By Ebunoluwa Sessou
Wura Tapere is the Creative Director, Woora, a women’s wear outfit catering for every woman either big or small, as well as providing an affordable workable environment for workers. The design outfit deals with fabrics and prints.
Four years ago, she ventured into locally made print called Adire. With Adire, Woora gives her best in terms of creativity and styles to the world of women. In this interview, she speaks on the challenges the textile industry is facing in Nigeria, how the fashion industry has evolved to becoming one of the determinants of Nigeria’s ecosystem and what efforts African governments, especially Nigeria, can put in place to make the fashion industry productive and profitable, thereby making life better for all and sundry.
What is your perception about fashion in relation to Adire fabrics?
When we say Adire, people tend to believe it is only tie and dye. Whereas, tie and dye is only one type of the technique of using dye to make beautiful prints. We focus more on not only the tie and dye but on batik designs of Adire which requires more artisan work and creativity. It requires an artist to design a pattern and that is why, we have unique piece of prints. Each piece cannot be replicated because they are all hand-made. It is not produced by machine. For instance, you cook jollof rice today, it is certain that, you will not get the same taste if you cook jollof rice the following day, it will not have the same taste. There is always something different.
So, we use batik Adire designs which are made locally in Nigeria especially the Western region. I just designed my collection and the inspiration was from a carnival which celebrates life, colour and fruitfulness and we have lots of colourful prints especially something that is glowing, happy. We want women to be who they are whether they are big or small; there is something in the collection. It is a print that once you see it, you either love or hate it. It is bold and has its thickness. As a woman, once you wear it, you do not need further introduction. People will see you anywhere.
Do these fabrics actually promote African or the Western culture?
We are making innovative styles with Adire and so it is not the basic kaftans. We are making styles for all occasions. People are wearing Adire in America, Europe with different styles because it is made in such a way that it is difficult to call it Adire. People will always ask where the print comes from. Meanwhile, they are all made in Nigeria.
We see how our fashion shows are displayed in Nigeria and beyond. Most times, these fabrics are imported; would you say, we are promoting Nigerian economy in this regard?
Unfortunately in Nigeria at the moment, our textile industry has gone down. We are not producing cotton. Cotton is the base fabric used for manufacturing. Unfortunately, we are not producing locally and as a result, if we want to appeal to the foreign market, as a designer in Nigeria and to be appreciated on international scale, we have to use fabrics that will be accepted internationally. This means that even the Adire that is made locally, the base fabric is imported. The chiffon that we use is imported, the dye we use is imported, the only thing that is local is that people who are producing the art work.
If you go to the Western world, you will see them do the screen prints of the material. But, ours are done by hand; it gives it a unique edge above what is produced in China. Although the fabrics are either manufactured by China or India. Unfortunately, we are not able to produce the base fabrics rather we import them. Basically, the raw materials which are needed to produce textile are imported into the country.
Does that suggest that our economy is not growing through fashion?
It is growing in different ways. Now we see Nigerian designers and crafts men being appreciated abroad. Recently, Chimamanda did a fashion show and promotion of Nigerian fashion brands and brought Dior creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri to join her and other Nigerian fashion designers at “Wear Nigerian” fashion show in Lagos, Nigeria. This shows that there is appreciation for Nigerian designers in the international market. As a result, the House of Dior has created a stream of collections using Adire for some of their prints. These prints are selling for 2000 pounds. This means that the concept of Nigerian designs and textiles is ours, Adire is still ours, it can never be taken from us and they are now exported and appreciated by international fashion houses even from Paris.
We have lots of designers in Nigeria. What efforts are put in place to make our economy blossom than what we have currently through our local materials?
We know that Nigerian textile market in terms of cotton was booming in the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, we could not meet the demands as our population grows by the day. The industry was booming because the population was smaller. According to the Nigeria National Bureau of Statistics, as at January 2020, the estimated population of Nigeria is 206.14 million, ranking 7th in the world Now. And the textile industry as a result cannot cater for the demand of the population in Nigeria. This is also as a result of our infrastructure, lack of skilled labour, low investment in manufacturing, low government support in terms of booming the textile industry. It has been a neglected industry.
We know that former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obaasnjo tried to improve our materials by wearing the Adire or Aso Oke made in Abeokuta. But, unfortunately, the base fabric that was used to do the Adire for him was imported. The fabric was imported and not locally made in Nigeria. So, they have tried by promoting the brand and the textile industry but they have not invested into the industry. No one has the capability to invest in it because China has gone so far and it will be very difficult for any other country to compete with them. It is a sad situation. I know that the present President of Nigeria, Mohammadu Buhari has pumped lots of money into agriculture. And that is why everyone is investing in farming because the government has pumped money into agriculture, promoting agriculture, making funds available for people who are going into agriculture. The government is encouraging more people to go into agriculture and as a result, more people are coming into it. You do not see that happening in textile manufacturing.
With this situation at hand, where is Nigeria heading to in terms of growing the economy, even as fashion shows take place everywhere in Nigeria?
I think textile and fashion are two different things. Lots of countries in the world no longer produce textiles because textile is different from fashion. We see some countries that major in the core manufacturing of textiles including Egypt that produces the finest cotton, India also produce good cotton. If we look at the lace fabrics which we are very conversant with in Nigeria, lots of the lace fabrics in the 70s were produced in Switzerland, now that the industry in those countries has died over the years because China has taken over such business offering the same services in a cheaper rate.
Most of those countries are only doing finishing products. They are still getting their base material from China or India. What they are doing in Europe is the design while China produces materials for them. I have been to Australia; their base fabric is brought from China or India, Philippines or Indonesia while they do the design. And that is what is happening in Nigeria. We need to invest more in the designing of these fabrics, bring in the raw materials and allow designers to give it a perfect look while we finish the product for our local market.
Presently, we are talking about promoting Nigerian products, yet you are talking about importing raw materials to Nigeria. Is that not contradictory?
Cotton comes in rolls. It is like talking about what Aliko Dangote is selling to us. The cement is not produced in Nigeria, the rice is not produce in Nigeria, and he brings in the raw and packages it for us. And lots of countries do the same. We have core things that we can do in Nigeria including farming, cocoa and oil and gas production.
They are natural to us and we can improve on those areas and translate our own designs into a raw material and finish it up. It is better than buying the raw fabrics and working on it, because production will be higher. There is no point investing in producing raw fabrics. We can use the raw, employ skilled labour and design on it and Nigerians are more creative than the Western world.
Can our hand-woven fabrics compete favourably with the international standard?
Yes. My brand, designs and finishing are for the international market. I get orders from African and international countries and the desire are for the Batik Adire designs. If the designs meet with the international standard with international finishing, you will have no problem. If the House of Dior is using Ankara and it is selling at thousands of pounds, why will my material not sell at the same market? Even better design than what they have. The problem with Nigeria as a country is that, we have not been given the platform to showcase and that is what the Western world does. They blindfold you not to get there because they know once you get there; it is a platform for you to rise.
… and you think our fabrics do not lack international standard?
They don’t. We wear and wash our clothes, they are long lasting. When I travel now, at least for the past five years, I no longer desire to buy foreign items especially fabrics because everything I need is in Nigeria. And there is nothing that is done by international fashion houses that wows me that I would want to part with my money because we have it here in Nigeria.
What is your advice for Nigerian government?
Nigerian government needs to invest more in the fashion industry, give more grants to businesses, support designers in the area of mentoring. To provide opportunities to showcase our designs at the international market and to encourage more fashion shows that are of international standard. To make export easier.
Most of the time, exporting our designs is very difficult because of bureaucracy involved in the exporting process. The government has not helped in terms of shipping our things out of Nigeria. The rigorous bureaucratic system of documentation, DHL cost, UPS cost is ridiculous. If the shipping costs were lower, there will be more demand for the products. From Nigeria to Chad, the shipping cost on our order is 100 dollars.
When I queried the process, I was made to understand that the item will first go to Europe before coming back to Chad. We do not have a good network system in Africa. We cannot trade among ourselves and the ability to trade freely within the African countries lies on the government. The running cost of production in Nigeria is high. You cannot compare with China or India. The government helped them. They have road. I am paying for electricity; diesel and I cannot afford 24 hours electricity supply because the cost is high. The cost of running a manufacturing outfit in Nigeria is high.
If government can help in terms of providing better infrastructural system, then we can run factories more efficiently. Then, we will be able to compete with China and India. Our labour cost is high because standard of living is so high in Nigeria, in Lagos.
The network in Nigeria is worrisome and this is one of the reasons, we cannot produce effectively. Lots of Nigerians collapse after working for two weeks because the environments are not clean. There is so much the government can do in helping an average Nigerian to live and have a better life and that will translate into a more productive economy for us all and we will all enjoy the benefits of being Nigeria citizens.