Working Lives – The Okrika Sellers of Katangua
Katangua is a market in the suburbs of Lagos. It is regarded as the biggest market for secondhand clothes, aka okrika, in Nigeria. This WLS series offers a glimpse into the trade- capital required, profit margins, etc. But what is perhaps most revealing is how the extortion that trails the trade, from clearing the “bales” of okrika at the ports to passing through police checkpoints, adds to the modest price of secondhand clothes. No matter how modest, no business can escape the itchy fingers of Nigerian officials.
All thanks to my kids. They told me about Instagram and how I could take pictures of my market and sell online. All I did was just pay some money for online promotion and I was getting one or two customers weekly.”
Where are you from?
I am from Ogbomosho in Oyo state. My parents were based there and that was also where I schooled for my secondary education.
When did you leave school?
I finished secondary school in 1998 and didn’t go further because my parents couldn’t afford to sponsor a tertiary education. Then I assisted my mother with her ogi business; she makes pap and sells in bulk to people that hawk in the neighborhood.
Okay. So when did you get into the okrika business?
I started selling okrika when I came to Lagos. Although I initially sold ogi, hawking during the weekends. I observed that Lagos people really didn’t have the time to be preparing pap in the morning during weekdays because of their work schedule, so the weekends were when I sold a lot. After nearly two years of doing that, I quit and started selling okrika clothes.
How much did it cost you to set up the business?
I raised N150,000 and invested everything in it. I was able to gather the money from the ogi business and borrowed some money from friends and family.
What has changed about the market now compared with when you started?
There has been an increase in the number of people that patronise us. Also, those that come to buy from us now are not just the regular Nigerian that is managing his/her income. You see the middle-class and well-to-do people as well, not because they can’t afford to go to big stores or boutiques, but just because they know we sell grade 1 clothes.
Where do you source your wares from?
I buy from people that ship wares directly from overseas. They sell to me at a slightly higher price, but it’s still reasonable since that’s what I can afford for now. All fingers are not equal.
Prices have risen over the past 12 months or so. How has that affected your sales and profits? Are people buying less than before?
Yes, my customers buy less now. Someone that would normally buy like 10 skirts and blouses from me now asks for just 4 or 5 at most. Everyone is trying to cut costs and save money.
What about the things you order, did the rise in prices change or affect that?
Yes, it did. And the majority of my customers are always complaining. I just try to persuade them and let them know it is not my will to just increase the price for them. The loss in value of the naira has made things hard and my distributor always complains bitterly about how much money she has to pay to ship her wares here. Apart from that, she will still have to clear at the port too, which requires another money entirely. It really is not easy for us these days.
How did you manage during the coronavirus lockdown?
All thanks to my kids o. They told me about Instagram and how I could take pictures of my market and sell online. And glory to God, it actually worked. All I did was just pay some money for online promotion and I was getting one or two customers weekly. I know it wasn’t as fast as selling compared to when I was in the market, but I was still able to sell enough to feed the family. Even now that the market is back open, I still sell to those online too.
Wow! Who are your main customers?
Everyone is. As long as you have money, just come and buy. Even some men come to me to buy clothes for their wives, that’s to tell you that not only women patronize me.
Who are the biggest Okrika dealers?
For example, the woman I buy from is a good definition of a big okrika dealer. A lot of us here who can’t afford to ship in on our own buy from her warehouse. And she’s really big in the business. If you go to her warehouse, it is always crowded, even people from other markets come to buy from her.
Where is her warehouse located?
Her warehouse is located in Arena, Oshodi.
Okay. What does it take to become a big dealer like her?
My brother, all it takes is money o. You don’t need to have any degree or anything special to be big in the business. As long as you have the money to invest in the business, you are good to go.
What are your most expensive items?
I think jumpsuits and jackets for the office, those types that bankers wear. Each goes for as high as N4,000, that is for grade 1 obviously. Then grade 2 can go for N1,500-N2,000.
Tell us about the most interesting experiences you have had in the business.
During the lockdown, one of my female banker customers called me and said she knew the economic downturn would have had an effect on me and the business and that she would like to assist me with the little she has. You won’t believe that this woman sent me N30,000. I was so happy. And apart from that, she told her colleagues to buy some clothes from me, those that I wasn’t able to sell, and they did.
Do you have loyal customers or people just move on when they are better off?
Apart from the banker I just mentioned, there are others too. I don’t think she buys from any other person in the market. Anytime she wants to buy something and I don’t have it, she tells me to get it when next I buy from my distributor and that she would come back for it. That right there, is what I call loyalty.
How much do you make in a week?
I don’t calculate my earnings weekly. You know we buy in bales, so I calculate what I make after I must have sold every single thing that I have in that particular bale.
Okay. But how much gain do you get on each item?
I gain as much as N1,500, sometimes N500. It all depends on what the customer is buying. Some customers come to buy and they don’t even bother pricing, such customers give me joy.
Who are these kinds of customers?
The literates. I mean university students and people that work in big offices. You know the thing is, most of them have been used to buying from big boutiques and malls, so my price seems so cheap to them and they don’t see a problem paying such an amount for an item.
How much do you save?
I save N20,000 from my profit after selling a bale. It sometimes takes me 2 weeks to sell a bale, so that is N40,000 monthly.
Do you have other investments or businesses?
The only investment I have is one land I bought in the Sango area. I bought it two years ago at N200,000 and according to word on the street, the land is now worth N500,000-N650,000. Real estate is a really lucrative investment. I hope to make more money this year so I can buy another land, even if it is a half plot. I know that a few years from now the price will appreciate and I will resell it.
So how many hours do you work in a day?
I get to the market by 7 am sharp and I close by 7 pm.
And how much do you spend in a day on food and transport fare to the market daily?
I spend N1,000 every day on food and transport. Sometimes I spend more because transport fare in Lagos is not stable.
What other things do you spend on?
Buying basic things at home and also paying for one thing or the other at my children’s school. I have to support my husband too. And then, another thing I spend money on is my family. I send money back home to them every month, N10,000 each to my dad and mom.
For how long have you been selling in this market?
I have been selling for close to 18 years now.
Do you have plans to venture into something else apart from selling in the market?
Not at all, apart from getting more money and buying more lands in the outskirts of Lagos. Before you know it, those places will develop and the prices of land there will appreciate too. So that is my target and only plan.