Online Journal

vi. ABA: Money, Money, Money

A truck driver had been shot dead up ahead earlier that morning by armed robbers leaving the truck to block 3 lanes. We sat predominately still for almost 3 hours moving only a few metres every so often. (Thought I should kick the post off in a very dramatic Nigerian fashion).

Most people got out of their vehicles and stretched their legs, some walking up to 4 kms to meet their bus or car on the other side. Others sat sweating (from heat and fear) knowing full well that slow moving situations like this + lots of travellers + lots of luggage = the possibility of more armed robbers. I tried to play it cool and calmly hid my master card in my shoe, my phone in a seperate bag, my laptop under the seat and divided my cash up into 3 locations. Then I sat back, took out my locally brewed palm wine stashed in an old water bottle and dreamt of better days.

After 3 painful hours and a nights stop over in nearby town Owerri, we made it to Aba welcomed by my Father’s cousin who would be our charismatic navigation system through this bustling town. I was ready for action! I couldn’t wait to see the famous Bakassi and Power lane of Ariaria International market for myself and witness firsthand what I had been reading about for so long. Nigeria’s own little China where anything and everything could be replicated. Unfortunately fate would have it that I would fall sick with Gastro and not recover for 4 days. But hey, I lost a couple kgs and I had plenty of thinking time so I took that one in my stride.

When I finally made it to the famed Ariaria market, rain had swallowed up most of the roads (like it has done many rainy seasons before), but of course that didn’t stop anybody - everyone just swapped their thongs for gumboots, rolled up their pants and kept going. There were rows and rows and rows and rows of workshops and alleys upon alleys of more workshops dedicated to creating women and men's shoes, bags and belts. I saw every kind of shoe, knick knack, shiny embellishment, rope, heel, sole, lace, buckle, Nora sheet, lining, tassel and leather - I was in awe. I was overwhelmed. Versace, Zara and Nine West even made the occasional appearance and you couldn't tell the difference (until you peered in real close and noticed Zara’s logo looking a little suspect).

Aba is predominately home to people from the Igbo tribe and many are very proud of the heritage and history, (like most tribes across Nigeria). My father is from this tribe and I’ve always loved watching the banter and teasing that goes on between our people - not to mention the heated arguments followed by boisterous laughter.  Us Igbos are known for our distinctive love of business and of course money, money, money - and this market was living proof of that innate hustle.

Most men in the market worked in suit pants and a wife beater with their fancy shirt hanging up on a hanger behind them for when it was time for them to shut up shop. They crafted bag upon bag and shoe upon shoe, from 2 inch - square toe conservative mum heels to hot pink 6 inch - let's hit the town pumps. The passion and dedication to their craft and can-do attitude is what got me the most. I sat and chatted for hours with some of the workers and was thrown into the economic, political and personal tales that took place while tunes from Flavor, Tekno and Wizkid played in the background and sweat built up on the brow. Everyone knew someone who could do what another couldn't and the familial vibes were real. Whatever I gave them to work on, they took it on with enthusiasm (and as per usual a little confusion towards my “weird” designs).

I was ideally hoping to see more women working in their own workshops there but it wasn’t so. Female shoes and bags are dominated by mens hands and apparently require a “heavier touch” with the comment made that women “weren’t able to do such things as shoe and bag making because their hands were too soft and they complained at the work.”

I took a sip of water, bit my tongue and decided how I would calmly and respectfully respond to these statements. I also thought about possible solutions and opportunities. I also looked down at my soft hands and realised I needed a manicure. 

Without the help of some local heroes such as my Uncle Anthony and Max I wouldn’t have been able to navigate from A to B or even get up off that floor when my Gastro filled self was all kinds of sick, sad and sorry. Its people like this that you meet on journeys like this that remind you that your dream is real and important. I've been so thankful to witness these episodes of selflessness that show what being human and humble is really all about, truly bringing out the beauty of my journey.

This pit stop wasn’t an easy one, but it was necessary to see what manufacturing options were available to me and the brand and how an underrated abundance of talent is right at my fingertips in Nigeria. It was also necessary to see the high number of women who were absent from the industry which I was unaware of.

I’m hoping that Nigerians will continue to move towards supporting it’s locally manufactured goods and building up on this viable industry instead of opting for imported goods. I also hope the Government will look at investing more in this manufacturing economic hub which I’m sure generates a massive amount of revenue after Oil and alongside agriculture.

Until next time, back to Lagos I go.

Akudo xx

v. Call me Zaineb.

Yekini showing me some of his past work

Yekini showing me some of his past work

I said baby pink. They said pich (peach)  

I said beige. They said khaki 

I said grey. They said ash. 

I said baby blue. They said sky blue

I said navy blue. They said navy blue - we cheered. 

When Leaving Lagos for the 4 hour journey north to Iseyin in Oyo state, I didn't realise I would be entering what felt like a whole new country. I felt like a foreigner again. I was having to prove that it wasn't my first time back home in Nigeria and that I knew my taxi ride cost 4000 Naira not 7000, that I understood Pidgin and wasn't an onye ocha (white woman). 

But still I felt like I still had a lot to learn by being in this new territory. Oyo state is predominately inhabited by the Yoruba tribe, the 2nd largest of over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria. This small weavers community that I entered and its surrounds were were predominately of the Islamic faith and loved me that little bit more when I mentioned that my first name was actually Zaineb (Zainab) not Amy. (Seems like Mum and Dad gave me 3 names to attempt to make sure I could fit in and feel at home in as many places as possible). 

A good chunk of Iseyin's main revenue is generated from weaving where most of the community gets involved and looks out for each other. Freshly died cotton in every hue are scattered throughout the village adding bursts of colour among the concrete homes and brown dust. There is a strong determination to make sure the weaves are done at the highest standard as their reputation as skilled weavers is extremely important to them, particularly for income generation. 

When the day came to reveal my messily scrawled watercolour weave sketches, I felt very vulnerable as I didn't have a clue about what was the standard procedure.  Everyone had their 5 cents worth that they needed to add and I welcomed the expert advice with open arms. At times, many of the weavers just couldn't understand why I liked orange, white and black together, apparently turquoise and maroon (wine) was the new hot thing (I pretended to force myself to gag and by this universal action they understood turquoise and wine wasn't my style). 

The intricacy involved with weaving Aso Oke is no joke. We even sat down and did math calculations together to make sure we had the correct width and everything added up to a particular number determined by the length of the weave. Of course I incorrectly added everything up using my iPhone calculator while weaver Yekini correctly added using his brain. Yekini's 4 children were also involved in setting up the loom with him, one as young as 4 who knew how to twist the cotton in preparation for his dad. It was a complete family affair with locals dropping past to see what the commotion was all about.

After I showed them my designs, we then went through 2 hours of of explanations, jokes (at my expense) head scratching, more disapproval, confusion, chats about Nigeria's colonial history, me offering nuts to everyone forgetting they were all fasting for Ramadan, more head scratching, price negotiations, selfies,  and then finally, general agreement. I was then told to return the next morning for the samples to make sure they were okay. 

I'm due to return to this sleepy weaver town in a few weeks to continue with the larger batch. Until then they wished me well and I packed my bags for Aba. (Yes!! I finally made it to this rough as nuts but charming town). It was an 8 hour journey broken up into 2 long days which included 3 bribes, 2 undesirable hotels, 1 bus x 1 storm + 0 windscreen wipers, 3 flooded roads, a 3 hour hold up due to armed robbers, 1 case of gastro, more amazing food following the gastro, 5 selfless human beings, and 1 astronomically superb market.  Don't get turned off - you just gotta take the good with the bad I guess (and by God I did).

 

Akudo xx

iv. Minus China, India, Italy, Sanity.

Naija x Italian leather. 

Naija x Italian leather. 

So I've not yet made it to Aba (a few days more) but thought I'd share what I've experienced in the last week while leading up. In a country where raw materials, people per Sqm and resources are bursting at the seams, you wouldn't think I'd be having the trouble that I am finding what I need. I believe It's not always about just reporting the successes and triumphs of the journey, but equally as important to mention the failures, unanswered questions, sweaty inner thighs, and heat rash. 

Upon entering this new chapter of Shekudo, my goal was to make sure I used 100% Nigerian materials (particularly bi-products) such as leather which started and finished in Nigeria. I.e. not sending xyz cow skin off to xyz country to get treated / dyed and resold back to Nigerians (which is often the agreement between Nigeria and Italy when it comes to most leather). I was dismissed a few times when I requested Nigerian start-to-finish leather and offered the Italian finished product over and over. Unbeknownst to many, Nigeria has an abundance of leather, some of the best in fact (i.e. Sokoto red goat skin demanded internationally by Global Fashion houses can be found here)* One tannery located in Northern Nigeria (Kano) actually supplies a chunk of its leather to Louis Vuitton. Yes, - now you know. However investment into many industries including leather is dire, with the economic benefits being ignored.

Chinese imports have recently flooded Nigeria and tend to take attention away from the many small industries and little guy manufacturers who are in direct competition with these cheaper substitutes. For example - Nigerian made shoes (particularly those from Aba) can compete with some of the worlds best (and the cheaper Chinese alternatives) with technique and craftsmanship handed down through generations. (You can read more here )

My journey will require me to travel to 3 seperate villages, each within 4-8 hours of Lagos and each other to find the raw materials I require. But I'm determined to find what I am after so I can feel comfortable delivering a genuine product which prides itself in being as close to 100% Nigerian as possible. Minus China, minus India, minus Italy (minus my sanity very soon).

I'll keep you posted.

xx Akudo

**Read more here

iii. The Very Attractive Kidnapper

Ordinary women doing the extraordinary everyday.

Ordinary women doing the extraordinary everyday.

While driving through the Abuja streets the other week, there was a big discussion in the car about a new Kidnapper on the hunt who lured male victims to her car with her beauty (insert cliche movie scene here). The men chatting away in my car were surprised that a woman of such beauty who held a Bachelors degree would do such a despicable thing. I proceeded to ask whether her actions would be more acceptable if she were a male or better yet an unattractive uneducated female?

They paused for a minute, exchanged confused expressions and burst out laughing like I had said something so outlandish (thanks for the word Shets).

There are so many overt and covert double standards (like the example above) that face women no matter which country you go to and travelling alone as a young woman isn’t always easy because of these undeniable inequalities. Before heading overseas / leaving the house, I usually have to prep myself up a few times repeating to myself in song; “Who’s world is this? It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine!!” (See Nas, Illmatic 1994). 

In all seriousness, it can be daunting - but entertaining the idea of what negativity may possibly come is time consuming and tiring. When I travel, I try to be as alert, realistic and present in my surroundings every time. I also try to implement bits of advice, like some given to me by my old man; “...talk less and listen more until I get used to the ebb and flow of things.” or “...Don’t smile too much.” - Cheers dad, I've chosen to stick to a 20% smile quota per day just to be safe.

Anyway, aside from that, the last few days have been filled with meetings, sourcing with suppliers and lots and lots of eating. In the midst of it all, I’ve been able to soak up a few tips and tricks handed over to me by concerned friends and family as they pass through. Thought I would share a handful of them in case you’re a female (or male) ever feeling like a Nigerian sabbatical;

  • Look a minimum of 12 times both ways before crossing roads. The Okada's (motorbikes) here are ruthless
  • The first price is never the real price. You will need to barter a few times and maybe walk away before you get the “last price” (even at some hotels and restaurants). There might be a little bit of arguing in the mix, but by the end of the transaction, you will be like old college friends laughing over a bottle of Star beer.
  • Get to learn your traders, security guards, drivers and how to greet them. Everyone wants to be a chief in life, so whether it be Oga, Alahaji, or Mallam - give him some top dog label and share the respect.
  • Tip, tip and tip - and I don’t just mean waitresses (even the receptionist wants a cut if they’ve made your day easier) - your kindness is good, but your Naira is better. 
  • If you’re white, mixed race, Asian - or smell like a foreigner in any way - prices will double or triple. Return to step 2 and don’t get all offended. I’d try to rip me off too if I weren’t me.
  • Ladies, if you’ve arranged an uber (yes they are fully functioning here and saving lives), be aware that your driver might just save your number and invite you for lunch the following day. 
  • Finally, if you’re a female planning on entering the kidnapping business, just make sure you aren’t too attractive or intelligent. There’s nothing a Nigerian hates more than a wasted degree or a pretty face gone astray. 

Till next time when I head to Aba, the commercial hub of Nigeria - to immerse myself in market maddness. Apparently they can create anything from scratch there, including a new wife for a lonely man.

Akudo xx

 

 

 

ii. Potholes & Praises

Friends of friends of friends. The stylish trio who met me upon my arrival

Friends of friends of friends. The stylish trio who met me upon my arrival

So I've been in Lagos now for 4 days and it's all coming back to me. The blaring Afrobeat on every corner, the heavy horn honking (which to Nigerian's is mostly a polite way to tell another person that you are overtaking), the fragrant smells of Nkwobi, Suya & Akara (look them up!) The fact that you don't need to leave your car while driving because the street sellers have it all (forgot your toothbrush on the way to your lovers house? Sweated up your shirt and need a Perfume? Or you missed Alicia's swimming carnival and need a Hannah Montana DVD to make her smile again? - don't worry, they've got it covered). Oh and I can't forget to mention - the painful but entertainingly bouncy potholes on the road, and the constant praises to the most high (don't believe me? Check the marketing slogans on the back of most vehicles; "...The burial of Satan - the day your problem must end!"). 

YES it's been 10 long years since I last visited Nigeria, but no matter how much time passes, there are 3 words that will always sum this place up for me;  chaos, congestion and charisma

Currently the population sits at roughly 182 million (a few more Naija bubs will be born by the time I finish this post) and there are over (approx.) 450 languages that have been and still are spoken!  - now if that's not a richly diverse country, I don't know what is. Basically, most - if not everyone here is on their hustle and personally navigating through that is often overwhelming. I've had to take off the Aussie cap and whack on the Naija helmet, ready to take on what comes my way.

I often ponder on thoughts of home and the challenges and triumphs that I may face while here. Thoughts continuously popping up like "Why did I trade my warmly lit ambient room for power cuts and showers that run cold..." or "...I could be riding on a semi new air-con bus that mostly runs on time instead of this tin-can van where I'm tooth to tooth with the bloke next to me and the trip is taking 12 hours to reach our destination rather than 8..."  But regardless of all of these thoughts and doubts, I'm taking the experience for what it is. An experience and a chance to develop, learn and grow as a solo unit as well as a brand. A place which has talent bursting from the seems and people waiting and eager for the next project.

Most people wouldn't bother stepping foot into Nigeria unless they were posted to work here or they were coming back (or forced) to see family. But I'm excited to show another side of this beautiful country via Shekudo, a rich and complex country with culture and character proudly waiting around every corner. You just have to be open to observing beauty from a different lens, - a lens different from the one that most of us have been trained to see through.

Abeg, until next time!

~Akudo  xx

PART II, CHAPTER i - Hello from Kyoto!

Currently posted in Kyoto, - a small minimalistic hostel sharing its common wall with an Irish Pub. Jazz and Bossa Nova play in the background but the fighting cats just outside my window and the bloke slurping his noodle soup to my right, over power the smooth boppy vocals that once were soothing.

Why am I in Kyoto?  It was merely a slight detour from the original journey. What original journey you ask? A journey to the beautiful hustle and bustle that is Lagos Nigeria, where Shekudo will start a new chapter in her 2017/18 Story. By designing and manufacturing in my second home, the Shekudo brand will be able to deliver traceable, handmade products directly from one pair of hands to yours.

Come get amongst it.

Whether you're from Malaysia, Namibia, LA, New Jersey, Australia, Bolivia or (insert state/country here), I invite you along to experience as I experience and be apart of the story.

x Akudo.