It is said that the three basic needs of human beings are food, shelter and clothing. This therefore implies that any business vision that builds its niche around any or all of these areas cannot go wrong, all things being equal, that is.
The third in the list, clothing is a flourishing area in today’s Nigeria.A few years ago, the clothing or more generally speaking, the fashion industry was largely import dependant, for English wears. On the other hand, the local textile industries provided fabrics (Ankara) for ‘native’ wears; which were worn during cultural activities, festive periods and at national events.
The local tailors could not be trusted with Western style clothes but everyone was happy with their efforts at making ‘native’ wear. So, the Ankara manufacturers flourished.
After a while, however, we became increasingly displeased with the locally- made Ankara fabrics and developed a growing appetite for imported ones; even if they had to come from nearby Ghana and Togo. It eventually got so bad that our hitherto booming textile manufacturing sector has now literally shut down.
At the time, the greater threat to their existence were the imported ‘ready-made’ clothes from Europe and America and now from India and China too. Nigerians would rather wear second-hand, ready-made’ clothes a.k.a ‘ okirika’ than wear sewn-in-Nigeria ones. Then, if one was paid a compliment like, “ Nice dress, who is your tailor?” The recipient immediately understood that the outfit did not look good and so, would not accept it in good faith or feel appreciated. It would have been reckoned as a slight on the outfit for being locally made- dresses, skirts, shirts should be imported; even if they had to be ‘Okirika’.
Sophisticated people always wore imported clothes. In fact, in the ‘Okirika’ scale, there were classifications for good measure with London-made being the most expensive and acceptable- before the American, Turkey or China and India-mades.
The consolation for the local textile manufacturers was that at least, they had the loyalty of the middle-aged class and other less trendy people, as well as the low income earners. After all, everyone who worked in organisations run by the multinationals and the civil service wore English attire to work.
It was different in the Northern parts though, as people there prefer to wear wrappers and kaftans that could be sewn with locally made fabrics.
All the same, foreign Ankaraprints called Hollandis, exotic lace and brocade are preferred by the upper-crust. The preference for imported fabrics eventually ran the local textile industry aground.
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Yet, in a certain twist of taste, while the textile manufacturers were falling, the hitherto underling class of local tailors began to bloom. It has come as a total package, rubbing off on even those who specialise in make-up and ‘gele’ handling.
However, this is yet another harmful choice for the economy. It would have been better if we could still manufacture our own fabrics at a time when we discovered that our own tailors were worth patronising. Unfortunately, our current fashion awakening is cast on imported foundations. The much-talked-about boom in the local fashion industry earns more for the people we import our secondary raw materials like the textiles, the ‘geles’ the make-up brands from, than for us who only benefit from the skills angle.
The same vicious game goes on in the building and construction subsector. Shelter is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. So, diverse cadres of buildings and infrastructural works come up every day but there remains a question on the percentage of local inputs, including skills that go into those construction works.In the petroleum industry for example, it had to take government legislation on local content, to make opportunities available for more Nigerians to participate in skills intensive jobs there.
Virtually all multi-billion Naira construction works are handled by multinationals with European, American or Japanese origins. Today, the Chinese who are said to have had fewer paved roads than Nigeria as at 1988, have taken over the construction industry in Nigeria, including our quarries.
Obviously, the basic industries of fashion and construction are in the hands of foreigners; even though we have a comfortable number of indigenous participants in those sectors who provide fringe products and services. Now let’s talk about the food industry.
The food industry, I believe is the sector which presents Nigerians with endless opportunities for economic relevance and this must be maximised.
Food production, which starts with agriculture would comprise crops cultivation including forestry; animal and fish husbandry and other primary production activities that deliver diverse kinds of food. In primordial times, all humans participated in these activities in one form or the other so, it is not new.
Nigeria may not be able to compete with the Western World and the Asian economies in high-tech products and services but we can definitely give them a run for their money in agricultural production activities; whether at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels.
Entrepreneurs in search of business ideas need to give more consideration to food -related business, because it is unlike other areas of foray where they may be easily outpaced by foreigners through technology. It is also smart to begin to invest in the area of value addition to food commodities for export.