stimulate innovation and economic growth.
Power is required in most of the operations in cloth making, especially now that the almost all the processes are mechanized. The tailors are appealing for constant power supply as their operations are grossly affected by regular power outages.
Like ‘Oliver Twist’ the tailors would always ask for more. They want government to come to their assistance in form of soft loans to enable them acquire machines to make their operations easier.
Indeed, there is an ongoing revolution in the Aba fashion industry triggered by the decision of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu’s decision to adorn Aba made wears throughout his tenure. Join in that revolution as Aba is now a destination for your safari suits, senators, trousers and shirts. Don’t be left out.
Ukegbu is SSA to Gov. Ikpeazu on media.