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Covid-19: Aso-Ebi traders, bridal houses count losses in billions

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As the Federal and Lagos State governments ease the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of Covid-19, Nigeria’s multibillion Naira fashion industry, especially the aso-ebi and wedding sectors, are still in a state of shock. To say it was one of the hardest hit is an understatement as industry players are still struggling to come to terms with how to manage the situation and move forward.

Though the economy is being re-opened slowly by the government, gatherings of any kind are still restricted and as such, formerly well-attended occasions like weddings, burials and parties of any sort cannot hold. Aso-ebi, the major staple of any social gathering in Lagos and indeed Nigeria has suffered a sad dearth as these events are held quietly with very little fanfare and with close family members.

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What does this mean for industry players? Coupled with the falling Naira, the industry is being hit left and right according to Ifedolapo Olayemi-Okewole of Hadassah Bridals, a bridal outfit based in Gbagada, Lagos. “I cannot quantify how much we have lost in the last couple of months. Seriously, putting a value to the loss is heartbreaking. Let us not talk of rising exchange rates. Our industry is one in which there are several interactions between people. When brides need to shop for wedding gowns, they visit bridal stores to try on wedding gowns. This is a major problem for us.”

On how she sources outfits and other things, she divulged that she uses both local and international suppliers but the latter has suffered a delay. “Some of the goods that we’ve been expecting since March just got here last week. Exchange rate has skyrocketed and this has affected us. Before the lockdown, we used to have several brides getting married every Saturday but since the lockdown, this has reduced drastically but we remain hopeful. As a business, we have built a strong online presence. Our website and social media pages were functional and customers were placing orders which we fulfilled online. We also commenced our bridal academy where we train bridal store owners and event planners on the business of bridals.

This came as a response from newer people in the business that wanted to learn from our wealth of experience in the Nigerian bridal industry. We also partnered with some essential service providers to showcase goods such as face shields during this period.

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“The lockdown has affected people’s spending power, however, new homes have to start. Weddings will rebound but brides might be looking for ways to cut costs in the planning and execution of weddings. As a business, we are always looking for ways to improve the value of what we offer. People want to shop in a single place for everything they need to reduce moving around and exposure, so we are working on broadening our offerings to adequately serve our customers,” she added.

Fabric trader, Oluwabusayo Fasesin of Defastyle House estimates that she has lost over N500, 000 in profit and multiplied all over the country, a loss running into billions of Naira. “For me, there have been no sales as people are not buying aso-ebi. I ship my fabrics internationally using the pre-order business model but this hasn’t been possible in the last few months because of the total lockdown. Things are picking up gradually now though still quite slow. During the lockdown, I survived by starting a fabric business school, creating an online class on how to start fabric business, funding it with ease and sourcing for quality fabrics at wholesales price.”

Fasesin agrees that this is an opportunity to explore manufacturing and the use of local fabrics to reduce dependency on imports. “If we had local manufacturers, they might also have shut down during the lockdown but notwithstanding, we need to explore setting up our own manufacturing factories and stop being a consumer nation. Handling the production of fabrics we consume may not happen overnight even if we start producing but it’s important to start first and grow into that.

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“Selling online is very important for me because I started my business online and did not have a physical store until four years after when I needed to set up a factory for my clothing brand. Anyone who does not have online presence now is lagging behind. Even when you have a physical store, going online is compulsory. You are restricted to your location with a physical store only but can reach the world online.”

Oluwakemi Kikelomo Ojerinde of Kikiconcepts Events and Bridals based in Lagos said the truth simply is that aso-ebi isn’t selling. “What we see now is people making enquires, we haven’t sold any aso-oke or aso-ebi in the last few months.”

Ojerinde said though the Aso-oke is locally made, weavers stopped weaving during the lockdown and accessing large orders is still challenging due to the inter-state restrictions on travels. “It was difficult making sales during the lockdown as people didn’t hold traditional weddings nor attend events. So, we started producing nose masks, while keeping our online platforms active so as not to lose touch with customers. I also spent the time improving myself, learning new skills and developing my IQ.”

“I cannot quantify the loss, it is too much. I had just restocked before the lockdown and I am grateful I hadn’t gone ahead with a plan I had to upscale the business this year, which would have been disastrous for me.

We have had to refund clients and pay salaries even though we weren’t making serious sales; all these are losses that we cannot even talk about,” she lamented.

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