The Mudi Africa fashion label is a household name in Nigeria and beyond, but not many people know the story behind the glory. In this riveting interview with EELive, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo shares his odyssey to stardom.
Let’s start from the beginning. Who is Mudi? What’s the story behind that brand?
Mudi: My name is Clement Mudiaga Enajemo. I got the Mudi from my middle name, Mudiaga which means to stand firm. I am Urhobo from Delta State. I grew up in Ugehlli, about ten minutes’ drive from Warri. I went through my education in Delta State, but I did not go through the University. The level I’m on today is because of God’s help and my talents although I have had to improve myself from time to time along the line. I made mistakes and I have learnt from them, so I will say I am an artist. I express my artistic virtue through fashion.
So what was growing up like for you?
Mudi: Then, we were surrounded by values which were very firm. Our parents taught us to be well mannered, there was trust then, everybody was open with one another. You could share your belongings with others unlike now when there is no more trust. I am from a polygamous home. My mum always made sure my siblings and I were well dressed. My mother was one of the well dressed women back then. So we grew up with the mentality that we had to look good. So the two things that worked for me are the desire to look good and the artistic virtue in me. My mother really stood out though my dad was late.
What did your mother do?
Mudi: She was a caterer, she sold food in what we call a buka.
People believe that Lagos is a place where anything can happen, that is why they come to Lagos. What was your own experience?
Mudi: I came to Lagos in 1990. My uncle brought me to Lagos. I stayed with him at first then moved in with my cousins in Yaba, off Community Road, close to UNILAG. I secured a job at ‘Bennit’ Industry, not far from the present Daystar Church on Ikosi Road. When I was employed for the job the M.D saw me as a young boy.
How old were you then?
Mudi: I was between 22 and 23, so I was drafted to the finishing department. The MD felt I was clean so he wanted me to be where they handled finishing. Unfortunately, we were soon retrenched because of the way the economy was under the military ruler then Ibrahim Babangida. But all the while, I was always sketching, even while working or during my break period. While my colleagues were sleeping I would be sketching because I’m an artist.
What were you sketching?
Mudi: Images and designs although I didn’t know that I would go into fashion. I sketched for the fun of it, just expressing myself. So back then when some of my friends wanted to buy clothes they sought my advice. I would help them pick shirts, trousers, shoes and all because they would say: “this guy get taste”. All this while, I was living on goodwill. For instance, we used to buy water in the neighbourhood, most of the houses there gave me water free. Back then they all knew me as Clement not Mudi. Then one day, two of my friends, Tunde and Emma. Yoruba and Igbo respectively were discussing, immediately they saw me coming from a distance they paused and were looking at me. When I got close to them Emma said “Clement why you no go fashion school? You get talent, see your dressing, na you dey help everybody dress for here, you get plenty talent, go fashion school”. Then I sat down and thought about it.
So I got home, talked with my mum and my elder brother and I got the go ahead. I walked up to an experienced and established tailor and spoke with him, told him what I wanted to do, then the tailor said, “we know you in this area, you dress well”. So I enrolled for six months. After the training, I was not satisfied so I enrolled for another three months. Because the ability to create was already in there, all I needed to know was how to cut and stitch. In between that time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I would go and source for jobs from office to office, some of my friends that I finished secondary school with already worked in banks. I told them what I was into so they will tell me, “make me two trousers, Chinos, shirts” etc. So that was how I stated in 1992.
You said you lived basically on goodwill, so where did you get the money to dress well?
Mudi: That was a part of the goodwill. My brother gave me things. And some of my friends, when I helped them to buy clothes, they can buy me one shirt. Sometimes they gave me money. I would go to Yaba market to pick fairly used clothes, the nice ones (laughs).
Where are your friends, Tunde and Emma now?
Mudi: Honestly I don’t know where they are, I can’t even trace them because God sent them to me. If I see them today I am going to celebrate them, I am sure they would be so happy to see me.
They might not know you, because of the name (laughs). If you see them today what will you do?
Mudi: There would be tears, emotions will flow because when I started it was tough. There was a day I went out to deliver clothes. I was complaining because they didn’t pay me. I had to walk from Bishop Oluwole in V. I. to Obalende because the guy wasn’t home so I had to come back with the clothes. I walked to Obalende. I then looked for a friendly bus conductor’s face that I could approach and ask for a lift to Ketu. When I got to Ketu, I had to trek again to Ikosi. By the time I got home I was lamenting. The person who was squatting with me asked me what was wrong. I told him, he looked at me and said “which day you go buy motor with this your work?” It wasn’t like he was mocking me, no, he only felt my pains because there wasn’t much gain. For example, on a pair of trouser I would gain N50 or N70. Back then a pair of Chinos was N350 or N400.
So where is that your friend?
Mudi: Right now, he is in Asaba. He is a contractor.
The man you learnt tailoring from, where is he?
Mudi: I still see him.
Is he still in the business?
Mudi: Yes, by the grace of God, I have been able to touch his life positively.
Do you still find time to sew or you are just in management now?
Mudi: It is just management and designing. At this level. If I want to do everything I won’t grow. I have to delegate. If I don’t delegate I won’t be able to cope, I will disappoint a lot of clients.
Was there any time in this business that you wondered if you were doing the right thing?
Mudi: Yes. When I paid for my first shop in Anthony here, a one room shop. I had to save a lot, the shop was N47,000 for a year. I had about N17,000. So I went to my friend’s office (those I went to secondary school with) but it didn’t work. Then I met RMD. I was making clothes for him. He helped me, gave me N30,000 and I paid for the shop in his name. It took me another three months to move into the shop because I had to put carpet and furnish the place. So, after two years my rent was due. I did not have money to renew it and I could not go to RMD again. I had money for six months and the landlord required at least a year. I went to an elderly friend though I didn’t say what I needed the money for, and he told me to forget about the job that I won’t benefit from it. He started mentioning names of designers and how they didn’t make it. He said he had a friend that brought in clothes from overseas, that he would talk to him to give me clothes that I can sell from one office to another, I just cut him off. Then I spoke with someone else, Uncle Fola, a friend of the landlord and he said he would speak with him. I started ‘Ajo’ at the end of the month. I was able to save N1, 500 because I saved N50 daily. I later increased it to N100 then N500. I made sure I topped on my savings so at the end of the month, I would take a bus to Afribank in Ketu. I gave my withdrawal slip to RMD with a warning that he should never released it to me, even if I was sick (laughs). It got to a time I checked my account I had N262,000. A friend of mine told me to get a car. I went to the bank to withdraw. When I got there, the cashier called the manager because they all wondered who was saving and did not withdraw. I took the money and bought my first car for N245,000.
What kind of car?
Mudi: Toyota Corolla, no AC oh (laughs). I drove the car to the bank they were so happy, I bought drinks for them, then they prayed for me.
You know, I had clients in VGC, about 12 clients. One day, I went to deliver clothes to a customer then I drove round and saw beautiful houses, So I thought the owners had to be rich and they would need clothes and I can provide them clothes. Back, to the time of my saving scheme (Ajo) there was a time the Alajo (Saving collector) stopped coming, I stopped seeing him as if he has fulfilled purpose of helping me during that period.
Are you saying that saving money is important for an entrepreneur?
Mudi: Yes it is very crucial to business.
What is your advice for those just starting out in business, because the excuse is they have to put money back into the business?
Mudi: Savings is a culture you must adopt no matter how small. You have to be disciplined even when you have made it in your endeavour, you still have to be disciplined. It’s a way of life.
So, what is the worth of your business now, how many people work for you?
Mudi: In South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal I have two staff each. In Port Harcourt, Abuja and Awolowo Road I have two staff each.
Do you make all your clothes in Nigeria?
Mudi: Yes, I do, then I take them to the other outlets outside Nigeria like boutiques.
When you look back, are there regrets, like things you wish you had done differently?
Mudi: No regrets at all, you know a white man once came to my office and said: “Mudi, you know, if you had gone to university your talents might have been adulterated because what you have now is raw.”
What would you say was your lowest moment?
Mudi: My lowest moments, when I’m down is when I come up with a concept and if at the end of the day it doesn’t come out well, I’ll destroy the project and not use it, it makes my spirit low.
People don’t think that the average artisan is serious about his job, what is your feeling about that since you have had to deal with a lot of things?
Mudi: People come to me that they need advice, they want to go into fashion designing. I ask if they are coming because of the glamour or as a career? Because some people want to be designers for popularity. You must have it as a career first not as glamour. So when you take it as a career you must have the passion and drive, then after the drive, discipline. The drive makes you push it no matter what and discipline keeps you there. You won’t say because you have arrived you get to work at 11am when usually you are there 7am. For instance, I don’t go to club, my social life is suffering although I like socializing. I went for a friend’s birthday party in a club. I left after two hours because I had to be in the office the next day. You get back what you put in your business. For instance, if I get to work 7am you close 2pm and I close 6pm with my workers, if they are doing night duty I am there with them, you know we cannot be on the same level. It is not possible at all. You know some people think I am doing other things other than tailoring, they think I am into drugs or money laundering, they forget I have been into it for 22 years, if after 22 years I am not successful that means something is wrong.
So you have never done contracts?
Mudi: No, but people don’t believe because of where we are coming from. I took a risk, went to Ghana, got a shop, got a lawyer, registered my company, paid tax, got an auditor and opened the shop, glamourised the opening by adding value. Ambassadors in each of these countries are aware of my presence, they recognize me. I must get their blessing before opening my outlet and no matter how small the income that comes from Ghana, it is a plus for me. Making it in life is as a function of the energy you put into your business, we are all destined to make it with hard work. The Indian and Chinese man would come to Nigeria with a suit case and go back rich, but if a black man makes it, they believe there is something else to it and it should not be so we should not lose faith in ourselves.
Nigeria is a big market so anything you do, do it well, the passion must be there, have the drive, people say I do my work well and that’s because I am happy with what I do, I keep pushing.
You once said in an interview that you don’t have role models because they disappoint you
Mudi: If you want to know the way someone truly is, give them power. So the people I saw as role models disappointed me when money and power came in. I am sorry to say, but most black people are not consistent in terms of attitude. And if you don’t have the right attitude, when you get into power it will be amplified. Nigeria is a blessed country but a lot of us don’t appreciate it. I am a proud and passionate Nigerian. You will never see a Togolese insult their country but we do that in Nigeria, little do we know that the more we curse the country, the worse it becomes.
You’ve spoken a lot about passion, discipline and drive, are these the virtues that guided you?
Mudi: Yes, and above all God. He has given us all 24 hours and it’s how you make use of it that counts, the value you are adding to life.
You have expanded well, so what are your dreams to conquer Africa?
Mudi: My dream is to contribute my quota to the fashion industry in Africa and globally. Fashion is universal because it doesn’t speak a particular language, when you make good clothes, it is accepted generally.
There are a lot of young people in Nigeria who have talent but have lost hope, what would you like to say to them?
Mudi: A major challenge we have here is the craze for money. Regard is not really given to those who are adding value to Nigerians. We have lost it because we don’t have value for those with talents. My advice to the youth is believe in yourself, any job you get is important, whether as a bricklayer, vulcanizer all these jobs are important because we need each other to grow the economy.
Did you know RMD back from home, Delta State?
Mudi: No, I met him in Lagos, I was making clothes for his late wife’s sister, so he met me there when I went to deliver clothes and he told me he would like to meet me because I looked smart, so that was how I started making clothes for him.
You got a lot of jobs through word of mouth, right?
Mudi: Yes, you know that a good work cannot hide itself.
Are your immediate family members involved in this business?
Is that a deliberate thing?
Mudi: No, it’s not deliberate but my son is very passionate about the work.
How old is he?
Mudi: He is 29 years old.
You say you don’t go to clubs, so how do you unwind?
Mudi: I derive fun when I’m working, and once in a while I go and listen to live band, I relax there.