Tailor is not the same as Fashion Designer – Abiodun Kuforiji Nkwocha

Tailor is not the same as Fashion Designer – Abiodun Kuforiji Nkwocha

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we basically had only tailors here in Nigeria. You either bought ready-made clothes from shops or from a pile or you would take your ‘material’ (fabric) to a tailor to sew it for you. You would come with your ‘style’ or flip through old magazines depending on the calibre of the tailor. I remember when ‘fish’ skirts became fashionable. My mother could not stand anything but ‘Iro’ and ‘buba’ for lace fabrics initially. But fashion has a way of creeping on everyone. One day everyone is wearing fish skirts and the straight one begins to look strange. Needless to say my mum eventually started sewing skirts and blouses with lace fabrics… but never the expensive ones.

We all know tailors na. You walk into a tiny dingy shop with clothing lines piled with loads of clothes. Fabrics, exercise books and threads will be on a big table. They may have 2 or 3 people working or learning hunched over the sewing machines or flatten some zip with a coal iron. The floor is never neat, tiny strips of fabrics are all over the place and there is rarely light. Some finished work may be hanging at the entrance to convince you that they know their bizness (or mannequins, but NEVER be fooled by that. In this Lagos, people pay better tailors to sew nice stuff so that they can pretend they sewed it.)


If you are a detailed fashionista, you know exactly what you want and will instruct the tailor. He/she will sew whatever you choose, however the fabric or style is without many suggestions. You get measured, then you haggle over a price and when the clothes will be ready. You manufacture some emergency (my cousin is getting married this Saturday… while in truth it is weeks away) which never works because you will get the clothes whenever you get them. He/she may not be very schooled but as long as they sew well, who cares?

Typical interaction with the average tailor.

Cue in the new generation tailors.

Some like to be called fashion designers but even that is getting too common. They are now called creative directors.

Your normal tailor ‘learnt work’, did a ‘freedom’ and opened a shop. The new gen tailors ‘studied’ fashion designing; fabricology (does a word like that exist?), hues and colours, feng shui and style, the anatomy and clothing… etc and they began a ‘start up’ (as opposed to opening a shop)

They can look at the angle of your face, the way you hold your shoulders, and the distant far away look in your eyes and know what style will suit you. If you tell them it is for a naming ceremony, they will ask a few questions about the baby and its family and then they will be able to choose the appropriate style you should wear.

So I had to visit a ‘creative director’ recently. Someone said they knew a good tailor in Lekki. My friend and I took our fabrics and set out.

First of all, the building looked like a bank with pillars and stuff.

‘Ah Ah!’ I thought to myself as I began to worry about how much sewing a skirt and blouse would cost.

The lady was standing at the top of stairs. She welcomed us with good English crowned with a tiara of ‘fone’. We stepped into this pristine hallway and we were led to a ‘fitting’ room.

The upholstered couch looked berra than my made-by-Akeem sofas. It was not just soft and cushiony, it was carefully carved and elegant. There was art on the walls and a dark mahogany cupboard on one side. A mac computer was charging beside an iPhone that was also charging with a modem close by.


No sewing machine, no noise, no Bisi going to buy boli for madam… when did tailoring clean up like this?

So we asked for catalogues.

Did she bring us a dirty pile of city people/ complete fashion? Nope

She slid open her instagram page and we browsed.

She did not ask for our ‘materials’, she asked for our fabrics.

At this point I started feeling like doing toilet. How much would she charge us? Already the Uber ride from mainland to her place meant that I would have to sacrifice a few necessities. Nobody said anything like ‘fish skirt’, fancy names were thrown around as necklines and full skirts and tones and hues were talked about.

In fact, she suggested a ‘dipped’ neckline for me because a neckline high up there would make my chest region look like massive block, so cutting it with a dip would half my chest area making it look smaller. This is what you get when your tailor went to Stanford abi na Harvard.

My friend was detailed and so they got along. She measured for two outfits, I decided to do only 1 out of the 3 materials I took (I formed not being sure of what to sew but I am sure we all knew the real reason.)

We were offered drinks (in her fridge was everything; red wine, Heineken, white wine, origin, malt, coke…).

We took our measurements and asked her what it would cost us.

No that was not what happened, I remember.

She finished the measurements and gave us a date to collect it. Then she said something about writing an invoice.


When did tailors start writing even receipts for customers?

And just like that?

No “How much is it?”

“It is too much naaa”

“Let me pay less…”
No haggling.

It was like buying something in shoprite and you know that you cannot ‘price’ it.

The amount on the invoice was what I expected.

That amount could have bought us 3 bags of Buhari priced rice with change.

I was tempted to say no, mba. What is this? For skirt and blouse that if I wear 3 times people will begin to use it to describe me

“That madam that wears that pink outfit to all weddings”

But there are times in life when you must face hunger to save your face.

Haba, not everyday sew cloth in Mafoluku. Sometimes taste the Lekki life and sow a seed to how you hope your life will be one day.

I did not bat an eyelid. I asked for her account number and said I would credit her.

As we were sitting there, a lot of women came for fittings.

When some people say we are lying about recession and hardship, I don’t blame them. There are two Nigerias, and the recession is still far away from one of the Nigerias.

We saw 2 tailors at one point, she has a room of tailors somewhere we didn’t have access to.

We eventually left in a daze.

I promise not to complain when Mama Bisi at Mafoloku charges me ‘express’ money of 4k next time.



Someday, someone will develop an app (if they haven’t already) that these new gen tailors will hop on. They will simply have to key in a woman’s measurements and her body prototype will appear. They will design the styles on her ‘body’ and then she will see how she will look in them. Then they will charge us a kidney.

Meanwhile, does anyone have a 100k they are not using?


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