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 Babaringa Tailor Who Burnt Dubai Fabric
“Word of mouth goes a long way than any form of advertisement. People are more willing to try a tailor who has sewn for their friends. And I also do Facebook ads-this generates about 10% of my customers. The remaining 90% is from word of mouth, people recommend me”.
Mr. Ibrahim- Lokoja
12 Kupa rd, Lokoja.
Where are you from?
I am from Kogi state.
Please, tell us about your education
I only attended secondary school and that was it. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to the university.
Tell me about your family?
My dad is a taxi driver in Lokoja, while my mom is a petty trader, she sells little things just beside the house. I have 6 siblings and we all grew up together here in Kogi state.
Where do you live and how much is the rent?
I live alone now, I moved out of my parents’ house 3 years after secondary school. I live in a room and parlor self-contain. I pay N5,000 for the rent every month.
How did you start working as a tailor?
When I was done with secondary school and it was obvious that my parents couldn’t afford to pay for me to go further, I started learning tailoring. Then I didn’t know that sewing babanriga would be my specialty.
Who did you learn from and for how long?
I learnt under a family friend. He was a big tailor in Lokoja. After secondary school, I moved down to Lokoja and was living with him while also learning the trade under him. I was under him for about 5 years until I got my certificate and did freedom.
What were you doing before you started this babanriga business?
I wasn’t doing anything. Even though my parents are illiterates, they were very strict about me settling down quickly into something. They sent me to learn tailoring immediately after secondary school. There was no roaming about the streets. I love and still appreciate them for this. The trade they made me learn about 9 years ago is what is providing food for me and my family now.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I get to my shop around 9 o’clock in the morning though my apprentice would have been there before me. I close by 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock at most in the evening.
How do you source for customers?
Word of mouth goes a long way than any form of advertisement. People are more willing to try a tailor who has sewn for their friends. And I also do Facebook ads-this generates about 10% of my customers. The remaining 90% is from word of mouth, people recommend me.
What’s your best day like on the job?
My brother, let’s just thank God for life. I am a happy man. I love what I do at any time of the day. So, I don’t really see a particular day as my best day. I just come to my shop happily in the morning and do my work.
Have you had any shocking encounter with a customer before?
One of my apprentices burnt a customer’s clothe while he was ironing it. So I told this customer what happened and that he shouldn’t worry that I was going to get him another material. But he said that he got the material from a friend in Dubai, so I couldn’t be sure I could get the same quality. I assured him that I was going to get the exact material but he didn’t agree to that. We went back and forth on it, and the customer still didn’t allow me to buy the material locally. I had to pay him. He didn’t patronize me since then. This is something that really bothers me. I hate losing a customer over any kind of argument.
How much do you charge to sew an Agbada?
I charge N20,000 for a complete Agbada. For bougie designs I charge N35,000.
How so much do you make in a week?
I make nothing less than N60,000, I sometimes makes more though.
How much do you spend in a day?
Apart from spending on the family, that is, buying foodstuff at home and also giving the kids money for snacks every morning, I spend money in running the shop, giving my apprentices money for lunch. So, in all I spend about N5,000 on all of these daily.
What other things do you spend money on?
There’s a lot of other things I spend money on. When I need to buy materials that I don’t have in stock, I spend about N5,000 on that. I also pay dispatch riders to make deliveries to customers that are far away. All of these takes nothing less than N10,000 in a week.
For how long have you been in the business?
I have been in the since 2009. So that is about 11 years now. And I am thankful to God that he has been seeing me through all of these years.
Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month?
I save N20,000 every week. This could rise to N30,000-N40,000 in very busy weeks.
Are you married?
I am happily married with 2 kids.
Do you have plans to venture into something else and leave this business?
May be invest into fish farming, I have a friend that is into the business and he’s doing quite ok. So, I plan on giving that a try next year by the grace of God.