My Tailor Can Sew This
“My tailor can sew this” This is the classic line that I’ve heard way too many times than I would have liked to in my Ready-to-wear line of business. I often wonder why one of the first things we do whenever we travel outside Nigeria is retail shopping. From family members to friends and friends of friends, everyone needs clothing from ‘abroad.’ The stress they put you through with luggage space is a story for another day.
So the question is – why do Nigerians like saying, ‘my tailor can sew this?’ Do they have issues trusting and buying ‘Made in Nigeria’ apparel? Does the quality fit the price tag and their budget? Do they want people (i.e people they generally don’t like) to see them wearing international brands? Do Nigerian brands offer variety for their customer base? Does it fit? Is it suitable to wear off the rack or brick and mortar clothing to any festivity or celebratory outing?
My tailor can sew this, na!’……..oh my, that line gets me every time I hear it. It gets me because as someone who has been doing this for many years, I can actually visualize the entire process and the misery that awaits producing a finished product when and if the client decides to go through with it herself. Often times people confuse Nigerian tailor-expertise of bespoke as the same with off the rack. These are two different areas of specialties. It almost like saying your dentist can act as your ophthalmologist. While both are doctors for humans, their area of expertise are totally different.
There is so much a customer must go through to a produce one single piece of clothing. First, after saying, my tailor can produce the same item, one has to go through the hustle and bustle of going to the market to search for the fabric, some which were exclusive produced for the brand you want to imitate. Hopefully you find something close to it or an entirely different fabric. Then you bargain like someone pricing peanuts on the streets and at the end you end up purchasing the wrong number of yards after showing ‘a picture’ you secretly took of the wonderful dress you are trying to remake. It was draped on a mannequin in the store and you snuck a picture while the sales girl was trying to get other items you had shown interest in.
At this point, the fabric seller is pissed with your negotiation efforts but agrees because the market would soon close and he needs to make sales at the end of the day. So he mischievously tells you that all you need is 3 yards instead of 4 yards, even though he had seen ‘the picture.’
Next, you either drive down to some dingy tailor hideout turned workspace or call a friend and ask for a referral. Then you arrive, ask for the tailor and begin with a complaint about the last item you gave him two months ago in which he tells you it would be ready tomorrow. He has sworn this time, so everything is okay! Someone once said that the ultimate test upon completion of any fashion academy is how well you can lie to your client. TRUE WORDS.
Now you show the tailor the picture and he says, piece of cake. You pay him one-third of the price you would have gotten the dress off the rack and wait for 3 weeks because you knew that this time around he meant every word he said when he swore about the 3 weeks deadline. You drive away satisfied and relieved about how you narrowly escaped a retail catastrophe.
Upon return 3 weeks later, despite several WhatsApp messages between yourself and the tailor over the past week you meet one of these scenarios; the workspace has been demolished, the tailor has traveled and closed the store and no one knows when he would be back, the fabric is sitting on the top shelf above his sewing machine, the tailor is sick or moody and can barely answer you (its that time of the month for him too), the fabric has been cut and not sewn or worst of all…..it is ready for pick up…..but hold on….why does the style look funny……….its not what you ordered…..and then goes the verbal abuse about how the tailor has ruined everything. At the end you pay almost the same price or more when compared to what you would have paid off the rack, and you still don’t get the desired results.
But then again, is the Nigerian market ready for off the rack clothing? Unfortunately, I would say no. The average Nigerian prefers having items custom made for them due to various weekend weddings and party celebrations, lack of structure within the Nigerian fashion retail companies, lack of variety, and also the ridiculous price tags for what most brands offer. However, there are a lot out there that can stand next to a whole lot of international brands and are quite affordable. Even though a very few tailors can copy and replicate the exact same style from magazines and photos , however two-thirds of the money you never paid was to eliminate all the hassle you will usually go through to have a final product.
Looking towards the future, is ‘My tailor can sew this,’ a good culture for our economy and Nigerian brands in general? How can it be solved while keeping both at an equilibrium? We know that many women enjoy shopping as a sport, most especially when they spend on international brands. After all, shopping is cheaper than therapy and we still haven’t heard of a woman who has more clothes than she needs yet. So by all means let us all buy the essentials that we do not produce here in Nigeria, but could we also keep in mind the fashion houses that are doing everything right here in Nigeria?