Clement Mudiaga Enajemo, 50, or simply Mudi, is one of Nigeria’s most successful names in the fashion industry. The brand name, Mudi, is associated with creative African designs. He wasn’t born with silver spoon. Mudi is a testament to hard work, and street sense. From his humble days at Adebakin in Ketu, Lagos, as dressmaker’s assistant, to his world class factory, showroom and headquarters in Anthony Village, Lagos, his works emphasise structure and purity of form.  He uses the most ingenious fabrics and rigorous tailoring techniques to painstakingly construct and envelope the manly form with flourish of couture. He’s grown to become an international fashion powerhouse, courtesy of his drives, passion, resolve to succeed and the knack for re-writing the African narrative.  Mudi shares the story of his life with  Adedayo Adejobi

You’ve been off the radar for a while now. So what have you been up to?

By the grace of God I’ve been working, doing what I enjoy doing. Creativity is a continuum, we have to keep evolving. Fashion is also evolving and the day I stop thinking that would be the end of Mudi.

2018 has been a very unique year, what would you call the defining trends for fashion in this clime?

I don’t make clothes that are in trend. I make exclusive and timeless pieces that can stand the test of time. I don’t follow trend.

So what influences your inspiration?

I’m an artist who is expressing himself. Doing well in the fashion industry, you must be creative, have passion for the job, and above all discipline and taste. Taste comes with knowing the right colours to pick. It’s close to style. As a designer, the clothes you make reflect your philosophy of life.

So where do you draw strength and inspiration from?

God and music. I listen to pure and undiluted African traditional Music. I listen to highlife, Senegalese, Congolese and Nigerian music. I listen to Sunny Ade, Osadebe and Salif Keita amongst a long list. Pure African music allows you to think. It’s introspective.

You come across as one with a strong spiritual inclination. Do you really know God?

Religion is a personal thing. People have turned it around.  Your way of life must reflect who you really are. It’s not until you say it, it will show over time. I wouldn’t tell you I’m born again. But judge me on my attitude to life and people around me.

What influences your personal fashion?

Liberty and freedom to express myself. I wear anything. As long as it appeals to me. I don’t go overboard. There are fashion rules. I must follow the rules. I am myself. My philosophy about life is reflective in my dress sense.

When you look back, were you ever prepared for who and what you are now?

No.  It was difficult to predict at that time. During my secondary school days in government college, Ughelli, in my class, I was the best Arts and dressed student. 1993 was a defining moment for me. I came into Lagos in 1990 and stayed with an uncle of mine who ran a factory in Oregun. When I went for the interview, he saw that I looked very neat. He then drafted me to the finishing department to oversee the finished products. When my colleagues go for break, I would be sketching designs for the fun of it. I never knew it would become a passion.  In early 1997 during the Ibrahim Babangida structural adjustment programme, seven of us were retrenched. So many companies downsized. I was living on goodwill in Ketu for a year. Few of my friends who did business came to me for advice on buying clothes, shoes and looking good. So, on this particular day, a friend called me to go into fashion designing and not waste my talent. That’s how I started. I enrolled with a roadside tailor to know how to cut and know a good stitch.

When you look back at your struggling days and now, were there points where you felt like throwing in the towel?

There was never a moment where I felt like quitting. But something happened in 1999. I got my first shop and moved into Anthony Village with the help of Richard Mofe Damijo, who actually gave me my first job. I paid for two years. After the expiration, to renew the rent became a problem. So I approached a senior friend, one Patrick to help me with a loan. He said something I’ll never forget. He said: ‘Mudi, this work you are doing would not put food on your table. I’ll link you up with my friend who imports designer clothes from Italy so you can sell and make more money.’ That moment I felt bad and depressed. I almost wept. I stood up and left his house. But there was the zeal and renewed energy that came with the set back. I knew it was possible to succeed on this job. I resolved to be focused and believe in myself. Right from time, I’ve always had its possible mentality.

You became a success and a household name in Nigeria. Have you after so many years come across Patrick and what was the reaction, when you met?

Yes. We saw at a function. He greeted me and I replied him in a rather cold manner because he almost turned things around negatively for me if I had listened to him.  His facial expression read guilt, but I had since moved on.  I look forward to a day where we’ll both sit to talk and have a drink and I’ll have the opportunity to correct him on why he should never discourage people from pursuing their goal in life.

After that occurrence, I was able to pay for the rent and pay for an extra year.  There was a particular day I went to deliver clothes and came home lamenting after trekking from Bishop Oluwole by Eko Hotel to Obalende, as the man I went to make delivery had travelled and the money with me could barely take me to my Ketu home. When I got home I was hungry, knackered and lamenting. A friend staying with me in my one-room apartment asked me what year I’ll be able to afford a car from this work.

What was your answer to the question?

The guy was into 419. Those days they used to write volume of letters and send through the postal service to their unsuspecting victims. When I got home, he was writing letters with envelopes littering the walkway. If I had listened to him, I would have crossed the thin line between good, bad and the end of fashion. I resolved to be focused and believed in myself.

At some point in your rise to fame, do you have any recollection of drawing the ire of friends become foe, and how have you handled difficult customers or friends?

My rise to fame and fortune has no doubt drawn the anger of some customers. A case in point was when I moved into my new office. When I bought the property, I was stranded at the renovating stage. So I went to see a client of mine to loan me N3 million, so that the work wouldn’t stop, as I was expecting inflow from some other clients. He told me I am a hardworking young man and I need to be encouraged. He immediately signed the cheque and gave me. I promised to pay back within a stipulated time which I honoured in spite of the pressure I was under. Meanwhile I called him to greet and say thank you each time I credited his account. I finished paying and moved into the office. The day of the opening, I invited him but he didn’t come. I thought maybe he travelled. Suddenly he stopped patronising me. Meanwhile, before I moved into my office, there was no month he won’t request an order of at least five clothes. A particular day, the wife came, possibly to spy at the office and maybe he was overwhelmed. I don’t know what happened. He then called me to tell me that my office has gotten to my head. I asked him ‘sir, how do you mean. What happened?’ He then replied saying ‘when last did I patronise you?’ I then told him his wife brought a fabric that I made for you. He said ‘that is madam.’ I then asked if I should call to greet him every week, he said yes but that’s social greeting. Seeing the slant of the conversation, I asked to see him at home. On getting there, it almost turned to a quarrel between us.

In his house, he flared up saying, ‘you big man. What big man?  That office you’ve just built is entering your head. How much have you made?’  I was shocked! I asked if he called me to come and I didn’t show up, he was mute.  So where is this coming from? He went as far as taking a swipe at the media who gave coverage to the office opening. At that point, I knew there was more to it. Life is a mystery. When people give you a ladder to climb and see that you are climbing too far, they’ll draw the ladder off. Some people become uncomfortable when you progress in life.

Another thing I’ve discovered in life is that some people whom you have so much regard for will step on your head. I’ve learnt a lot, and still learning. Life is a mystery.

In all of this, what is your anchor?

Reliance on God. A member of the House of Assembly told me recently that they don’t see me in Delta State. Some people say I am too proud. If you call me to come, I will go. I’m not sure I need to kow-tow to anyone to get jobs. There is a difference between loyalty and sycophancy.

How have you kept your head above waters, especially with this uncertain economy?

Luckily for me, people must wear clothes in spite of the economy. Buying power may have reduced, but God has been faithful with consistent clients. The economy will pick up.

If you weren’t doing Fashion, what would you be doing?

I like working with my hand. May be I’ll be doing carpentry. I like invention. I like to create.

With 25 years on the grind, at 50, you’re gradually climbing the steep slope of retirement. Any plan for succession? Are your kids showing interest?

My son has passion for fashion and so I’m working on how to mould him to take over by the grace of God.

How do you see the industry evolving in the next few years?

If you went back to Nigeria’s fashion industry 10 years ago, there is a clear difference. Now, there is more awareness, patronage and a bigger market with so much money to be made, but creativity is the key. When people see the modest life I live, they think I’m doing something else. Nigerians like buying.

There is a new trend in the fashion industry, especially with top male designers, of which I want to hope you are not part of. The new norm is that to belong, they become gay. How do you react to that?

For people who are not close to me, they think I’m gay. When they don’t see you philander, they assume you are gay. It’s however a known fact that there are some gay amongst us. They see it as a trend. It’s awkward. There is a terrible spirit attached to it. I would never encourage it, but if they say that’s how they want to live their lives, so be it.

You have a thing for vintage cars. What’s behind it?

Lifestyle. I’m just living my life. Bob Marley said live the life you love, love the life you live.  I’m having fun enjoying myself. As a fashion designer, I should reflect my style.

What would you want to be remembered for?

Impact on my clients, people I’ve trained and inspired to great heights. I want to be remembered for a life of impact.

What is the Nigeria of your dream?

I dream of the Nigeria of the yesteryears. I have so much faith and passionate about my country.

Mudi