I was 16 and roasting corn when I met my husband- Charity Aiyedogbon

Charity Aiyedogbon is a certified accountant cum business woman. She hails from Anambra State but is happily married to a Kogi man. However, Charity cannot be counted in the ranks of those who were born with a silver spoon. At a tender age of 16, she was already in the street, roasting corn and hawking moi moi and other food items. Today, she is the Managing Director of a conglomerate, which named Charvid Fashion ‘N’ Style, hair salon, and eatery, all located in Abuja.

In this interview with www.angeladaviesblog.blogspot.com she spoke about fashion, business and family.

Excerpts:

Your background

I studied Accounting at the Federal Polytechnic Ida. I am Igbo, married to a Kogi man. We are blessed with four children.

You studied Accounting, what are you doing in the business?

Actually, after my HND, I tried to get a job in the bank but I could not. That made me to stay at home for about two years. Since I am not an idle person I had to tell my husband that I wanted to start doing something. While I was giving birth and training my children, I was as well training myself. First, I trained in hairdressing, catering and then in fashion designing.

After the training, I decided on what to start with. But really, these are the things I love to do most in my life. That was how the passion for business started – the eatery, salon and fashion house started.

How long have you been in the fashion business?

About four years.

How do you source for materials?

I don’t travel out to get my materials. I feel if you don’t buy your fabrics in quantity, you will just be wasting money. I have people who travel and they know the kind and quality of fabrics I use. When they get back, they call on me. I go there to select the ones I will like to use to work with.

How do you combine the running of the salon, catering and fashion business?

I did not start the three businesses at the same time. First, I started with the salon. I made sure people had confidence in me and I trained my staff the way I wanted my business to be done. After that, I now went into the eatery business where I spent two years training my staff so that they can handle the business.

I knew that by the time I go into fashion, I may not have the time to be checking on them. However, I try to combine the salon and the fashion because they are in the same building.

You also have a fashion school?

Yes.

Why run a fashion school when there are such schools everywhere?

I have three reasons for opening the fashion school. The first is that people have been bothering me for the past four years that they want to be trained as a designer whenever they see my designs. With this, I knew I needed to do things differently from other fashion schools.

Secondly, I got to understand that most of the tailors we use are not that educated. They are skilled but not educated; some of them cannot even speak English or write down measurement. So, if you have a graduate sewing for you, your problem of talking will reduce, your problem of explanation will reduce. You will just make a call and say if a shoulder is 15 inches, the style I want to make, I want the sleeve to stand, therefore remove two inches from the shoulder; a graduate will understand what you mean. Thirdly, I also wanted to teach them business secrets and how to make money.

Who is your role model when it comes to fashion?

When I came into Abuja and I was trying to go into the fashion business, I was making clothes with Ogodo. In fact, I love her way of using African fabrics and transforming it into a dress you would wear and think you are even wearing an English dress. I like the patterns, sleeves and fittings. in I feel in love the way she packages her clothes. And I think she made me know that Ankara as cheap as they are, you can transform them into something unique and bring out the wow factor. So, I would say it is Ogodo.

Most Nigerian designers today make use of ankara, aso-oke and other local fabrics. Why the sudden change?

Now if you watch some years back, if you see anyone in Ankara it is either the woman is tying two wrappers and a scarf or probably wearing boubou which is not common or wearing buba and iro. But somehow somewhere someone just had the idea of using Ankara to make designs beyond iro and buba. That is why designers now make different unique designs with Ankara and improve on it each passing day. They have graduated to mixing and matching with other fabrics and people love them. We use it to make suits, jackets, trousers, fitted official gowns, pencil skirts depending on how knowledgeable the designer is.

When I travel outside the country, I look out for styles that are designed with English fabrics. When I get back to my store, I just sit and select fabrics that would bring out those styles, the same design. The only thing is that designers have to be mindful that Ankara as they come, they are not good in some designs. The background of any fabric dictates the style.

You are a fashion designer, what is your own kind of style?

I like to look cute but if I want to look busy that would depend on what I am putting on.

Most young girls and women alike wear a lot of revealing clothes these days. As a designer what do you have to say about it? Is that what today’s fashion should be?

No, fashion did not tell anyone to reveal all her vital parts. That is not fashion. Women need to dress well because revealing parts you should be hiding does not necessarily make you beautiful.

There should be some decency when a woman dresses and steps out.

If I come to you and say I want you to make a revealing dress for me, will you design for me?

Yes, I can design it for you but you will not see it sampled anywhere because it is a personal demand. Most times I advise my customers against making revealing outfits but if they insist, I tell them I will add either a net or lace to tone down how much would be revealed. I make them understand that even with the net or lace they will still have the same fitting.

.Your schedule must be very tight. Doesn’t your husband complain? It is not every husband that understands.

Before I went into business, I made sure I had all my children. Before I started my first business, my last child was about seven years old. Then, I was not too busy; I just go to the shop in the morning and close in the evening. I had time then before I really went into business. My husband is also a busy man and he loves seeing me happy. In fact, he has been a supporting pillar to this my business, he has been so supportive and that is why I don’t want to disappoint him in anyway.

Sometimes he comes to my office when I am designing, when I need to stay till like 10:00 p.m. He will come and stay with me in the office while I design and distribute jobs to my tailors. He is very understanding.

You must have married very early?

Yes, I did. In fact, I did everything in my life early.

At what age did you get married?

Immediately after my secondary school; I think I was 16 years old then.

What was your understanding of marriage when you went into it?

In fact I will say it is God’s intervention and the kind of man I married. You know in marriage even if you are 30 years old and you are not experienced, you will still behave like a 10-year-old child. Marriage is not like the university, it is a different thing entirely. Right from day one, my husband has been understanding. When I said I was not marrying him again and packed out of the house, he followed me home just to take me back home. He tried to understand that I do not have any knowledge about marriage and together we will work it out. We started having children when I was 18 years old. So for the first two years, we were trying to study each other and today our marriage is 23 years old.

I know there must be ups and downs but what are some of the secrets of your marriage?

Just as my business is well organised, my home too is well organised. I have jobs that I do at home aside from my domestic helps. If my husband just complains about food, you will see me in the kitchen the next minute. Sometimes, the days we close early, my husband and I could go to the garden to relax, talk and ease off tension. He is my friend, we talk a lot and we know each other.

What were some of those things you enjoyed doing as a child?

(Laughs), I think my husband came and took me away. Yes, I missed hawking. My husband met me while I was roasting corn in Niger State in 1987 and tried to be friendly. That period my mother goes to a close by market to buy corn and I roast them in the evening. In the morning, I hawk groundnut and moi-moi for my mother and I have friends that we sell together.

I will say I did not grow up in the city where you go to party. While I was growing up, I never went to any party. In fact, my husband was the first person to take me to a party. He was the one that opened my eyes to everything. He was my first love.

So when you were roasting corn and he approached you what did you tell him?

I told him, ‘walk away’, that, ‘my parents will kill me because they are very strict’. In fact, I was not putting on earrings and I don’t make my hair. I was wearing low cut. I told him I was not interested because he is not an Igbo man.  I pushed him away and I told him that in my family, we don’t ‘do boyfriend’. If he wants to marry me, he knows where to go and I am not even the one to tell my parents that I have seen a man. That was how timid we were then. I just allowed him to go and see my parents and, God so good, my father just had this soft spot for him. My father told him he was not the one to marry him and asked if he had seen me and he said no. He then told him to meet my mother and discuss with her. But they told him I must go to school. From my ND to this level that I am, it is all to his credit. My husband is a very nice man, he is exceptionally different. The way we got married, it was just God. God knew he was going to be my husband.

What kind of shoes do you love to wear?

Initially, I love heels but age is no more on my side so I had to reduce the way I wear it. These days I wear flat and not too high heels that would make me look elegant.

What kind of accessories do you love to wear?

The kind of accessories I wear depends on what I am wearing at that particular time. But I love beads, costume, jewelry and so on.

What are your hobbies?

I love music. I mean music that you can learn from and will elevate your soul. I also love travelling.

How do you relax?

This is a very difficult question for me because I have no relaxation time; it is, maybe, only when I am out of the country that I relax with my family. I work from Monday to Saturday, even the Friday that is supposed to be my off day I use it to visit my customers. But on Sundays after service, sometimes, I watch television and spend time with my husband.

I like summer holiday because that is the time I spend time with my children and for a whole month, I don’t go to work.

So, where is your dream destination?

Hmmm … It’s Miami Beach.

Last word for business owners?

Your business should be where you relax and your workers that spend so many hours with you should be happy spending it with you. Your workers do not have to run away because madam is coming. They should be taken as your brothers and sisters.

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