Abimbola Ipaye, Soaring in the business of modernised Aso-Oke for the contemporary bride

She started her career at Stanbic IBTC pensions as a Data Analyst, since she resigned, she has never looked back. From dressing the wife of the Vice President of Nigeria, to First Ladies of different states, to distinguished individuals across the world, ABIMBOLA IPAYE is the MD/CEO of Traditions By Bimms and she soars in this terrain where she has become a pacesetter, modernising Aso-Oke for her discerning clients who value class and treasure quality. She speaks with KEMI AJUMOBI on this and more. Excerpts.

In the beginning
I grew up with four siblings. I grew up on the Island, Ajele. I never went to any private school. I never thought I would be doing this because I wanted to do something totally different from selling and buying. I wanted to be a diplomat; I wanted to be an air hostess because I love to travel. So my childhood days had nothing to do with what I do right now. But will you say I had fun while growing up? No! Because I had worked all the days of my life. I started working at the age of 14. I’ve always worked. That’s why I can’t leave work and go somewhere and not work because my brain doesn’t shut down.
So I didn’t have a childhood days because I never used to know what they called prom, I can’t ride a bike, I can’t swim. I can’t do a lot of things children do this days. Will I love to do all those things now? Yes. Do I think I’m I too old? No.

When and why did you go into your line of business?
I started doing Aso-oke seven years ago. The first Aso-oke I did was for my university friend who got married while we were still in school. So she needed someone to do her Aso-oke for her traditional marriage ceremony. She’s got an aunt that can do the Aso-oke but because I just wanted to do something, I wanted to show her that I could give her something new, I had to persuade her, and that was the very first job I did. Like I said earlier, I never thought of doing this. But I wanted to be a stylist growing up but at that time, styling wasn’t selling in Nigeria. So I just thought I’ll keep styling myself. I’ve seen Aso-oke so many times, and to me, I thought people were borrowing other people’s Aso-oke because they looked the same to me. So I said to myself, ‘there should be more to this Aso-oke than just wearing it plain. We should bring the modernity into Aso-oke than just leaving it the way it has been for many years. We should do something new’. The George material is just a material and someone would sit down and bead on it. Aso-oke as well is a plain material, so you can do whatever it is you want to, and go as far as your imagination can carry you. That was why I started doing Aso-oke.

How profitable is it?
I would say the stress is more than the profit. But do I enjoy the profit? Yes. Do I get to spend the profit? Maybe when I’m at work. Aso-oke is not a business that you’d be running and you go sit somewhere and someone is doing for you, no, you just have to be here, especially when you are the brain behind all the designs and everything. So the stress in this is just more than the profit I would say.
You keep improving with your style, how do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from so many different things, and by the time I’m done with my designs and someone asks me how I arrived at it, when I tell them, everyone is shocked. So I get my inspiration from so many things, to the common carpet, the common Ankara…name it. I might be looking at you and by mere talking to you something will just come to my head and I’ll say ‘do you know what, we’ll do this for you, and that’s what we’ll do’

Why the choice of Aso-oke?
I can easily say I just got tired of seeing boring stuff. To me, if I get into another line of work, I’ll make it new.

How do you include the modern twist in your work?
I would say I was the first person that started the idea of stoning aso oke and I can remember everybody mocking me then. “Omo to ma n stone ju ni” (meaning that girl that uses lots of stones). So a lot of people used to mock me, ‘that girl that uses a lot of stones, is that the only thing?’ To me, it’s not just about just stoning. It’s about recreating whatever it is. I can use stones for 100 years but I can’t keep giving you the same thing. I can have twenty people in this room, and I’ll do twenty different designs for them. None of the designs will look alike. So that’s putting a twist in whatever it is. Am I still learning? Yes. Do I still have a lot to do? Yes. Has my thinking stopped? No, it keeps improving every day.

What is that unique factor that brings your clients from far and near?
Being able to create my own stuff, I’ve built a name. The moment I start copying what other people are doing, I don’t have a brand anymore. So I’ve joined the line of copy and paste (which I will never do). Do I have the grace to do what others are doing? Yes. Have I been offered all the way from China? Yes. But do I want to spoil the name I’ve built? No. So the uniqueness comes from what I’ve been able to create. I have a trademark on my work. When you see it, no matter how someone else tries to copy it, you will know this is Bimms.

How important is the traditional attire in an African marriage setting?
It is a hundred and one per cent important because that is the only way we sell our culture. If a bride is not wearing the traditional attire from her tribe, she is not selling her culture. A Yoruba bride has to wear her culture. I don’t like you wearing a fitted top and a fitted wrapper for your engagement. While I was growing up, I’ve known Iro and Buba to always be elegant. And for you to know a Yoruba person, she would come in Iro and Buba. It’s bad enough that we’re putting all these stones and pearls on aso-oke, which we are not supposed to do but because we want to bring modernity into what we are doing, that is why we are glamming it up in our own way.

What do you have to say to Nigerians on embracing local fabrics more?
That’s the best. I wear more of African attires. People say it’s because I can’t find my size because I’m too skinny but the answer is No! Even when I go abroad, it’s either my skirt is Ankara, or an Aso-oke skirt or my top is something African. The more we wear our own African attire, the more people get to wear it, and I’m surprised because with the way I’ve done Aso-oke, it is not only Nigerians that wear it. I’ve had people from Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania and other parts of Africa wear my attires. Because of the way we’ve done it, people want to wear it. Someone practically said to me ‘I’m going to wear our own African culture. I want to wear aso-oke’ and she is from Benin Republic. So that’s me introducing Nigeria to the world because if she’s asked where she got her outfit, she would mention Nigeria’.

How do you help brides choose their styles? Take us through the process.
I start by getting to know the bride. I’ll call it a gift. By talking to you, I know the kind of person you are, especially your style. I know what you like to wear and what you won’t like to wear. So that’s why I’m very particular about talking to my brides, that’s where it starts from. Then I get to know what colours. In fact, if I have two or three conversations with you, I know what to do for you and usually, 90 per cent agree with what I’m doing for them, and 10 per cent say ‘no, I have my own style. This is what I want’. So most of the time, I get to pick what the brides wear. Like I always joke around, I get married every weekend because whatever it is I’m giving you is what I’ve imagined to wear and I just give it to you.

You are 7 years in this line of work, how would you summarise your experience so far?
I wouldn’t say it has been an easy ride, but I learn more and more every day. Naturally, I’m not an easy person. I’m not a patient person but this business has taught me a lot. I’ve learnt to deal with people in different ways; I’ve learnt that everybody can’t be like me. I’ve had to cry, I’ve had to laugh and feel so much joy. But to summarise it, I’ve felt more joy than the other part of it, which is the rough and most difficult part of it. When I’m dealing with a client, it might be difficult at the beginning but the moment I see the work of my hand being displayed, the joy comes from within. So in my experience, the joy is 70 per cent and the difficulty is just 30 per cent.

What poses these difficulties you’ve mentioned?
They come to me, we agree on colours; there is a reason why we have to pen down whatever it is you are ordering. People walk in and say ‘this wasn’t what I ordered for’, even when I was writing their order while they were saying it. Some, after making the orders, they can call you four weeks to delivering and say ‘I want to change my design’, even when the production is in process. They would bank on changing the design, and you have to change it because if you don’t change it, they say bad things about your business outside. It is because of experiences like these I started collecting a 70 per cent deposit.

Do you make for the groom?
Yes of course. It’s a traditional outfit so it has to be for bride and groom. We make their Agbadas too.

What challenges have you experienced in your line of business?
Basically, the challenge from my job comes from my workers and weavers. The weavers are sometimes irrational. They lie all the time, they take your money but don’t bring your job, some run away with your money. You’ve given your worker something to do, you’ve explained to them what to do, but they do something else because they think it would be nice, and because they are looking for an easy way out. My job is not an easy way out, whatever design I’m doing is not easy. If I want it in a certain way, that is what I want, that’s what I have in my head and if don’t achieve it, we are not delivering that job because you’ve explained to a client exactly what you are doing. I’ll say part of my challenges also includes the government too because they are not making things easy for us. Imagine having problems with customs, there is no power supply. We’ve been running generator for the past two weeks because they say there is something wrong with the transformer. You can see what I mean.

How do you get your weavers?
These weavers are freelance weavers, so mostly they come to me and say ‘somebody gave me your name, please can I work for you?’ My weavers are mostly from Ghana. I use less of Nigerian weavers, though they give me the authentic traditional outfit, but because they are Nigerians, they are not straight forward, they lie all the time, they are not serious with their jobs and they are never accurate. If they say they will bring something on the 10th of June, expect on it the 10th of July and with a lot of insolence.

Are your Aso-okes made here in Lagos?
Yes, it’s made in Lagos, Illorin, Isehin, and Oyo. Before, it was traditionally made and most of it comes from Isehin and Oyo. But because of the shiny things we put on it now, most of it is made here in Lagos.

What day in your line of work is it that you can never forget?
It’s plenty because I have cried so many times. I really can’t remember, but I know I have said a couple of times that ‘I don’t want to do this job anymore’. You get to a point in your business where you doubt if you are cut for it. I would say business is easy, but people are hard because of how impatient people are. Sometimes they insult you, and not expect it back because they are customers. I’ve cried so many times, and so many things have happened that I can’t remember.

The traditional outfit of a couple is the main focus, explain this further?
First, the couple is the the main reason everyone is coming together, so it’s very important that their outfit has to speak. We try to differentiate the couple from the crowd by not letting them wear what everyone is wearing. Secondly, by getting what they are wearing right, because everyone coming to your event is coming to see what you are wearing even though people don’t say it, it’s the most important thing. Also, for the fact that you are only doing this once, you have to get it right the first time. Your outfit has to be on point, and traditionally, that’s what they are supposed to wear. So everybody is waiting to see what their traditional outfit will look like and so you have to deliver a hundred and one per cent.

Final words
I always say to people, we’ve all been given a gift and your gift is different from my gift. Our gifts are different. Learn to focus on what God has created you to do, and be good at it. You keep improving because your customers don’t expect you to remain at the same level they first met you. I believe my gift came from God, and I wouldn’t anything without God. He has helped me from little. I’ve learnt that working hard and being truthful with what I do could get me whatever it is I want. Also, everybody should learn to be creative. This is my field, and I’m never leaving it.

 

KEMI AJUMOBI 

The post Abimbola Ipaye, Soaring in the business of modernised Aso-Oke for the contemporary bride appeared first on BusinessDay : News you can trust.

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