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Six generations of adire makers narrate bittersweet experiences, seek better fortunes for age-old family trade

Posted by on November 27, 2021 0


…target export, want govt support, local sourcing of materials

TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN writes about the age-old making of adire handled by some people born into the trade

It was a wet Monday when our correspondent met Alhaja Sadiat Akamo seated on a lounge chair.

The weather just experienced coolness after a heavy rain and the sun appeared ready to take over the day for sellers to begin trading activities.

Akamo’s shop is the last at the left side of the adire Mall in Itoku area of Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Placed among the shelves accommodating various colours of adire is her picture showing her in an adire blouse and wrapper. She tied an artistically made headgear popularly called gele in Yorubaland.

Her face exudes joys mimicking that of a young lady who just got a money-decorated rose flower from her lover.

At the top of the shelves sit over 20 plaques displaying various achievements and awards in recognition of her dexterity in making adire. Adire is a local tie and dye. In a confident tone she told our correspondent that she was born into the trade.

She said, “I was born into this adire business. My great grandmother and second Iyaloja of Egbaland, the late Chief Jojolola Soetan, was the adire merchant in Abeokuta.’’

History noted that Soetan from the family of Kemta was the second Iyaloja and the first adire merchant in Egbaland.

Generations of adire makers

Akamo, who is now the Iyaloja of  Kemta Adire Market, Itoku, Abeokuta, said she used proceeds from the business to train her children.

According to her, adire is a derivative of the name, aso ti adi ti a re (a cloth that is tied and dyed).

 She said, “Adire is a beautiful cloth in society; it is our glory in Egbaland, most importantly among us in Kemta, where the cloth originated from.

 “Adire is a generational business which I inherited from my parents. We have been committed to the business ever since. In fact, my parents told me that on several occasions, I drank soda while working and they had to give me palm oil to serve as an antidote. I would enter the dye pot and they brought me out.’’

Akamo, who said Soetan died in 1932, stated that she belonged to the fourth generation of adire makers in the clan.

She stated, “My children are the fifth generation while my grandchildren are within the sixth generation. Despite this, they are all educated and still in the business.

“My children are doing well in the business. Two of my sons are into the business. But all my children know how to tie and dye fabrics; that’s our lineage business. Some of my children are 60 to 70 years old.  I also have siblings and cousins who are into the business.’’

Akamo isn’t the only one whose children are following in her footsteps.

Alhaja Olatayo Yusuf also learnt the business as a family trade and has been fully involved in of the business for about 50 years.

She stated, “I was born into the business. I met my parents in the trade. All my children know about it but only one of my daughters is into the business full-time.”

Some women joined the business on account of marrying into families with ample knowledge of adire. This is the story of Alhaja Tawa Animasaun.

She told our correspondent that she married into a family where they produce adire and over time, was introduced into the business.

Animasaun stated, “I have been in the business for about 30 years. I gave birth to my children while in the trade. My children are also born into the business and some of them are fully into it. It has become a generational business to me. Four of my children are into the business. They attended higher institutions and returned into the trade.

“Initially when they finished higher education, they tried to get collar jobs to no avail. They later returned to the family trade and they have been doing well since then. There are jobs at home if our children can look inwards. It’s a business that one can do to create wealth and even provide jobs.’’

Animasaun said that she advised her children to come home and join the lineage business. She added, “Four of them have joined the business and doing well.’’

The adire cottage

Our correspondent’s visit to an adire cottage near the mall revealed a site filled with clothes and some drums made into big pots placed on fires. Not far from them is a clothing line with different adire colours and designs.

With her bowl in hand, Mrs Hafsat Showunmi said her children whom she does the business with were at the shop and she needed to dye some clothes.

She said, “My children are at the shop. I needed to dye some fabrics and I came to the cottage. We dye our clothes ourselves except when we have them in higher quantities that’s when we contract them to labourers.

Showunmi stated, “I think it’s a beautiful thing when one takes over a business from one’s parents and also hands it over to one’s children. Even some people with big companies do not have that privilege. All my children know how to tie, dye, beat and do everything involved in the family trade including the business part of it.

“There is no child from the lineage of adire makers who does not know how to tie and dye fabrics.’’

Mother-daughter remarkable teamwork

Like mothers are happy over their daughters and other children’s interest in the business, the daughters are also proud of their mothers for handing over the trade to them.

Ololade Akinde who also owns a big shop at the Adire Mall told Sunday PUNCH that she had been in the trade since her days as an undergraduate, disclosing that she returned to it after she moved to Lagos and didn’t get another job.

She said, “My great grandmother was into the adire business. She passed it to my mum, my sister and me to continue with the business. I have been selling adire since I was in the university; I got married in Lagos, and was doing the business part-time in Lagos. I got married in Lagos and was into a business but the job wasn’t paying me well. So, I left it and moved into the business full-time.’’

The entrepreneur said anyone born into the lineage of adire makers would take the trade seriously.

She said, “We are good at what we do. It’s a business we do with our heads held high. I relocated with my husband to Abeokuta because of the adire business. Initially, I was the only one that moved but as things kept improving, my family also moved to the place. I can say that our lives have been better because of it. Now, I don’t have to wait on someone before I can eat and drink. During my days as a salary earner, we would have debts before salary comes.’’

Thirteen-year-old Azeezat Balogun, is one of Akamo’s grandchildren and she is handling the trade well.

She said, “Learning tie and dye is another form of gainful employment that empowers the unemployed to earn a living and help parents to take care of their children. When I return from school, I do what I am supposed to do then go to the shop to help my grandma. When we close for the day, we go home and if we have any clothes to dye, I assist her and after completion, we retire to bed. I am an apprentice with my grandma, for now. I can undertake sales but I need guidance to tye and dye clothes.”

 Designs, methods of adire making

Adire is created through a process of indigo resist-dyeing cotton and involves creating a pattern on the fabric and preventing it from absorbing the indigo dye.

Akamo noted that what she learnt from her mother was the indigo business which Yoruba call ‘Alaro dudu’ identified as the real adire.

She said, “Some people do not really know the adire fabric. They sometimes call it Kampala but the real definition of adire is aso ta di, ta re, roughly translated to mean the cloth is tied and dried.

“One can tie it in different colours or indigo. But the indigo usually comes out in two colours which are black/deep blue and the white. It can come out in different designs such as the eleko, Onimachine, alakete, duropa, onisugar, dudu. eleko, elesowewe, segiwewe, seginla, onicomb, oni machine, agbaja, ore meta, ore merin, pako, star, naale, alaale. They are different designs and also embedded in the designs.”

According to Showunmi, the bright colour comes from imported indigo grains or locally-grown indigo leaves, fermented and mixed with water softened with caustic soda to make a dye.

She added, “The cloth is dipped into a dye drum and then pulled out to allow it to oxidise. (A repeated process to make the colour darker)  Sometimes, after it has been dyed, the cloth will be beaten with wooden objects to make it shine.”

 Adire to the world

Over the years, adire has continued to improve with different designs and adaptability of fabrics. From teru, brocade, silk, chiffon to other fabrics, there have been improvements and adaptation.

The adire business has experienced diverse changes especially with makers involving their children in the trade.

“We have been experimenting with all sorts and people love our designs and patronise us,” Akamo said confidently.

The grandma stated further that some of her children abroad also do adire for sale.

She added, “We also send adire to them overseas to sell and they send the money to us. Some generational businesses aren’t receiving as much attention as adire and I will ascribe the success to God who ensures the thriving of the trade. Civilisation has also happened to adire and that is why adire has different colours.’’

The Iyaloja was also excited that the business established by her great grandmother was still striving and survived by about seven generations many years after her death.

 On her part, Yusuf believed that adire would undergo changes because it had existed for long and people would want to find ways to re-invent it.

Yusuf said, “Our mothers started from their level of knowledge and experience. When we also started the business, we improved on it and now our children who are educated keep injecting many innovations into it and take there has been a significant progress with adire.

“In fact, it’s gone international and some white people are wearing adire. It’s now in different forms and styles in T-Shirt and other designs. That’s part of the improvements that our children bring into the business.”

In Nigeria, some eminent individuals have continued to project adire by wearing it to international events thereby promoting the fabric. Some of them are former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe; and the founder of Nike Art Gallery, Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye,  among others.

Recently, Osun State Governor Adegboyega Oyetola directed civil servants in the state to wear adire to work every Thursday. The governor, who launched mass production, promotion and marketing of Adire Osun, also declared every Thursday of the week as ‘Adire Osun Day.’

Earlier, during the official launch of Ogun Adire Digital MarketPlace, Governor Dapo Abiodun declared that adire would become the official school uniform in all public schools in the state. Although since over a year ago, it has yet to be implemented, the order has been registered in the minds of the people.

Akinde was joyous that acquiring education had helped her to improve her family’s adire business.

She said, “I don’t do business like the way every other person does. I use the internet a lot in the sales of my wares and I even do research on the business and I keep improving.  For instance, in the past two years, the way adire has taken over is overwhelmingly alarming. One sees it in different forms and shades.

“Before now, people thought of it as a commoner’s wear. But now, people understand that it’s not cheap. Even the rich are all in for it.”

Adire has come to stay as people now wear adire suits, pants, and there are bags made of adire. Akinde was optimistic that some of his children would embrace the business. She said, “I believe that by the time they are also in the business, they won’t do it the same way I did mine, they’d find ways of improving and that’s the beauty of it. My children could go as far as opening an adire mall in the United Kingdom or United States of America. I am not doing it like my mum did it. And it’s going to be same for my children.’’

An undergraduate, Sade Showunmi, who is Hafsat’s daughter, said she started the business when she was young but delved fully into it when she was at the university.

She said, “I went fully into the trade at 100 level. Some of my friends used to order adire for their parents. But now, we do shirts, tops etc. There is nothing we can’t do with adire now. In fact, people use the fabric for shoes, slippers, bed spreads, wall frames and many other things. As there are many people in the trade now, there are many innovations.’’

 On the business opportunities tucked in the business, Akamo stated that the trade could contribute hugely to the economy if the government supported the makers.

 She said, “Adire is expensive and one cannot compare with imported ones sold for N2, 500 that don’t last long. One can wear a genuine adire for five to six years and it will not fade.”

A market survey conducted by our correspondent showed that the prices of adire range from 2,500 to N15, 000 depending on the fabric used in the production.

The Iyaloja said, “Some adire designs cost N10, 000. There is one that is hand-woven and it costs N15,000. The process that goes into that is tedious. The traditional ones are done with Guinea. The print ones are different from the real adire. Some people also come to learn the trade. I advise those who are interested to come and learn. There is money for training and the business is lucrative. We have used the profits made from adire to do many wonderful things.’’

Buttressing Akamo’s position, Yusuf said that she had used proceeds from adire to build houses and train her children.

She said, “We have been blessed from the business. We have used adire business to build houses, send our children to schools and do other great things.  It’s a beautiful and profitable business with many prospects.”

Sade, who refused to disclose the amount she makes monthly from adire, said it was enough for her parents not to bother sending her money in school. She stated, “I have never been broke since I started the business.’’

Also, Akinde said she never regretted quitting her collar job in Lagos to Abeokuta to start the trade. She said, “I am happy that I am my own boss. I have grown my business over the years. Adire is a profitable business and I am glad at the way things are turning out. Yes, there are challenges but we still find a way round them.’’

Business facing challenges

The adire makers also told our correspondent that the trade was currently facing some challenges.

Akamo said, “Our challenges are unavailability of the ingredients and materials for tie and dye. From time to time, we have had meetings with the market executives and government representatives.  When we could no longer cope with the trouble from Nigeria Customs Service, we decided to join the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Before then, whenever we ordered goods from Kano to Lagos through rail, the moment they got to Lafenwa to offload, the customs would confiscate our goods and bill us so heavily.  We would have to spread the cost on the products, so it makes the fabrics expensive, reduces demand and affects our profit margin.”

She noted that they were also in talks with the state government.

Akamo added, “We are glad that they are making efforts and trying their best to make us happy. But their best isn’t good enough just yet. A lot still needs to be done.

“We are still pleading with them to build a textile factory in town irrespective of where they’d be importing from because most things are imported.

“But if the factory is government-owned, it would be easier for them to operate rather than go to Kano to buy fabrics, incur transportation costs and other costs. We pay so much, sometimes as high as N4m to N8m for one container. ” she stated.

For Showunmi, she appealed to the government to help them to sustain the business.

She said, “We implore them to support us more. We who belong to the generation of the adire makers are trying our best not to let the business that was handed to us by our parents die. I believe we will try our best. But if there are no fabrics to use for the tie and dye, there is nothing we can do. If things don’t get the best materials we may have to use the fabrics we once rejected.’’

On her part, Yusuf stated that the Ogun State government wasn’t investing enough in the trade.

She stated, “Our leader is on the matter to make sure that the government does not abandon the business for us. We want the government to help us renovate some of the places where we work. With the efforts that we put into the business, if the government is also paying attention to it, it would help to expand the business.’’

Also, Akinde said, “We also need to watch the weather because we need to sun dye the fabric and we can’t tell when it will rain. Also, the economic situation of the country has not been helping matters. The fabrics and chemicals are imported and that makes things expensive. The exchange rate is too high and it’s killing the business.”

Akinde noted that construction of factories would further expand the business. She said, “I think if the government can look into building textile factories in Nigeria, the burden on us will be minimal. We would know that we are just left with the purchase of chemicals rather than importing everything.”

Animasaun also said they get fabrics from Kano, adding that, “We get them on the train from Kano to Lafenwa. The customs men seize our goods frequently. We then have to find how to get the seized goods. It is usually difficult for us.”

She claimed that a bale of white fabric goes for N220, 000 and they would have to pay half of the price to secure the release of the material once seized by customs.

According to Akamo, no rites involved in adire making and outsiders are allowed to do the business.

She said, “The era of not adire-making being exclusively for members of families involved in the trade has passed. We now teach people unfamiliar with the business. In fact, we have students and corps members who are also into the business. Some corps members after completion of their service year, refused to return to their hometowns; they are all doing and making profits from the business. They pay for apprenticeship, association and later establish their trade anywhere they want.” Yusuf said they teach whoever desires to learn about the business.

Economist, customs’ comments on development 

Commenting on the issue, an economist and Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Akpan Ekpo, observed that customs weren’t supposed to collect any money when goods were moved from one location to the other within the country.

He said, “If it’s a factory within Nigeria, customs can go to the factory and collect factory tax but if there are no factories, then they can’t do such.  If after the sales, the traders now need to pay taxes, they will pay but such levies wouldn’t even be paid to the customs.”

Akpan urged the traders to form a cooperative to get support from either the Central bank of Nigeria or the Bank of Industry, to boost the trade. He added that upon getting the loans, they could also get a waiver on export duties for about four to four years to stabilise the business.

The economist said, “It’s not just enough for one or two people doing the business in a local area. It’s about going large scale by doing so; there will be mass job creation and foreign exchange for the country. It can be exported and that is where the country can even generate much from export duties. The government cannot own an adire factory; they can only help them to expand the business and then give them the right environment to operate. Such a thing can only be driven by the private sector and not the government coming to do the business.

“There were textile companies in Nigeria but they collapsed over a period of time. They can have a textile factory in Nigeria for adire and they can expand the business.”

Ekpo added, “There is a problem with us as a country, if we import everything we use.  I used to think that we had factories here in Nigeria that produced those fabrics. What I will advise is that the government should encourage research from the tertiary institutions and even FIIRO, so that people can start looking into the development of such. We could even get samples from China, see how it is being done and understudy it for a period of time and then work on producing our own fabric. Importing all the materials will put a lot of burden on the traders especially with the current exchange rate. It’s not good for business.”

In his contribution, a professor of cultural tourism and social impact assessment, Patrick Okpoko, said that adire was localised and synonymous with a particular cultural group in the country. Okpoko said though he loved celebrating Nigerian heritage, it was not sustainable forcing some group of people to wear the fabric.

He said, “I do not buy the idea of forcing people to wear adire, rather, people should be encouraged to change their mindset to embrace their values because adire is one of their values and they should embrace it. If they see it as something that can be of a great value to society and what they can use to showcase their identity and also promote development in their area, then people will tilt towards wearing the fabric.”

He added that the government should instead embark on awareness and ensure availability and affordability of the fabric for all.

The lecturer added, “Government should also deploy the media and other cultural activities as an avenue to showcase the adire as a representation of the people. We have quite a number of festivals where tourists and other foreigners usually attend like the Osun-Osogbo festival, the Eyo festival and others. That’s a good place to showcase our Nigerian culture especially as it relates to the adire culture.

“We should also make use of the media to project the values that we hold dear as it relates to the adire culture.  We could even package adire as a documentary that shows that it’s part of our values as Yoruba. So, anyone who wants to know us and identify with the race would know that it is part of our values as a people.

“Also, the kind of designs and styles would also determine how it is received. Let people know the meaning and stories behind some particular designs that would make them appreciate its beauty and uniqueness. So, it would sell to the foreign market as a thing that the Yoruba cherish. They could also do a documentary on adire and its relationship to Yoruba culture; this would also make it attractive to the international audience.”

 Also, speaking, the spokesperson for customs in Ogun State, Ahmed Oloyede, explained that there was no order instructing customs men to ask money from anyone.

He said, “First of all, I’d like to remind you that the border was shut for a while for import and exportation of goods, I wouldn’t know the issue of payment of any goods.  But there was no order or instruction of any kind for customs men to collect money over any goods. The only thing we had was auctioning off some items like perishable and flammable substances. Anything outside that, we don’t collect money.  I don’t see the reason why they would be charged for local goods that are genuine and even if it is illegitimate, the best thing they can do is to impound and not collect money from them.”

Oloyede also urged the victims to make an official report to the office headquarters, promising that adequate steps would be taken.  He added, “Did they file an official complaint to the customs headquarters? The best thing they should do is to formally report to the office and adequate steps would be taken in that direction.”

Commenting on the development, the Ogun State Commissioner for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs Kikelomo Longe, said that the government planned to grow the state adire industry in size and scope from medium to long term.

She said, “The present administration is already working on helping adire traders increase the volume and value of adire that is sold by the traders in the local and international markets. As part of efforts to achieve this and facilitate increased market access, the present administration launched the adireogun.com digital marketplace; where there are over 2,000 adire merchants that have been using the platform to increase their sales.

“Others that have yet to join the platform need to also utilise the opportunity to showcase their products and increase their sales. Also, the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration is planning to enhance infrastructure in the industry.  We plan to enhance the two adire clusters in Abeokuta – Asero and Itoku markets.

“This government is also strengthening the value chain by encouraging production of various products from adire such as ready-to-wear garments (including uniforms), bags, soft furniture, etc. In Ogun State, the present administration has directed that civil servants wear adire at least once in a week. This has significantly increased the demand for adire garments.”

Longe further said that in terms of funding, the state had made provisions for traders to access loans including adire sellers in the state.

She added, “In terms of access to finance, the state government has a N1bn micro, small and medium enterprise credit fund in partnership with the Bank of Industry where loans are available to beneficiaries at single digit interest rate. There is also the Ogun State Agricultural and Multipurpose Credit Agency loan.

“The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment also facilitates linkages with capital providers such as the Central Bank of Nigeria and NIRSAL Microfinance Bank. We also organise capacity building for traders where we teach them how to increase their profit margins. There is also the Gateway Trade Fair where adire traders showcase their products. Next year’s edition of the trade fair promises to be greater than past editions.”

The commissioner noted that the state intended to invest in cotton production and would invite partners to invest in textile production.

Longe said, “The government wants to increase the percentage of local content in the adire industry by supporting extensive research and development. Materials used in this industry consists of – the fabric (largely cotton), the dyes, wax, rafia, chemicals, starch etc. Through this government effort, the target is to increase cotton growing and production as well as resuscitate cotton processing while also stimulating improvement in the manufacture of more environmentally- friendly dye.

“The present administration is big on partnerships. Ogun State is open to private sector players with interests and competencies in textile production. These investors can establish their factories in our Economic Development Clusters that we are currently working on. At the EDCs, there will be constant, predictable and reliable power supply. All the necessary infrastructural support will be available to aid the growth of those investments established in the EDCs.”

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