Born in Nigeria, Made in China…

*Mrs. Patricia Gabkwet...working at a garment factory in Beijing, China.

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(This is the story of Maya Clothing Company’s boss, Mrs. Patricia Gabkwet. Read on…)

Q.Tell us a little about yourself.

A.I was born in Jos to late Engr Sule Dandam and Mrs Racheal Dandam (nee Sulmi).  I am an old girl of St Louis College, Jos and a graduate of Accounting from the University of Jos. Growing up, I dreamt of becoming a doctor but by sheer providence, I later found myself in the banking sector. I was once a staff of Zenith Bank where I rose to the rank of Assistant Manager until my voluntary resignation in 2012 to pursue my life-long dream of owning my own tailoring business. I also had the opportunity to hone my sewing skills in Beijing, China where I and my family resided for 3 years between January 2013 and January 2016 when my husband, who is a serving military officer, was deployed to as a Military Attaché. I am currently the Head Tailor/ Managing Director of Maya Clothing and Apparel Company also known as Maya-The School Uniform Company, a company based in Abuja that specializes in school uniforms and work-wears.

Q. You have always dreamt of owning your business and working for yourself, could that be the reason why you left your lucrative job at the bank to start this business?

A.You are right that my dream has always been to own a business. Let me however state that working in the banking industry for 11 years was perhaps the best preparation I got for my current venture. The need to persevere and be patient, which I learnt  as a marketer at one point in my career as a banker, were key and instrumental in helping me settle into the realities of Nigeria’s business environment. The prudent management of resources that is known with Nigerian banking sector is also something that I took away from my years at Zenith. So I can confidently say that my experience in Zenith Bank adequately prepared me for the business world.So basically, working at Zenith was a stepping stone for me and I am glad God gave me that opportunity.

Q.How did you conceive the idea of sewing school uniforms? What is the market like?  Why not fashion design?

A.I have always been fascinated with women’s fashion and initially had the plan to specialize in it. This strategy however changed before I left for China. I realized that due to the loss in confidence in Nigerian school uniform tailors, most schools, particularly private schools, import school uniforms from the United Kingdom, China and Bangladesh. Indeed, when some of our friends, who are school proprietors and proprietresses, found out that I was relocating to China, all they wanted was for us to assist them make bulk purchases of school uniforms. It was unbelievable that so much forex was expended on school uniforms from foreign companies while our sewing industry suffers. It was at that point that I said to myself, ‘This could be a business opportunity that I could exploit.’ I then decided to focus oschool uniforms and work wears. Consequently, I enrolled in professional designclass at Beijing organized by Mr Liu Zhizhou. Liu Zhizhou, a renowned designer, tailor, sewing teacher and quality assurance expert with over 15 years’ experience has worked with prominent clothing lines such as H &M, Miu Miu, Dolce and Gabbana among others. After 2 years of learning, I also worked at Tanyue (Beijing) GarmentCompany Limited for about 3 months. The 3 months sting was very important as it enabled me understudy the Chinese garment industry and understand the workings and settings of a typical sewing factory having decided long ago that I wanted to, someday own my own sewing factory. That aside, I must say that the Nigerian Fashion industry is huge. Indeed, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, it is a $3.5 Billion industry. So irrespective of which aspect one professionalizes in, the sector remains viable, vibrant and big enough for everyone.

Q.With the current economic situation in the country, what were the initial challenges you faced in starting the business?

A. For us at Maya-The School Uniform and Work-wear Company, the first challenge was that of finding tailors with the patience, expertize and dedication to meet the required standard that we had carved out for our school uniforms. In the first place, most schools went into school uniform importation due to loss of confidence in our Nigerian tailors, the poor quality of their products coupled with poor delivery times. So, getting tailors with the right frame of mind, patience and capability to meet our standards was a challenge. Another challenge we faced was trying to convince schools and institutions that we have the capacity and capability to meet their standards and other demands. After years of disappointments from tailors, this wasn’t an easy task. Also, accessing loans from financial institutions including government owned institutions was a challenge due to their stringent conditions. I recalled efforts made in 2017 to access loans from one of the government owned financial institutions which led to nothing despite meeting all set conditions for the loan. Of course, power remains a challenge in virtually every business and ours isn’t an exception. So, basically, these were some of the challenges we faced.

Q.How did you overcome the challenges? 

A.At first, it wasn’t actually easy for us to get our tailors to adjust and conform to our vision which is hinged on quality school uniforms and work wears. But with adequate time, constant supervision and encouragement, we have been able to meet up with the standards we have set for our products. I can confidently say that so far, our school uniforms and work wear products are among the best produced in Nigeria and even better than those imported from overseas. Most importantly, Clients who have given us the opportunity to serve them have stopped importing from overseas. For schools and organizations that were skeptical about our ability to satisfy their needs, we embarked on massive marketing campaigns and made sure that our clients get samples of their uniforms before we commence negotiations. Having failed to secure loan at the initial stage, I must say that I am thankful to have friends and families who stood by me during those difficult periods. Through their assistance, I have also been able to overcome the challenge of power failure, though at a huge cost to the entire business. 

Q. How many people have you employed? 

A.I am very happy to say that in less than 3 years, Maya-The School Uniform Company have been able to carve a special niche for itself as the company of choice for quality school uniforms. Our mission is to provide the best in school and work wears. By work wears, I am referring to nurses and doctors coats, industrial overalls, sports wears, paramilitary uniforms, security company uniforms etc To effectively meet the demands of our increasing clientele, we currently have 14 tailors and 5 standby tailors in case of huge orders. We also have 27 installed electric sewing machines including 16 regular sewing machines 10 specialized machines and a 2-head monogramming machine for making school badges and branding. These tailors went through the rigours of training to meet our required standards and of course they are under strict supervision so as not to compromise on our qualityMost importantly, I am glad that our business has been able to provide employment to our staff through which they support their families.

Q.How do you think government can encourage small and medium scale businesses to thrive? 

A.I think the government should review the various stringent lending conditions by government financial institutions such as the Bank of Industry and the Development Bank of Nigeria. These conditions are so discouraging and frustrating for SMEs seeking to access finances. It has also affected the growth of SMEs in Nigeria which in the last 10 years stood at not more than 10,000 in the entire nation. And when we consider the fact that SMEs are supposed to be the backbone of any economy, then the need to review these conditions is imperative. The issue of multiple taxation is also another area that I think the federal government should review. Why tax SMEs that are barely surviving? One sometimes wonders if some of these taxes are necessary.

Q.Any advice to those venturing into tailoring?

A.Well, first and foremost, any aspiring tailor must ensure he/she studies the business to have a firm grasp of what it entails. The need to also study the intricacies of the Nigerian Business environment and how to walk around obstacles you might face is also imperative. Above all, always strive for excellence and continually work to improve every element of your business. Finally, the need for patience and perseverance.

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