By Amaka Agwuegbo
When, three years ago, Babasola Olusoga suddenly found himself responsible for planning the aso ebi of his elder brotherâ€™s traditional wedding, little did he know he was walking into his future career path. As a secondary school student, Babasola was already into buying and selling, not because his parents couldnâ€™t afford to train him, but because of his passion for the trade.
Today, Mr. Babasola Olusoga is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Aso Ebi Planner, a business he started three years ago.
According to the Ijebu Ode born Olusoga, who is also the last born of the family, he has always had the passion to buy and sell things right from his secondary school days.
â€œI had always been buying and selling little things that my friends could afford while I was in secondary school. Then, mother would take us abroad for the summer holidays and while my siblings spent all their allowances on shopping, Iâ€™d split mine into two and use one part for my shopping and the other to buy little things Iâ€™d sell to my friends.
â€œI used to buy things like cute math-sets, pencils, pens, you know, things that my friends in secondary school could afford to buy. This continued, but on a bigger scale when I gained admission to study philosophy at the University of Lagos.
â€œBut three years ago, I had the responsibility of planning the aso ebi for my elder brotherâ€™s wedding because my other siblings were not around to do so. I had to organise for 400 sets of aso ebi for the engagement and 700 sets for the white wedding. On the wedding day, everyone that saw the aso ebi were impressed and wanted to know who selected it.
â€œAfter my brotherâ€™s experience, I had to plan the aso ebi for my motherâ€™s birthday party and two other people who I planned theirs for. But the truth is that before planning my brotherâ€™s aso ebi, I never nursed the intention of becoming an aso ebi planner.
â€œThe concept of Aso Ebi Planner came up after the successful aso ebi planning of my brotherâ€™s wedding, the two other parties and my motherâ€™s birthday when it crossed my mind that there are wedding and event planners, caterers, hall decorators, but no one to handle the aso ebi aspect of weddings and parties because there is no wedding, party or event that people donâ€™t wear aso ebi.
â€œI knew that there should be someone whose area of specialisation is handling the aso ebi part of parties and events and I decided to be that person. To God be the glory, I make bold to say that Iâ€™m the first aso ebi planner in Nigeria.â€
Commenting on the patronage and profitability of the business, Babasola had this to say.
â€œThe business is profitable, though all our profits have been ploughed back into the business since it is still young. This is a kind of business that brings you out because when I had only the boutique, no one knew me as customers just come in to buy stuffs and leave. But the Aso Ebi Planner has brought me out and put me in the eyes of the public and I donâ€™t have any regrets being in this business.
â€œPatronage has been good as a lot of people come for my services. I have done a lot of high profile jobs which Iâ€™ll attribute to the uniqueness of our total packaging. We try as much as possible to match the aso ebi with the carrier bags and other souvenirs that would be given to the buyers and this has endeared us to a lot of clients.
â€œWe also have a yearly bridal exhibition and fashion show which showcases colours and patterns of the year, the reigning fabrics. The aim is to inform people on whatâ€™s in vogue and this keeps on in the lead. This yearâ€™s exhibition ran for 5 days while we had a one day bridal show and we are already planning for 2011 show.â€
Babasola pointed out that though his parents and siblings kicked against his passion for buying and selling as a child, now his siblings are somewhat envious of him as they have to work for other people.
â€œMy siblings particularly were always against my passion for buying and selling things and they always prevailed on our parents to stop me from doing so.
â€œBut mother always told me I could continue to trade if I promised her that it would not deter me from completing my studies, and I thank God I am a graduate.
â€œNow, my siblings are happy for me and somewhat jealous of me being a boss of my own because they would always say to me â€˜you are very lucky you pursued your dream because now, you can go to work whenever you want since you donâ€™t work under someone else, but we canâ€™t do that, except we want to be firedâ€™.â€
On what has kept the Aso Ebi Planner going, Babasola pointed out that it is the uniqueness and creativity of their designs that make clients to come to them.
â€œWe try as much as possible to be creative and unique in what we do because how I package your aso ebi will be totally different fro how I do the nextÂ personâ€™s. So, we always think of new concepts that would keep attracting customers. We make wallets, purses, carrier bags, ties and ankara shirts for men from the aso ebi you choose.
â€œWe source the fabric from the local and foreign markets. Aso oke and ankara are our local fabrics, but when it comes to damask and some types of gele, we source those from the foreign markets. Sometimes, we go to other African countries to source for fabrics.
â€œOur prices are flexible, and because we work with the clientâ€™s budget, we can do aso ebi for as low as N1,000 and as high as N100,000 or more, depending on what the client wants. For the least number of aso ebi we plan for a client is for is 2. We work with our customersâ€™ budgets.
According to The Aso Ebi Planner boss, the only challenge faced in his line of business is that of clients ordering for more fabrics when the initial order has been exhausted.
â€œSince we have promised our clients that we will never say their chosen fabrics are finished, we try as much as possible to avoid situations whereby thereâ€™ll be more buyers than the available fabric.
â€œAssuming a client is expecting 200 people to wear the aso ebi, and we place order for the 200 fabrics, and if 3 weeks to the party, the ordered fabrics are gone and there are still about 70 more people wanting to get the material, it is usually difficult placing orders for the extra fabrics.â€
Babasola said though a Yoruba word, it is not compulsory that the chosen aso ebiÂ must be native attire since aso ebi means any thing that is uniformed. â€œI give my clients the opportunity to choose whatever fabric they want for their parties, so I donâ€™t force them to take something African or native because I believe that anything that is uniformed is aso ebi. A lady who will be celebrating her 40th birthday wants her friends to wear jeans and polo shirts as aso ebi, and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ll deliver to her.â€