Damilola Awobiyi is a graduate of Mass Communication from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, she is currently a Corps member in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti state Nigeria. With the rate of unemployment in the country, she has taken to handcraft and she is currently into leather works. Kayode Awojobi, our correspondent, caught up with her and herein below is the excerpt of the chat-
NW: Tell us how you developed interest in leather works and how you made your entry into the Industry?
DA: Well, I got interested in leather works initially for my personal use. There are many leather products in the open market that are of low quality. Instead of purchasing such products that get spoilt within a short period of time. I thought of making it myself, so from the beginning, I am sure of the quality of leather and others materials that will help me to produce long lasting products for myself.
NW: Can you tell us about your journey into the world of leather works?
DA: While I was an undergraduate, I learnt Fashion Designing. This was in my final year. I started working right from the NYSC Orientation Camp, the one week SAED training really triggered my interest in knowing more about the skills which I later registered for under the NYSC approved industry.
NW: While so many people are running after white-collar jobs, why did you venture into entrepreneurship?
DA: To be sincere, there are little or no jobs out there. The only thing is to provide yourself an alternative, if you are lucky enough to get employed, all well and good. However, if not, you will have something tangible to fall back to that will be used to fend for oneself. As we all know that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop .
NW: Every parent wants their children to be professionals, what was the reaction of your parents as you kept developing yourself in leather works?
DA: At first, my dad did not really succumb to it, he doesn’t want anything that will alter my academics but when I started sewing beautiful dresses for my mom, he got jealous and asked me to enroll for male clothes as well which I did, since then, they never objected to me learning leather works because their clothes, bags and shoes were rolling in as at when due.
NW: If you went through training, how long did it take you to become a boss of your own?
DA: Training or learning the skills depends on the trainer’s readiness to train and the interest of a trainee to learn. NYSC SAED training is throughout the service year while my fashion designing skill was for four or five months and after then all through the months of waiting for NYSC mobilization was used for rigorous personal training.
NW: While learning, can you share with us some of the challenges you faced, and those you’re still facing now that you’re your own boss?
DA: Well, I encountered countless challenges while learning, I can remember then my parents did not send me my monthly allowance because they wanted me to travel back home but I refused, because I was learning my fashion designing which they did not supported initially. I used the transport fare sent to me to buy some equipment needed, so, due to this “hunger waya me”, trekking from my house to shop, every day without food, I developed ulcer during that period, fell sick even fainted many times. Things were very hard then, but thank God I scaled through. Now I’m not really challenged by anything else other than customer’s delay to pick up their stuff after I’ve invested my money in making their demands.
NW: What are the major things that determine a quality leather work?
DA: The quality of the leather and sole is paramount to any qualitative and long lasting leather work. However, the process of designing, placing and good finesse put into the production also matters.
NW: In this present day Nigeria, do you think entrepreneurship can be solely relied on?
DA: Yes. Every other salary earning work or job can be affected by deflation except a sole proprietor who owns his or her business, also you have no fear of being queried or sacked by anyone, you are the owner of your business. You run it the way you wish to, without any interference from anybody.
NW: There is a current challenge being faced by artisans, people are not willing to learn skills, what can be done to address this?
DA: There are still thousands of people who are interested and will be interested in skills acquisition but are discouraged by factors such as the trainer’s attitude and disposition in impacting the knowledge needed; undue elongated time of training, what you can learn for six months or there about you can still be on it for more than one and a half year without getting it and the attitude and interest of the trainee while learning really matters a lot.
Others things that I have seen also include some complaints about the tuition fee, but I don’t agree with that because what yoh don’t pay for, you can’t really value it. However, a little consideration can be given the apprentice shows these willingness to learn.
If all these reasons are looked into and changes occur, I think thousands of people has I’ve said would be willing not only willing but make themselves available in getting their choiced skills. You can try with me and you will know that the difference is clear.
NW: Do you think what you do is enough to make a living?
DA: Yes of course, by God’s grace. It depends on how you brand your products, package and how it is presented to the targeted customers. Also little is much when God is in it.
NW: There are some brands that are known to mass produce shoes, bags, etc for walk-in customers to buy, what’s the difference between your works and the ones that are mass produced?
DA: Well, a little drop of water makes a mighty ocean .I produce my products myself and sell to those who want for personal use and for those who will purchase in bulk and sell. With me you will have the opportunity to demand for bespoke products- colours ,style and the type of the products you want. With me you can make everything about wears in a uniform colour for instance making shoe and bag with the same materials.
NW: Where do you see yourself in the industry in 5 years to come?
DA: By the grace of God, I hope to see myself as the best industry known with producing long lasting product and also I would love to build a reliable industry brand renowned for meeting up with customers needs as at when due. So help me God.
NW: What’s your word of advice to young people who are still undergoing training in leather works?
DA: Stay focused and be determined to get to the highest altitude in your choice of career. “Any thing your hand found in doing do it with all your might and enthusiasm”.