Today, the fashion brand known as Mudi has evolved into a global brand attracting presidents, prime ministers and celebs from Africa and beyond. However, when Clement Mudiaga Enajemo started out in the 1990s, it was a case of humble beginning. In this chat with EFFECTS at his ultra modern office/showroom located in Maryland, Lagos, multiple award-winning Mudi opens up on how he founded the brand, growing up and the secret of his success.
Did you ever believe that you were going to be this big when you started?
No, but I always had this mentality that anything was possible. About 15 years ago I went to VGC, Lagos, for the first time to see a client. I was curious and wanted to see what VGC looked like and I was blown away and I said to myself ‘all these houses belong to people and they wear clothes; that means there is a big market here.’ I was like if I could be focused I will make money. If you are gifted in whatever field and you have the passion for the work, you must also have the drive and discipline in order to succeed.
Tell us about growing up?
I am from a polygamous home. I grew up in Ughelli, Delta State. My background was middle class. My dad had nine wives, my mum was number four and we were about 29 kids. For the world we live in today I won’t encourage polygamy because of economic factor. However, one thing I learnt from my dad was wisdom. He never did things that could create division among his kids. There was love, trust and harmony.
At what point did you discover your gift?
I came to Lagos in 1990 and discovered myself in 1993. I was working at Ikosi, Ketu, with my uncle, but we were retrenched in 1993. I came to Lagos by train from Ilorin where I had gone to hustle after I left Delta State. That was how I got my first job at a factory. I was earning N3, 500 a month. After I lost my job I started living on good will. Then whenever my friends wanted to buy clothes, they asked me to come along to Mandilas and I advised them on what to pick. I grew up with the mentality that one has to always look good and dress well. After buying they gave me little tips. In 1992, one evening, I took a stroll in the neighbourhood when I saw two friends, Tunde and Emma sitting down discussing. As soon as they saw me coming they started talking in hushed voices. I walked close to them and Emma said ‘Clement, why you no go fashion school?’ The way he said it seemed like it came from above. Tunde buttressed his point. He said ‘Emma, na wetin I wan talk na im you talk so.’ And that was it. To this day I have been searching for those guys and I can’t find them. I sat down with them and we discussed. It had never occurred to me to go into fashion. Where do I start from? I kept asking myself. I went to see my elder brother and he agreed. That was how I ended up working at a roadside tailor’s place for nine months. He was well organized and thorough. During that period I went to offices of friends I knew back in Delta State and shared my complimentary cards and the jobs started rolling in.
How much was your take off capital when you started?
After my nine months apprenticeship I started collecting jobs from clients, which I gave to tailors. I would design and they would sew. That way I tried raising money for my first shop, but I got stranded and RMD (Richard Mofe-Damijo) came to my rescue, he gave me money for my first shop in 1997. I was saving but demand was taking money away from me. Rent was N47, 000 and I had only N10, 000. Then RMD had just shot his Out of Bounds movie and was not buoyant. On the day he gave me the money he made one remark probably out of past experience, which I will never forget. He said ‘Mudi, this money I wan give you so I no wan regret o.’ But today he is very proud of me.
What were your initial challenges?
After two years, renewing rent was a problem. I had money for six months but the landlord said I must pay for one year. I was under pressure until I went to see my landlord with a friend. He was able to talk to him and he gave me two weeks grace. By the grace of God during that period I had some guys who gave me jobs and they paid upfront so I was able to pay up. During that period when I was hustling to raise the money, something remarkable happened. I approached a senior friend of mine who always came to my shop to iron his clothes. I did not tell him that I was looking for money to renew my rent. I said I needed N20, 000 loan for my business. The guy said ‘Mudi, this work you are doing will not pay you, forget it. You have style, dress well and you have taste. I will introduce you to a friend who goes to Italy to bring in ready-made cloths. He would give you shoes and ties to sell and you will be moving from office to office. You will make more money that way.’ He started mentioning names, which are big today but I don’t want to mention them and he asked me ‘are they making money?’ I will never forget that moment.
How did you feel?
I felt very bad and almost cried. I was troubled and unfortunately, my landlord was also in the same building with me so I was always sneaking in and out of my shop. However, I was able to raise money and pay off. I knew another year was just around the corner and I did not want to be taken unawares so I started doing esusu (thrift) with N50 every day. At the end of the month I will take a bus to Ketu and drop the money in my account. I gave RMD my
withdrawal slips, I said ‘bros, keep this for me, if they call you that I am sick, please don’t release it.’ Things began to pick up and a friend said ‘Mudi, your level don de change, you have to go to offices to drop your stuff. Look for one small car to buy.’ That was how I withdrew N250, 000 to buy my first car. In fact, when I made that withdrawal, the bank manager was alerted (laughter). I bought a Toyota Corolla a.k.a First Lady. Then the road to VGC was narrow, so when I go to deliver clothes, there was always so much traffic and I would be sweating because it was manual and there was no AC. So what I did was once I got to Eleganza House, I would park under a tree, I used to have a bag of pure water inside my booth. I would bring it out and clean my car, wash my hands and powder my face so I could look presentable. Because I was sweating, I would hang my shirt on a tree for it to dry out.
During those difficult years, was there any point you felt like quitting?
Never, as I said earlier I believed it was possible and that was what has kept me going.
Today, a lot of youngsters aspire to be like you. What are the success tips in the fashion business?
You must have the talent. When anybody comes to me and says I want to go into fashion, the first question I ask is ‘are you gifted? creative?’ If yes, do you have the drive? Above all you have to be disciplined. Let me break it down. Talent is to create, the passion is to love the work. You can be creative but don’t like the job. Some people can be good writers but don’t have time to write novels. Some people can write songs and can sing but they don’t have the passion to pursue a career as singers, so you must be creative; you must have the passion which makes you enjoy the work and when you love the work, money starts coming. Then you must have the drive to keep taking it to another level. Above all, discipline, you must have discipline, which comes last; discipline is key.
Today presidents are your clients including the King of Morocco. How does that feel?
The King of Morocco issue is a very touching one. I got a call from Intercontinental Hotel on a Saturday evening asking if I was Mudi? He said he was calling from Intercontinental Hotel and asked if I was aware that the king of Morocco was in town? I was like ‘wetin concern me?’ Initially I thought it was a 419 call. He told me that the king had picked five places to visit and Mudi was among the five. I did not take it seriously because I felt it was 419 call. The guy asked for when I opened on Mondays and I said 9 o’ clock. He called me on Sunday to remind me that the King of Morocco was coming to my shop on Monday. I said okay, it still didn’t sink in. On Monday around quarter after nine, advance team came. The guy came with them with state house vehicles and looked around and informed me the King would be on ground by 2 o’ clock and said I should make sure I am on ground to attend to his Royal Majesty. I said I am not going anywhere (laughter). Even at that point I was still skeptical. At quarter to four, I started hearing sirens and they had blocked all the streets. I came out and saw the king wearing fez cap, T shirt and a pair of jeans and I was like ‘this is the King I saw with Buhari in the newspapers.’ I told my boys to take position immediately! Meanwhile we were overwhelmed. I was introduced to him and he said I had a nice place. I took him to the show room and he looked around and picked some clothes. He spent about 27 minutes and I took his measurements. He saw the trouser I was wearing and he said he liked it and he ordered two colours. The PA said they were traveling day after the next, could I deliver tomorrow? I said I will deliver! That evening I called my boys and we did night. The third day in the morning we delivered at the hotel. I got there at 9am. He was having breakfast and asked me to join him. This time I went with my camera and captured every moment. He occupied a whole floor at Intercontinental Hotel. He tried the clothes and was so happy he dashed my PA $400. He also liked the trouser I was wearing and asked if I could deliver the next day if he ordered, I said yes and I delivered promptly.
What was the lesson you learnt from the experience?
Just do your work well. They will locate you. All over the world water finds its level but we are in a country where water is not allowed to find its level because everything is being lobbied for; we scheme for everything.
Are you thinking of starting your own perfume line?
We can’t rule that out. It is possible, but I will say God will determine that. When I bought this property I wasn’t prepared for it. The story of this house is the reason I always say God should do His Will. There was a woman who used to supply me thread and buttons. I was owing her N27, 000. She called me and said she was coming for her balance. When she came I paid her and she said ‘oga, I wan tell you something o.’ That moment my mood changed because I thought she was going to ask for a favour. I started ‘forming’ busy just to scare her off. But she continued: “That house I de stay is up for sale-o. In case you are interested you can buy it and if you buy it, keep small per cent for me. I gave you the connection.’ It used to be an old block of four flats and she was living in one of the flats. The money in my account wasn’t even up to half of the cost. This was 2011. Mentally I wasn’t even prepared and the money was not even there. She gave me the agent’s number and we negotiated. He said he will get back to me. I approached my bank but they couldn’t help. However, another bank came to my rescue. I had only opened that account six months earlier. It was divine favour. Even my account officer told me it would not work. I was even forced to open the account because one of their EDs whom I make clothes for said I must open an account with them.
What does style mean to you?
Style is an expression of what you have inside of you. It includes the car you drive. Can you see that radio over there? It is from 1957. I got it in Dakar, Senegal. I like very unique things.
How do you relax?
What relaxes me is my work. Creating a design has a way of taking stress off me. I also listen to a lot of music; pure African music. My number one artiste is Sirleaf Keita. If you tell me to go to the desert with only one album, I would go with Sirleaf Keita.
What would you say is the greatest decision you ever took?
Going into fashion designing, because it has exposed me and made me meet great people. You know, if after 25 years I am still in one small shop, then something is wrong. And don’t forget, with all sense of humility, I am the first designer to have billboards in Nigeria, the first to advertise on TV and the first to have shops outside his country. I am talking about outlets with branded official cars attached.
What is the future of fashion in Nigeria?
The future is bright. Five years ago, Ankara was looked down on but now people open shops just to sell only Ankara. It shows that value is increasing so we will get there. A time will come when bankers will no longer wear jackets to work but native. What matters is not what you wear but what you have inside.
A couple of years ago, a guy came on the scene, was everywhere and then he disappeared. What happened to KC Jabare?
It is not only KC Jabare. There are several designers who came and fizzled out. We are in a country where there is so much distraction. It takes high level of wisdom, skill and determination to remain on track. Why I say so? KC Jabare was doing well. We still relate till today. He is like my elder brother. I think he came in, contributed his quota and only God knows why he travelled to America like Majek Fashek. At that time going abroad was the in thing. On the issue of KC he actually came and made a mark. But the reason why he travelled I don’t know but like I said earlier, we are in a country where there is so much distraction, so it takes a lot to focus. That was one of the reasons I stopped making clothes for women, distraction. Women actually pay more and make more clothes but I want to be focused.