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Long years spent at home writing JAMB prompted my fashion career – Peju Osajare, English graduate fashion trainer

By the time Peju Osajare graduated from Lagos State University with a Bachelors degree in English, she had already commenced life in fashion designing.  Today, her MAGDAN Institute of Fashion Design, located at Ipaja, Lagos, is famous as a training school for people interested in acquiring vocational skills in fashion designing and related crafts. With over 15 years of experience, she has trained over 30 individuals while a sizable batch of trainees is currently in training at the institute. She spoke to CHIBUZO IHEGBORO of The Nigerian Xpress on how she carved out a career path in fashion designing, the challenges of setting up such a fashion business/institute, and the benefits of complementing tertiary education with vocational skills.

How did you start in textile and fashion design business?

I never planned to have something like this.  What prompted me into fashion was the long years I spent at home, writing JAMB.  I had to write JAMB four times.  I did not like whiling away time at home. Because of this bad experience with JAMB, I had to attend a part-time programme at Lagos State University, LASU.  So, I had a rethink on what I would be using my money for. I cannot be at home and wasting precious time.  I decided to attend fashion school. I went to a fashion school known as GO-gate and was running both the fashion programme and my university programme. I finished fashion school before I completed my Bachelor’s programme at LASU.

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What did you study?

I studied English. By the time I finished fashion school, I had started making dresses for people. I discovered with time that I had a passion for vocational skills, such as handworks and crafts.  And I love sketching. I can draw anything without anybody directing me.  I realised it was a gift from God.  That was how I started. I also love imparting knowledge to people. This was my desire when I became a fashion designer. I decided to make it a school, training people to impact on others.

I love seeing people, covering their nakedness; that is how I  train my students. Many people think fashion is all about exposure or nudity. There is no style that anybody will see me wear, despite that I cover up, without admiring it. There is nothing I wear that people will not comment on that they admire. So, I had the mind that I should be able to impart this to the students that pass through my school.

How and when did you acquire training as a fashion designer?

That was between 1990 and 2000.  I first trained in freehand, which is cutting. With time I realised that I had challenges when I sew certain styles, which I could not work on, especially English styles because I love making English wears.  I can use Ankara to make English wears. After five years, I went back to school to learn and be trained.  The first training took me two years and another year to perfect my fashion designing. I realised that there are so many traditional terms and techniques that cannot be achieved with normal freehand, even the fitting of clothes, there are also some challenges when you’re making some clothes.

 How did you set up your institution?

My father started the textile institution while he was still in service, as a Customs officer.  Back then, while still in service, he travelled to South Korea and toured their factories where they make shirts.  He was astonished by the way the Koreans made their shirts with small capital.  So, when coming back to Nigeria, he brought some cutting machines and started his firm. Although he had no idea of fashion designing, he employed people to work for him on shirt production.  Because of his unavailability every time, the people he employed did not manage the business very well for him. So, he was forced to close the business. When I started, I was scared to tell him, but later when I told him that I had enrolled in a fashion school, he never objected. Rather, he encouraged me to be self-reliant. When I finished my training, he assisted me to open the institution.

 So, you inherited the school from your father in a way?

Yes, because the names we have today remain the name that the school has been known right from inception.  He commenced making of shirts in 1992 at the time, I was still thinking of what career to go into.  They mismanaged the business for him. Then he had closed down and the building was not in use. I decided to use the building and some of his machines to set up the school.  My dad was using the pent house, while I decided to use the last floor to set up the school.

During my dad’s day, it was pure production of T-Shirt, not fashion designing. The name of the school is MAGDAN Fashion Designing and Textile Institute of Technology, Ipaja, Lagos. It was formed from the name of my parents.  So, instead of me changing that name, I retained it.

 What new developments did you introduce?

Apart from clothmaking, I have also gone to school to learn how to make beads, decoration, hats, bag making, card designing, etc. My focus is to have different departments, have different faculties and be able to train the students, even in craft making.

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 What are the challenges of training people in fashion and textile technology?

My challenge has been the students. Some of them don’t assimilate on time.  So, you have to come to their level.  But being a teacher in the children’s section of my church has given me an insight into how to teach at different levels.  Some have quick understanding, some don’t.  Some sign for a six-month course but cannot qualify, as fashion designer.  What they ought to learn for a month, they end up learning for three months, and yet they want to graduate, which is not possible.

They should be able to be creative, to interpret styles when they come across styles. They need accuracy, as fashion designer; every measurement should be accurate; if the designer makes mistakes it affects the making of the clothes. I do teach them the aspect of finishing in clothmaking, then neatness in clothmaking also, because finishing matters, this is the reason most people prefer ready-made clothing than clothes made in Nigeria because everything is not intact.

 Are there requirements to set up this kind of business?

One can start with one machine, and if one is still in school, you should be able to have your customers easily.  By the time you’re making a dress for your friends, they will be able to advertise you. With one machine, the person can start something and be able to earn money from your clients gradually. Once you gain the trust of your clients, you will earn big money.  A student should save money while on the job. Today, some of my students have a fashion outfit of their own.

I have undergraduate students who make clothes for their fellow students in school. I have had undergraduates from different institutions, including a final year student of law from Lagos State University, that trained at my institute. The good thing about these girls is that they normally take their machines along with them to campus. My students are mostly graduates and undergraduates. I have also had some ex-bankers, as my students as well as children in secondary schools. To start training, one must be between 13 and 55 years.  The institute has other teachers, teaching the students aside from myself.

How would you compare Nigerian fashion designing to its foreign counterpart?

With the way things are going, there will be a time when Nigerians will stop buying foreign wears because the Nigerian industry is almost getting to the point where it can compete with her foreign counterparts.