Ifebuche Madu on Reviving the Nigerian Textile Industry

Ifebuche Madu on Reviving the Nigerian Textile Industry

From winning the Dare 2 Dream competition a few years ago to owning one of the sought after textile companies in Nigeria, Ifebuche Madu, is on a mission to build a model for economic development through fashion and preserving African craftsmanship, writes Vanessa Obioha

In a makeshift workspace at the Bariga area of Lagos, Ifebuche Madu and her team of artisans worked ardently to transform plain fabrics into eye-catching adire designs. In one of the spaces is a shelf full of unused dyes. There were also pots of reusable dyes. In another space, an artisan works meticulously to apply the hot wax to a piece of fabric.

For some time now, Madu has been working from this space, supplying to clients within and outside the country. Her textile company, Afrikstabel, is home to many fashion designers who seek bespoke pieces. Her unique designs have fetched her recognition and placed her on a high pedestal such that she was among the designers tapped to design the Nigerian team uniform at the just-concluded Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. Madu and her team made the hand-dyed green Adire of the tech Agbada outfits the team wore at the opening and closing ceremonies.

To deliver the designs, Madu explained that she had been working with Amen, Amen, the brand behind Jordan Jackson.

“He called this year that we needed to work on projects for the Olympics. The idea was to make a fashion statement that would resonate. We wanted people to see the efforts we put in when they see the attire as well as representing Nigeria as Nigerians.”

In her thirties, Madu’s creativity came into full bloom when she participated in the Dare 2 Dream competition organised by fashion house Kinabuti. At the time, she was a student at the University of Port Harcourt. Urged by her friends to join the competition, Madu emerged winner in the fashion designing section even though her forte was in textile.

Her emergence baffled her because she was convinced that she would not be crowned the winner.

“From the way they called out the winners in the artists’ section, I knew it was only one person that would be picked and it wasn’t me. I was still in shock when they called my name. My friends had to shake me to bring me back to reality.”

The win, she said, helped her to overcome her insecurity as well as made her realise that she had a talent to offer.

Although she participated in other competitions including the African Entrepreneurship Award (AEA) in 2017 where she emerged as one of the top 50 entrepreneurs in Africa with the most significant and sustainable impact to create jobs, Madu revealed that it was the Dare 2 Dream competition that spurred her to explore her creativity.

While she evinced a passion for fashion from an early age, Madu disclosed that it was her way of dealing with insecurity.

“I came from a family of tall people. I’m the only one closer to the ground so fashion was the way to deal with my insecurity,” said the fair-skinned lady.

She honed her skills in tie and dye at Nike Art Gallery but fully became involved during her National Youth Service Corps year in Ondo. It was in the South-west state she mingled with artisans who were dexterous in tie and dye and aso-oke textile designs. She also got to know about their struggles and limitations.

“My textile is more about the people and not the fabric. People come first,” she emphasized.

“During my encounter with the artisans then, I discovered they do not have access to other markets, were underpaid and do not live a desirable life for the kind of work they do.”

Today, Madu works and partners with artisans across the country. The goal for her is to give them access to markets beyond their environment. Occasionally, she organises workshops where she teaches them how to make money from their work.

“It is a selfless thing that I do,” she said.

Most of the artisans are from different parts of Africa such as Ghana, Senegal, the Benin Republic among others.

Her big break came in 2019 when she received a call from a radio station in South Africa to participate in a conversation organised by the African Fashion Lab.

“A lot of fashion designers listened in on the programme and were impressed by my works and thoughts on the Nigerian fashion scene. I started getting calls after the show. I started with 60 per cent of my clients from overseas and have maintained it since then,” she explained.

Some of the fashion brands she works with are based in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. They include brands and individuals like Island Tribe, and Sabina from Spain.

The perception of Nigerian textiles by her foreign clients often makes her feel like a superhuman.

“They are being wowed by our textiles and the fact that I made it with my hands. They see it as something precious and cherish it.”

She added that demand for Nigerian textiles is high, particularly the Adire.

“That’s the only textile that is really putting Nigeria textile out there. These fabrics have been abandoned for a long while but once a designer starts using them and gets international recognition, Nigerians start appreciating our fabrics. Take for instance Kenneth Ize, no one was really paying him attention but when he started using the aso-oke to showcase on international runways, everyone started noticing him.”

Madu disclosed that her next line of action is to revive those textiles.

“Just like we have the Adire in high demand, I want other textiles like the Akwete to also be in high demand.”

She hinted at plans to visit states where these weavers are domiciled and helped them access new markets because according to her, some of them abandoned their fabric businesses because of low patronage.

“Once they know that people are willing to buy their fabrics, they will easily return to the business.”

There will also be workshops for those who want to hone their skills too. This way, she can contribute to economic development while helping many to live their Nigerian dream.

“My plan is to make sure that those textiles do not disappear from the face of the earth. “

Keen on sustainable fashion, Madu ensures that the tie and dye process is very eco-friendly by reusing dyes with less amount of water. Also, the fabrics used are biodegradable.

For her, Nigeria is yet to embrace the term.

“It’s a decision one has to make because we have limitations here,” she concluded.

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