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The naira and kobo of bonding in uniform

By Tobi Awodipe
07 October 2017   |   3:53 am
The sheer patronage that aso-ebi now enjoys has made it a money-spinning venture, especially for its sellers and designers. A trader, Chidinma Onyemachi, told The Guardian that most people spend more money on aso-ebi than other things.

From weddings to burials, thanksgiving, child and Church dedications, club meetings, Church meetings, association meetings and get together, Aso Ebi has become almost very compulsory.

The Evolution Of Aso-Ebi Over Time

Aso-Ebi is arguably one of the biggest industries and money-spinner not only in Nigeria, but almost througout Africa. Having its roots in the Yoruba culture from as early as the 1920s, it is a uniform dress worn to show solidarity, support and togetherness during festive periods and social occasions among family members, relatives and friends.

Aso-ebi, loosely translated, means family clothe but has now transcended social or special occasions as well as just friends and family. These days, people take aso-ebi for any reason under the sun. From weddings to burials, thanksgiving, child and Church dedications, club meetings, Church meetings, association meetings and get together, it has become almost very compulsory.

A visit to the Lagos Island market where fabrics are being sold would leave one in awe. In spite of the recession, fabric sellers seem to be smiling to the banks.

Speaking with a dealer, Kehinde Adesanya, who has been in the business for almost 45 years, she says aso-ebi is a practice that can go away.

“As long as there are people, they will continue to wear clothes and we would always be in business. Aso-ebi as we know it now has not always been this popular or widespread as it is now. In the 50s and 60s, the Yoruba people did not go to market to buy ankara materials to sew clothes. Many believed then that ankara was for the poor.

“The common cloth among the Yoruba then was aso-oke- a locally woven cloth and aran, which was an imported material. There are many types of aran and aran olowu, among others. Damask material was the king of materials then and not many people could afford it. A young girl about to marry must have a Damask iro and buba, aran, aso-oke among her clothes, and in later years, after having children, lace iro and buba,” she said.

Speaking further she said: “Years ago, the ankara being sold was imported and was popular among the Igbo, who use it to make their wrappers. You have the George material commonly used by people from the South-South area, while Hollandis ankara was very popular among the Igbo and the Southsouth people.”

“Another popular material in the 60s, 70s and 80s was the guinea material, which was being imported from Conakry, Guinea. Lace was not too popular in the sixties at all. It was usually the Lagos market women and socialites that popularised the material.

“They hosted parties practically every weekend, so it is the material that the use as aso-ebi and when people saw, they usually rushed in their droves to purchase them.”

She added that the common dresses then were made from cotton materials with different patterns, horizontal and square, which was used to sew iro and buba. Most of these materials were imported and proved very durable.

‘It’s Now A Money-Making Venture’
By Kemi Sokoya

The sheer patronage that aso-ebi now enjoys has made it a money-spinning venture, especially for its sellers and designers. A trader, Chidinma Onyemachi, told The Guardian that most people spend more money on aso-ebi than other things.

“People use lace materials, which is more expensive and unique than ankara material. Most people just prefer to buy the materials at a higher price just to enable them support the celebrant at any event. This is really affecting a lot of people who can not afford the cost due to the economic recession.”

An undergraduate, Charity Onyekwere, said aso-ebi is mostly used to assist celebrants financially to raise money for other expenses.“Aso-ebi gives me opportunity to get more ankara and other materials. I don’t like native dresses. So, I only buy the material if the person close to me says he or she is planning an event. That is the only period I buy aso-ebi materials,” she said.

A banker, Gloria Nnayere, also agrees that aso-ebi serves as a form of assistance to the celebrant, adding: “It is to help the individual or group to raise funds to achieve the purpose of the event.

Chinyere Ibeh said aso-ebi makes events colourful and beautiful. “It serves as an avenue to raise money for the celebrants. Some celebrants prefer to give their guests a dress code to reduce the stress of people borrowing money to pay for aso-ebi materials.

She added most Nigerians prefer to buy the cheaper materials so that they can gain more from it. While some celebrants determine the class of people they invite to their event, they also prefer to get lace materials for high-class individuals to make more profit.

But to Kola Adeyemi, a businessman, aso-ebi is a waste of money, saying: “I don’t like buying it, because I don’t use it for long after the event.” A fashion designer, Ibrahim Yakubu, said most people buy aso-ebi because it creates a sense of belonging, togetherness and remembrance of a particular event.

“I make more profit whenever I do aso-ebi job, especially ankara materials because the higher the quantity, the higher the gain. Most people prefer to use ankara because it is cheaper,” Yakubu said.

‘It Has Created Jobs For Fabric Sellers, Fashion Designers’
By Maria Diamond

A FESTAC Lagos-based fashion designer, Ebele Ajufo, said aso-ebi has improved her business and income immensely, such that if government bans aso-ebi it would affect her stream of revenue because it accounts for 90 per cent of her income.

“So, if there is no aso-ebi, then there is no job for me because people do not sow English dresses like aso-ebi. They prefer to buy imported ready-made material from the boutiques.

“It is the designing of aso-ebi that makes people patronise me and basically, making aso ebi is why I abandoned my original profession as a Lagos State University Biochemistry graduate for fashion designing. It is good money,” she said.

Kaobimdi Ajufo, a caterer added that, aso- ebi has created jobs for not just the fashion designers or even the textile industries but several other people.

“If aso-ebi is banned in Nigeria, a lot of young ladies who are fashion designers would become jobless and might be forced into prostitution, while the male would get involve in robbery, because basically 80 per cent of the fashion designing outlets in Nigeria depend on the sowing of aso-ebi to remain business.

“So, if there is no aso-ebi plan they might decide to buy small cakes from eateries and just go to the registry for small weddings”. She added that basically, aso-ebi defines how elaborate any event turns out in the country.

“Once there is aso-ebi, you know it is going to involve catering services because of the large number of people that will be involve in the event. “Even the hair stylists have massive turn out of customers in the Salon towards the weekends, because of the events that involve aso-ebi. So, for every woman who wants to attend an event with aso-ebi, she wants to make attractive hairstyle, aiding the business of the hair stylists,” she said.

Speaking, Bukola Ewemakinde, said the use of aso-ebi motivated her to become a fashion designer in the first place, adding: “Seeing people in aso-ebi with different designs of the ankara and lace materials at events made me a successful entrepreneur.

“It increases my turnover because clients bring aso-ebi in bunch and you would make more money from just one set. It is the same with other sets for various events,” she said.

Bukola added that aso-ebi makes it impossible for fashion designers to lack money because it paves way for express sowing, which in turn yields double charges, as well as instant payment since clients are desperate to get their materials made within a limited time frame. They practically appease the designer with extra payment for instant urgent sewing,” she said.

Mariam Afolabi, a wholesale distributor of ankara materials at the Oshodi Market told The Guardian that aso-ebi was the only reason she and others in the business make good sales in the market.

Revealing that she recently sold ankara materials worth N500000 for just one client who bought it as aso-ebi for her father’s burial ceremony.

“As a matter of fact, she even promised to return for more, because it might not go round. So, the use of aso-ebi is why there is increase in sales as people seldom come to buy ankara,” she said.

‘It Helps To Define Our Cultural Heritage’
By Ibe Emmanuella and Blessing Owolabi

THE use of aso-ebi at events helps to shape and define our cultural heritage. The family cloth is worn by a group of people in an association or family mostly during weddings, burials, birthdays, and Church programmes, among others.

Speaking to The Guardian, Oluwatobiloba Seun said: “No matter the price, aso-ebi is a part and parcel of our culture and social life. It helps to shape and define our heritage.”

Yemi Komolafe said: “Imagine me going to a friend’s daughter’s wedding or a friend’s birthday party without the required uniform. It doesn’t say well of me and my status. I have to be on aso-ebi, be it ankara or lace, cheap or expensive, I must be on aso-ebi.”

Also speaking, Gloria Amobi said: “I do not have any problem with having an aso-ebi because it makes the party colourful. My problem is how people are turning it into a money making scheme. Some people sell their aso-ebi at such ridiculous prices. Sometimes, I wonder if the reason for choosing aso-ebi is to make the party colourful or to make money.”

To Mariam Ushe, “aso-ebi price can be something else. One wonders if the wrapper has gold in it. It is quite disgusting that some go for a ridiculous amount and then sewing it is another issue. That’s why people hardly go to weddings with gifts. When you spend N30,000 on buying Aso-ebi and N10,000 to sew it, the celebrant don’t need to expect any gift from you.

“Well I’ve decided a long time ago not to buy aso-ebi that I can’t afford. I will just wear the colour of the day and am good to go.”

It Signifies Family, Friends’ Support For Celebrants
By Akingboye Joseph Oluwaseun

A common saying among the Yoruba goes: “O wo ankara, o je semo,” which means: “If you don’t wear Ankara, you won’t be served semovita.” That expression underscores the importance of support and solidarity for celebrants by their friends and family members during birthdays, marriages, elevations, investitures, burials and graduations among.

In Ondo State and other parts of the Southwest, aso-ebi is a thriving enterprise; and like the name suggests, it literally indicates the cloth worn by the family of the celebrant.

In this regard, the family goes beyond biological connection, giving room for associations and other social connections. The common kind of cloth for the purpose is ankara.

Checks by The Guardian revealed different strokes for different folks occasioned by the economic implications, employment opportunities, especially for unemployed graduates who benefit from the value chain in the cultural practice are manifold.

It is a thriving funfair of the owanbe tradition, which literally means: “I too am there” in Yoruba cosmology and lifestyle. Owner of Funlink Fabrics in Akure, Funke Olugbeko, who is also a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, it is a cultural inclination of a people and a way of life that cannot be jettisoned and underestimated.

“It is the major ticket of entry to an event and also to familiarise with the celebrant. To the celebrant, families and friends, a uniform dress goes a long way to identify with a particular group and other groups in any event.”

Olugbeko explained that customers would always come to her warehouse to select the kind of fabrics they want to use for their events, saying, “Most times they come in groups to pick whatever cloth they love to sew for their ceremonies according to their taste, preferences and financial capacity.”

A tailor, Olajide Akindejoye told The Guardian that aso-ebi is a big business for professional tailors in town because the customers always want unique styles for themselves and for particular events.

“I have had situations where an association of over 40 members brought their clothes to my office to get same style and sartorial designs. I even sew for women because I am also trained on female specialties and that’s big business for me.”

Owner of Apex Creativity Duties, an events planning outfit in Akure, Oluwapamilerin Aribigbola, also noted that “the idea of aso-ebi for the Yoruba is to identify family and friends in any event just as it symbolises unity and support for the celebrant by extended family members. It is majorly a means of identification.”

Aso-ebi Is An Emerging Industry, Says Edochie,
ETI Boss

David Onurah Edochie is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Elephant Textile Industries (ETI). In this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, he speaks on how the Ankara revolution has impacted the Nigeria economy.

Aso-Ebi is a revolution that has become part of our national culture, what is your take on it as it has become a huge industry in Nigeria?
The history of Aso-Ebi dates back to over 100 years and it is used as a means of identity. Identity in the sense that it is a way of identifying with people who are celebrating, by way of showing solidarity, support, sense of relationship and attachment to the celebrant. Although it has existed and still exists in most part of Nigeria, it was popularised by the Yoruba. It has grown to become a culture that is generally accepted among Nigerians and even in other African countries and the world. As the name implies, Aso-Ebi, stands for family clothe or clothe for a particular people. It is a way to identify a particular people, group or association. There is this saying that Yoruba have a sub-conscious relationship with the Brazilians because they like colours, which is used as a means of identification in their carnivals. So, like I said earlier, Aso-Ebi as has existed for over a century. As an individual, I met Aso-Ebi as a trendy way of identifying with the celebrant in an event.

As a stakeholder and major player in the Aso-Ebi industry, how would describe its impact on the Nigerian economy?
Aso-Ebi industry as you call it is an industry that is evolving and also emerging as we talk. Before now, some other ethnic divide, particularly people from Southeast have a lot of misgiving about it but it has come be a trend and as we speak, every other ethnic nationality in the country have come to accept it. It has come a stage that the easiest way to identify with a celebrant is through the Aso-Ebi uniform and that has given a robust market for the industry. For example, you are a lecturer in the university, and you are burying your father or mother, the people in the department, faculty and the university community would want to identify with you and the simple way they can do that is through the Aso-Ebi uniform, which you have select. This in a way shows that the people in the individual’s part of bereavement, success and celebration that are also being a part. So, what this does is that it gives the celebrant or the individual a sense of love, support and solidarity, and they are comfortable with it. People don’t mind to part with a price even if it means paying a little more to be able to identify with celebrant. It need be noted that the industry has created a middle class group in term of business, which are contracted to help make an order for Aso-Ebi with a textile manufacturing company. This middle class individuals, takes the burden of running around of getting the Aso-Ebi of the celebrant by buying at a particular price and sell to the celebrant at particular price that serves as a mark up to cover their time and energy in running around. The same way, the celebrant sells at mark up price to cover for their expenses. So, in a way, Aso-Ebi has a created an industry that have help absorbed many people, both the gainfully employed and the unemployed, who now take Aso-Ebi as a serious business.

A lot of people believe that much as aso-ebi is good, it has created some challenges in the home front, particularly among couples, when it comes to the wife trying measure up in her association, club or town meeting?
It has happened time and time again, but I have a word for those who struggle to use aso-ebi for their celebrations either for wedding, burial, birthday or trying to meet up with their peers in the society. There is nothing wrong in having a sense of belonging or identifying with whatever group you belong to and give yourself a treat in the form of aso-ebi. For example, an average salary earner in Spain can save money for the whole year to travel to the United States and stay somewhere in Miami or Orlando for an holiday. It is not that such individual have some reserve but he or she decided to give him or herself a treat. Our psyche in this part of the world is such that we don’t know that August break is done in summer and it is a time students take a break from school and the woman also has to give herself a treat. August break is like going for a summer holiday, whereby you go to your village, go around and visit people. Having an aso-ebi to identify with events in your village is a good thing. It is a way of relieving yourself of stress. As men, we should allow our wives space in making sure they identify with some group or the other using aso-ebi or whatever identity she may need. Life is not all about work. There must be some time for rest and giving oneself a treat. I align with popular saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.