Working Lives: The Babaringa Tailors of Northern Nigeria
Many of our WLs interviews have featured Nigerians from the North – porters in Lagos markets, people serving tea and noodles on the street (Mai Shais). We decided to talk to the people who make those flamboyant agbada from Northern Nigeria, known as babaringa, made globally famous by Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State. We had to “go” to the North to meet with them. The socioeconomic background of our new interviewees is strikingly different from our compatriots from the North we had previously interviewed for the WLs series – 3 out of 4 of them have university degrees. Yet, Nigerians have certain things in common, no matter how different their lives e.g. sending money home.
Working Lives: The Bougie Tailor Who Sews Babaringa For Senators and Businessmen
“I have grown quite big in the business over the years, so now I operate at the higher end of the business. My customers are premium-Senators and rich businessmen. My charges are hence premium, quite different from the regular range tailors charge in town. I charge N45,000 for a simple design and N70,000 for “bougie” ones”.
Mr. Abubakar- Kano State
Abubakar Clothing Apparel
Shop 29, Ado Bayero mall, Kano.
Where are you from?
I am from Kano state. I was born and brought up here.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Government Secondary School in Kano. And then I also have an HND degree from Kano State Polytechnic. I graduated in 2006.
Tell me about your family.
My father is a civil servant. He is he a Level 12 officer in the Government House. My mother sells groceries. I am the second child. There are five of us.
Where do you live and how much is the rent?
I live in a two-bedroom flat. The rent is N25,000 per month.
How did you start sewing Babaringas?
It was my mother’s idea that I should go and learn how to sew babaringa right from when I started secondary school. I used to go to my master’s workshop after school and during the weekend. He was a very big tailor with a lot of customers. I had completed the training by the time I got to SS3; it took 6 years. I established my own business while I was still at the Polytechnic. I was in 200 Level.
How much did it cost you to establish?
Nothing much, really. I just bought a sewing machine for N80,000 and then other necessary equipment like scissors, threads and the likes.
Did you do anything else before establishing your babaringa business?
When I was at the Polytechnic, I used to collect clothes from my course mates for laundry just to get extra cash. The money I was getting from home was not enough. I was also saving hard to be able to buy a sewing machine. I saved for two years to be able to buy it.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I get to my shop by 10 in the morning and I close by 7 in the evening. My apprentices always get to the shop before me. They open the shop before I get there and start attending to customers.
How do you source for customers?
I have been able to gather a large customer base over the years, right from when I was still in the Polytechnic. People wear babaringas a lot in Kano. My customers refer me to others.
What’s your best day like on the job?
During the festive periods, a lot of people get to come in with their materials for different styles of babaringas. We work a lot more hours to beat the deadline.
Have you had any shocking encounter with a customer before?
Yes. A female customer who brought a material that was not very good for babaringas. I tried my best but she did not like the finished work. She caused a big scene.
How much do you charge to sew a Babaringa?
I have grown quite big in the business over the years, so now I operate at the higher end of the business. My customers are premium: Senators and rich businessmen. My charges are hence premium, quite different from the regular range tailors charge in town. I charge N45,000 for a simple design and N70,000 for “bougie” ones.
How much do you make in a week?
I make N150,000 – N300,000 in a week. A lot more during the festive periods.
How much do you spend in a day?
I have to buy N8,000 worth of diesel every day. We use big industrial sewing machines and we also have air conditioners. I spend about N1,500 on food and give my workers – there are six of them – N5,000 for lunch.
What other things do you spend money on?
My children’s school fees alongside other minor bills at home. My wife also helps out. Spending on bills at home cost me about N50,000 monthly.
For how long have you been in the business?
I started on my own when I was in the university like I said. And that was in 2004, so that’s about 15 years now.
Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I have savings and I save weekly. I always try to save as much as N50,000 every week. Sometimes I am also not able to meet that target, so I save less, about N30,000 or N35,000.
Are you married/ looking forward to marrying?
Yes, I am happily married with 3 kids.
Do you have plans to venture into something else?
Nothing really, honestly. The only plan I have is to expand my shop and employ more workers. The bigger the business, the more money that comes in.