By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Armed wish qualifications in marketing and advertising, Tex Egbedi returned to Nigeria in 1977 full of ideas of things he wanted to do. Amongst them were the desire to set up an agency business having met advert guru, Mr Biodun Shobanjo whom he admired. The other thing was to run a chain of fast food business because he foresaw that a lot of people were getting busy and they would need someone to look after them. And the third was to own a label. Fortunately for Mr Egbedi., Nigeria was at a point where fashion was taking a leap. He was on target and to the amazement of many who know him, he set up Texen in 1988.
Although he has been the brain behind the. Texen shirts, ties and boxers, uncle Tex as he is fondly called, would not permit being called a fashion designer. Extremely stylish, he has traversed major fashion capitals of the world and stands for fine manners and good dress sense. He recently birthed a Texen outlet at the City Mall to create the necessary ambience for his growing clientele. Twenty years and more, on reflection, he gives credit to good quality as his staying power in the clothing business.
At his showroom in Ikeja, he took time off to chat with this reporter. It was a good afternoon, as he spoke candidly about the fashion industry, menâ€™s sense of style and tips to dressing well. We began the chat from how it all started.
At a time when foreign things were the order of the day, how did you conceive of doing local production?
I realised a long time ago that anything that has good quality will sell. I wanted to own a label, a strong brand like Don Hill or Hugo Boss. When I wanted to start, I was discussing with Chris Ogbeshe, and I said to him, are we going to import no names? He said to me, â€œgo for a label aggressivelyâ€ and somebody who was in the office, interjected and said, â€œlook at a name like Iwuayanwu, that name was the most difficult to pronounce in those days when he came up with that soccer team. But immediately that name became a success in football, it became the easiest to pronounceâ€.
This is a local example in marketing we cannot ignore. So, immediately Chris said that, I decided I would do it because I had done my home work, the opportunity to have worked in high class shops as a student abroad had helped me and I also knew the background of this business is anchored on contract manufacturing. So we stuck with it and today, Iâ€™m not regretting anything. Sometimes, you can have foresight and it doesnâ€™t work. There were people who said to me, â€œbecause of your contacts, you knew things would be banned that is why you went into productionâ€. I said no, I never knew. Iâ€™ve seen too many good factories in this world that with my rugged, Sapele upbringing I would not copy what is good.
What was on ground whets you started?
Many things donâ€™t work in this country because of our many problems but some of us are still pushing on because of our belief that things will be okay someday. I find it difficult sourcing money. We never had power but even the power situation in the 80â€™s is better than what we are getting now. The only thing I had was a dream to have a label. I didnâ€™t care about any obstacle. Call it a typical Sapele boy approach.
Menâ€™s fashion donâ€™t sell as much as womenâ€™s fashion. Why did you choose to do menâ€™s clothes?
I just knew we would get to that stage. If you look at what has happened in the last five years, youâ€™d see that men are becoming conscious of their looks and some of them have the courage to go to the salon for their pedicure. It never happened before. Many men cut their hair once a year or they donâ€™t even bother. But today, I know men who are worse than myself. I knew we were going to get there. Today, I laugh when these things begin to play out. I just had the foresight and today we are here.
Men have also been known not to bother about their well being but you have just mentioned that they are beginning to pay attention to these things. What would you say is happening to men?
I can assure you that within the group I belong to, they are aware of it. In those days, if a man suggested that he wanted to go to the salon to cut his finger nails or do any such thing, theyâ€™ll think he is a Sisi. If â€˜a man tells you that I need to go to the dentist because I donâ€™t like the way my teeth is looking, they will say something is wrong with him. But today, we are doing all of that. I do a lot of funny things.
I donâ€™t smoke cigarette but I enjoy good cigar just to spoil myself. In those days, no man would ask another man, â€œwhere did you buy this tie?â€ but things are beginning to change. The world is changing rapidly and we in Nigeria are beginning to key in. If a lady takes time to groom herself and becomes attractive, for Godâ€™s sake, why should a man be left behind? There are a lot of men who want to learn. You can be born with style because your parents have it but some people are out there who desperately want to acquire style. A student once asked me how he can acquire style and I said to him that the first step is to learn toÂ appreciate other peopleâ€™s style. If you see your colleague wearing a good shirt that you like, let him know.
As the creative mind here, how does Texen style men with pot bellies?
You donâ€™t have to follow the trend. I define a Texen man as a very confident man. He is fashion conscious but he is not going to get sucked with trend. If you have pot belly, you are just deceiving yourself if you want to buy a slim cut shirt. Why do you want to wear that? A fashion conscious guy will go for a classic shirt that will help to conceal the pot belly. And that is where style comes in. It is that thing in you that is so consistent. I donâ€™t wear braces because I donâ€™t have the right frame for it. I donâ€™t wear turn up trousers because I â€˜m not tall enough. So, why should I follow the trend because people are doing so?
I hope they know?
But this is the responsibility of clothiers. You donâ€™t sell because you want to sell. Here at Texen, we help people dress. I see some of these MDs wear pointed shoes and I just laugh. You donâ€™tÂ have to dress like a small boy. Sometimes, you see them wearing two to four biros in their pockets. Your shoulder pocket is supposed to be for your pocket square. Itâ€™s not where you decorate with 5-6 Mont blanc pens. These are people who see others do it and they copy. One of the things I always advise is to try as much as possible to ask what is appropriate. If you
went into a shop and they donâ€™t have what suits you, try somewhere else.
But you know Nigerians like to pose. They will rather show off their ignorance than ask?
I think that has to do with your person and the way you see yourself. Iâ€™ve seen too many big men and Iâ€™m amazed at their willingness to learn the right things to do. Much as youâ€™ve seen some who donâ€™t want to ask and then they make very obvious mistakes outside, there are also men who want to learn. So I have the confidence to tell you what is right to do. I have seen in the last six months, between 5-8 guys asking me to teach them how to knot their bow ties. I can say with all confidence that people are willing to learn and they are overcoming these barriers.
Which will you consider the biggest blunder men make?
I get upset when I see a man who does not know the actual length of his trousers. A guy who dresses well should be able to tell you off the cuff, my length is so and so. I sent a text message to a governor friend of mine that I just saw his picture in one of the dailies and I said to him that if I were the editor, I wonâ€™t use that picture because people who look at such magazines copy the style they see. I said, how can you wear a trouser whose hem line is folded as if you were wearingÂ a trouser that is meant for a very tall person.
Again, men who wear suits, for God sake, they should know that it shouldnâ€™t be too long so that a bit of the cuff would show. And the one that will make me pour water on a man is when they wear a suit and you see the label on the sleeve still tagged on it. And the last one is the idea of putting so many pens on the jacket pocket. If a man is carrying so many pens, I wonder then how many president Yaâ€™ Adua will carry because he has more documents to sign. I think it is sad and itâ€™s strange and these little things should be checked. When I see guys like Mofe Atake and Otedola in his white native, you know he has style. He sticks with the white and he looks good any time any day. People should find what suits them and stick with it. When you are younger, you try all things but you get to a stage when you know what suits you and you stick to it.
I try to convince my clients and if possible, I beg them not to wear some things because it wonâ€™t be good for them. Look at our hotels today, instead of a bow tie and shirt, the waiters are wearing ankara shirt and trousers which is very convenient. The most important thing for a waiter is where to keep his pen and note pad for orders. Nigerians like embellishments and things you add is not necessary. Sometimes you watch the red carpet and you see a lady with a clean, well streamlined dress and then with a feather somewhere around the should and I keep asking, what is the use of that feather there? Take that off and let it be so simple.
I was very interested when I talked about this photo shoot and you told me itâ€™s not your bow tie day. How do you compartmentalise your wardrobe such that you have certain clothes for certain days?
You got me there. This thing about style and the art of dressing well, you just try not to lookÂ monotonous. Somebody once told me that I am one of the people popularising bow ties. And I said no! I donâ€™t like that credit because where are going to put people like Bolaji Akinyemi or Biodun Shobanjo? Letâ€™s give credit to whom credit is due. When you talk about parting your hair, you remember Onosode. That is what we call style.
You identify them over the period. Theyâ€™ve told you that this is my way. The only thing you are going to see with somebody like Akinyemi or Shobanjo do now, is just to vary the designs of the bow ties. But they are not going to say that because they love bow ties they are going to wear leather bow ties. People like that will still remain within the classic train. When you have a wardrobe that is big sometimes, you want to make it not too boring.
You can wear straight ties for two days, bow ties for two days and then Friday for other things youâ€™d like to wear. I was reading one GQ and they were saying that people have to do business too on Fridays. It is only here Iâ€™m still hearing people say that Friday is dress down. Most executives would tell you that some of the serious activities-cocktails, dinners, they have to attend are coming up now on Thursdays and Fridays. And if you say first time has no second chance, then you just cannot afford to go to attend a business meeting as if you just crashed in. So we have no choice. And today, in the western world where we copy a lot of things from, this whole thing about thank- God- itâ€™s- Friday-attitude is beginning to go out. People are even asking for more hours to work.
If after work you want to change from straight to bow tie to attend an evening event, will the same shirt be idea?
My own Texen definition of a well dressed person, is the one who knows what to wear, where. If I have an invitation to attend a cocktail at the Vanguard premises and I choose to wear a straight tie in the morning, there are some shirts, the collars are good enough for both straight ties and bow ties. All you need to do after work, is to take out the straight tie and wear the bow tie except you want to add all the frills like special dinner shirt. Otherwise, if you want to swing from straight tie to bow tie, just choose a shirt that is right for both straight and bow tie. Every other thing can remain the same.
How would you describe your style?
What wonâ€™t you do in (he name of fashion?
Wear a pair of trousers without briefs.
What is your favourite fashion item?
Iâ€™m very weak for shoes.
So you must have a collection?
Oh yes, I wonâ€™t deceive you. I love shoes.
What do you have against pointed shoes?
Well, there are sone kinds of shoes that I canâ€™t wear again like the square toe shoes. If I must wear that, it has to he conservatively styled. I wonâ€™t wear pointed shoes. Iâ€™ll work with manufacturers to make some adjustments so that it is not so pointed but done in a classic way and I can wear it for as long as I like.
What are the challenges faced in your line of business and how have you survived?
First of all, let me thank God that weâ€™ve been able to stay this long but I commend Nigerians who believe in what we do. Apart from thanking God first, I always like to commend our clients for believing in us. Itâ€™s not easy to set up a local label like Ruff nâ€™ Tumble, Sophisticat, Mudi, Texen. You can only survive when people have confidence in you-people with very open minds who believe a good product can come from anywhere. Some buy a good product before they discover the name. Iâ€™ve had a woman tell me that every time she buys boxers from abroad, they wash them once or twice and they are gone but mine remain.
The truth is this, weâ€™ve tried to hold on to one thing-quality. Anywhere we are going to source it, weâ€™ll go for it. And because weâ€™ve held unto quality for quite a while, it has helped us to survive particularly now that people donâ€™t have much money to play with it. They need something that will last. We have so much obstacle in this country you heard us talking about diesel. And businesses run well when people have money. Right now, the disposable income is not there. People are hungry, there is high level of unemployment. But we have managed to stay. I have a passion for this job and I donâ€™â€™t plan to look out.
Which one of your client carries your label well?
There are too many of them-from governors to bank top executive to captains of industries, lecturers in the university etc. But Iâ€™ll just mention a few because they are close to this house and play fatherly, brotherly and uncle role and they carry our garment well-people like Dr Akintunji, Chris Ogbeshe.