A week in the life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores labor struggles and victories of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
In today’s #AWeekInTheLife, we feature Samiat Salamiwho designs textile prints which she uses to make ready-to-wear and interior decoration. She tells us about her design process, the difficulties of running a global business in Nigeria and the difficulty of finding plus size models for her dresses.
I’m not an early riser as I wake up several times in the night so I usually get up at 9am as I have asthma and tend to wake up with a sore throat thanks to the air conditioning the first thing i do is have a cup of tea to help clear my sinuses.
I try not to open my phone or computer first thing in the morning because if I do, the anxiety will set in and I’ll be caught up in the drudgery of it all for the rest of the day. So, while enjoying my drink, I like to live a bit in the present moment; I can read a chapter of fiction on my toilet seat or walk around the house.
At 10 a.m., I finally turn on my phone. And the minute I do that, it’s a never-ending avalanche of back-to-back calls or emails or whatever I need to catch up.
As a textile designer, I work with many artisans, and it’s a lot of stress! I get so many calls from people saying, ‘We’re out of blah blah blah’, ‘Did you really want it that way? and “Because we did it this way last time and you didn’t like it, we thought we’d ask you specifically before…” Yeah, there’s just a whole bunch of go -returns.
I also work with makers who sew my designs into actual products. So I will also have to give and receive feedback from them. Then I have to work with retailers I sell my stuff to in the US, and they usually have follow-up questions. I also follow up well with customer service with direct orders online and on social media.
Around 1 p.m., the members of my team arrive at my place where the living room serves as a studio, where all the follow-up is linked. All the “Do we like this print?” ” ” Is not it ? “Will this print be better for bathrobes or dishes?” “Do we need to talk about different marketing ideas? “Do we need to shoot a campaign?” “Are we planning that?” questions get answered from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. We just go there and it’s pretty intense. The day tends to be very fast-paced, but we make sure to take short lunch breaks and catch our breath.
By 6 p.m., I’m hammered and restless. So when everyone leaves, all I want to do is go for a walk around my estate. I have a restless body that always tries to keep up with my mind and walking helps me catch up. When I come back, I collapse in my bed.
My textile design process starts with prints and patterns. I draw a lot of inspiration from the flora and fauna of Nigeria, and I do a lot of research for each collection, on the origin of a plant, how it falls, what it looks like, the colors… I often do long walks in nature, taking lots of pictures of flowers and other beautiful things that I see. I organize all these photos in a moodboard. Then I work with my illustrator to polish them.
For example, for the hibiscus prints that I’ve been working on for months, it was just me taking lots of different hibiscus species that I’ve seen in the wild. I took pictures in Nigeria, California and Florida. After photographing, I will study the patterns, like how they change from red to yellow, for example.
Then I work with my illustrator to create digital designs inspired by my mood board. Then we’ll send them to a really lovely guy in Osogbo who I love to work with, and fabrics for him to hand draw the designs – he needs to translate our illustrations into something much more illustrative by hand. When he’s finished creating the sample prints, we’ll go through several iterations until we’re successful.
I only meet my staff about three times a week, so when no one comes to my apartment, like today, I run around Lagos.
After perusing the emails and correspondence around noon, I either go to Surulere or Lekki, where my makers operate, to sign things off and discuss samples and finer details of new products.
For example, if I do a fit test — putting a garment on a fitted model — I’m going to have to do different iterations to get it right, and it can take a whole day because it involves a lot of back and forth. It’s like: “cut it”, “put it”, “twist it this way”, “put it back”, and so on…
I use myself a lot, which is interesting because I’m not one suitable model. I have very small body parts, and I’m only five or two years old. When people think of models, they are usually tall and thin and have no curves. But this does not translate into the bodies of many Nigerian women. This is why so many people struggle with traditional brands.
For me, I’m pretty petite, and I have thighs and breasts, and all sorts of things that aren’t straight, so I need to know how the clothes fit me so I can translate how they would suit other people. other body types. That’s why I include the size. One of the reasons I started my brand was that I was frustrated that I couldn’t find clothes that fit me.
So now I make clothes for people of different sizes: taller people, thinner people, people who have tops or bottoms, etc. I want everyone to feel comfortable, safe and happy in my clothes. I don’t want anyone to feel like they conform to whatever standard of beauty I set. It’s not about me. It’s about feeling good about everything I do for you.
But it’s been really hard for me to find models above a certain size, and I don’t think it’s because we don’t have women like that. These women avoid this industry because they are often told that they are not the ideal of beauty. There are cultures that only find slim people attractive, but this is not Nigerian. I am currently looking for larger models.
One of the most frustrating parts of my job is that the manufacturing industry in Nigeria does not yet have a solid structure. Countries like India, Indonesia, Morocco and Mexico all have a long history of craftsmanship that has been controlled and worked with other countries. There are entire brands, American and British, that travel to places like India to mass manufacture. These countries already have legacy systems in place for everything. We don’t have that yet in Nigeria; we don’t have working production systems, so it’s hard to get things done.
So I find myself having to build everything from the ground up. It’s exhausting, but I chose this life.
For this reason, problems arise all the time in manufacturing. For example, I only work with 100% Nigerian cotton, like Funtua. Funtua is not the kind of thing I can just go to the market in Lagos and buy because I make in such large quantities so I buy thousands of meters at a time. I get it from Kano. And now, there are problems like insecurity and terrorism that plague this region, so these materials are becoming more and more difficult to obtain.
My suppliers can just raise their prices in the blink of an eye because of all the inflation and uncertainty. Imagine how much this affects my estimates and budgets. Such things affect production and delivery to customers. I’m not really good at sloppy work, and my perfectionist self has to deal with all of those variables. It’s so tiring.
Today I received satisfactory feedback from a customer. It’s the best thing in the world for me. I love that twinkle in their eyes when they try something on and say “I’m fabulous”. Especially the dresses, because they tend to have a sort of decadent feel to them, so every time someone puts them on, I can see their demeanor change. They take that kind of rich aunt or uncle vibe, and I’m just like, “That’s what I’m here for!”
Seeing people love something I’ve done, after all the hard work, brings me indescribable joy. It’s especially gratifying because my designs don’t always translate well to print. So when we finally got it done and people don’t give a damn about it, that “oh, I did a great thing” feeling came over me.
I went to Ibadan with my team today. I’ve always had this fascination for the city. As a child, one of my many ambitions was to study Yoruba and teach at the University of Ibadan (UI). Ibadan is one of those cities whose myth is so rich and so closely linked to what it means to be Yoruba. It has rolling hills and red sand, a rustic feel and a certain kind of magic you can’t find in Lagos. Ife is another such town.
When I last visited Ibadan, I knew I wanted to shoot a campaign there. So when we arrived in Ibadan today by train, we went straight to Amala Skye in Bodija to get our amala fix. Mehn, I ate the best ogunfe I’ve ever had. Then we stayed at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Moniya.
I’m thrilled with this campaign because I’m working with an all-female team. I like when I work with women. The energy is always different. I also like working with men, but working with a group of creative women in the same room? The energy is somehow magnetic and beautiful. We will continue to shoot in prime locations around town for the next few days, and I can’t wait to see all the beauty that will come out of this project.
READ ALSO: A week in the life of a second-hand seller on Instagram
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