Omoluabi Garment And Osun: Partners Joined By Love For School Children
Despite many challenges faced by small and medium scales enterprises in Nigeria, some companies continue to survive while others have relocated to neighbouring African countries. Sam and Sara Exclusive Uniforms, a garment-making company is one of the survivors.
In this interview with AJIBOLA AMZAT and LAOLU ADEYEMI, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, Mrs. Folake Oyemade, shares the experience of how her company managed to thrive despite all odds in more than two decades. She also bares her mind on how her company, which also deals in exporting Nigeria-made garments recently partnered with the government of the State of Osun in clothing public school students in the state, among other issues. Excerpts:
We learnt Sam and Sara is presently involved in a project with the Osun State Government, tell us about it?
Yes, Sam and Sara is partnering with Osun State Government to manufacture and supply uniforms for public school students. This is done by the Omoluabi Garment, which is a subsidiary of Sam and Sara we are setting up factories that will provide quality school uniforms and also generate job opportunities for the unemployed in the state.
How did the partnership with Osun State Government begin?
Our relationship with the Osun State Government can be described as partners in progress. As the CEO of a company, I watch with keen interest what every governor stands for. The governor of Osun State caught my attention as somebody who cares so much about his citizen’s welfare, and as a company we identified him as somebody who has a common interest with us. That is why we are able to work as partners in progress.
I believe in welfarism, even the Bible says we will always have the poor among us and it is the duty of the people who are more comfortable to take care of the less privileged, just as it is the duty of the government to care for all citizens, the rich, and especially the poor.
One of the reasons for creating a manufacturing company is to employ many people and put food on their tables. We keep increasing our manpower from time to time because there are a lot of people we want to keep out of robbery, fraudulent activities and other ills in the society.
It is also out of this passion that we are into export in an effort to rebrand Nigeria. We want people to know we can use our large population for the betterment of mankind. This is our little way of rebranding this nation. I have a passion for Nigeria’s unity, also a passion for perfection and success and these are the major things that have spurred the starting of Sam and Sara. Really, if it was all about money I will make more money trading than being in the manufacturing sector. This is because it takes the grace of God to break even in Nigeria’s manufacturing sector, with problems ranging from power supply, currency fluctuation, manpower and others. It’s really difficult to be in manufacturing sector in Nigeria, unlike other countries.
Why Omoluabi garment?
It is a joint venture between our company and the State of Osun, so we named it Omoluabi Garment in line with what the people of the state are called – Omoluabi. That is the name they love to be called.
For a cash-strained state like Osun, some people may be curious to know why N800 million is spent on students’ uniforms?
That is something I believe the governor and his cabinet should be commended for. When students go to school not properly dressed, it affects their concentration and academic performance. Academically, research has shown that when a child has self-confidence, his concentration is higher and loves going to school. This is part of the reason why the government wants to improve students’ confidence and self- worth.
Beyond that, it might interest you to know that a lot of people are so poor that they can’t afford a uniform. When we visited those schools, I was close to tears! Some students wore their elder brother’s shirt, which is oversized on native trousers of a different fabric. That is the level of poverty a lot of people are faced with in that state. You see uniforms as good as not wearing anything to school, so the Governor’s benevolence is helping them in a little way erase the difference between the child of poor parents and that of rich parents.
In what way will the Omoluabi project generate employment and how many beneficiaries can emerge?
We are positioned to employ up to 3000 people in Osun. The beauty is that our approach is not exclusionary, even a layman that can read and write can be taught the skills of stitching. In our factory we engage in mass production; one person does not start a job and finishes it. For instance, we can have up to 10 people to make a shirt and they will be doing different things. Another good thing is that you earn according to your output, there is no fixed salary. Aside employment, the project allows our organization to train as many tailors as possible. We recently brought some of the recruits in Osun to our Mowe factory for training.
How sustainable is this project?
The project is sustainable for as long as the state government wants it to be. I believe a government that cares for school children and quality education like the state of Osun will not want a project like this to stop. Omoluabi Garment is not just making quality uniforms at affordable price in Osun; we are also in partnership with the state government in empowering his people and bridging the gap between the children of the rich and the poor. Our materials are gotten locally and the uniforms are meant for primary 1 to SSS3 students.
Are the students expected to get the uniforms every year?
The initial provision was 100 percent free but subsequently, parents will pay for uniforms. But they are not likely to spend more than what they were spending in the past. In fact, they will probably pay less for greater quality uniforms.
Osun State bridges the gap between the poor and the rich through school uniform, could you speak more about this?
Yes it does. In the State of Osun now, you can hardly tell who is in public school and who is not. The Governor has given them a sense of belonging; the public school uniform is better than most private schools. In fact when we went round for measurement, the students were happy. When we arrived at the gate, they were already on a queue.
How do you produce such volume of uniforms?
Our factories are designed to do mass production unlike tailors. As a garment manufacturing company, we have materials and fully trained manpower to sustain the operation and equipment. For instance, an average tailor in Nigeria can make up to 5 shirts per day but in our factory we can make up to 40 shirts per day. Since our factory is very big with over a thousand machines. We should get to the level we can make quality uniforms for children in schools. Am sure in Bangladesh nobody goes to a tailor for uniforms. The world has moved far beyond that. Professionals should be invited to design and choose right colors. The uniforms should be available at the local market in different sizes.
Are you looking at extending the project to other states?
As long as we are invited, we are looking at every other state that wants to improve their educational sector. This is not a campaign for Osun State, its not only about uniforms, they give free books, food even free laptops during the launching. The State of Osun is giving a sense of belonging and self worth to the students, even as they wear the samples they are confident. The government also takes care of the old people by providing meal for them on daily basis.
What is the strategy for distributing the uniforms across all schools?
Of course each school has their own representative who collects on behalf of the students from distribution point. And for parents who are interested in getting more aside government provision; distributors would be available in the open market. So any child can go and get his/her size at a controlled and affordable price.
What would you say on the frequent changing of uniforms, especially in the Nigeria security agencies?
They don’t have proper outfitters; we have cases of impersonation because fabrics are given out. Abroad there are special outfitters, even postmen have theirs. The tailors will be catered for if under a factory. If we are able to do this, we would be able to clothe our nation and put food on our table. It’s high time we take advantage of our population, let’s use our hands to build our nation. An idle man is the devil’s workshop, so we have employed different people who are happy to work with us.
What colours do you recommend for school uniforms?
Some colours are too shocking and not friendly for a school setting. Some schools wear lime green or bright red that is not okay. It is too noisy. School uniform colour should be subtle, calm and peaceful not shouting! Some schools use colors that don’t match or use ridiculous styles. I see a lot of schools in Lagos State where girls over fit their skirts and split it at the back. This kind of style could encourage indecent body exposure. It may expose our girls to danger; even male students may lose concentration with indecent dresses. Meanwhile, a professional could be invited to design the style and get right colours. Every state could copy a few things from what the Osun State government is doing.
What is your take on the textile industry in the last 20 years?
I am worried, it is not moving forward as it should. Just a bit with the help of the Bank of Industry (BOI), other things should be done aside funding in terms of human empowerment and training. It is not easy for us to see people to work in the factory; a serious minded person should only refuse illegal jobs. We have Manpower issue, people don’t want to work.
What have you achieved in the last 26 years since your organisation began operation?
We are fulfilled being the foremost garment-making factory in Nigeria, we are grateful to God. Talk of changing the face of garment in Nigeria; we are gradually getting there. With partnership with the State of Osun on the uniforms, it is a gradual thing, we are still distributing, now we have smart, happy students. Another vision is to employ as many Nigerians as possible; our staff strength is over 500 but will soon increase.
What are the challenges in the industry?
First is manpower challenge. That is managing human being. Another thing is the erratic power supply. The company spends more on power generation and it affects the cost of production. I hope it will improve soon.
How do you think government can engage in rebranding process through school uniforms?
All state ministries of education should re organize the uniform sector and do all that is needful to make sure the uniform would be of standard. Smartness should not differentiate the rich from the poor. A lot of students don’t wear their uniforms from home or back home due to lack of confidence. Even adults would perform better and be happy when well dressed. When uniforms make students feel important, they become serious.
How did you get into garments making despite the fact that you studied philosophy in the university?
I am a very fashionable person, though I didn’t study fashion designing. In my early twenties, my first business was garment selling because I like people turn out nicely. I am also a people oriented person; I have a passion for helping people. This is the reason why I find what the government in Osun doing very fascinating. The state should be emulated at the federal level and by other states.