Written by Ere-ebi AGEDAH

Obioma: The evergreen mobile tailors with a ‘large heart’

In almost every major city in Nigeria, there exist mobile tailors moving around with sewing machines on their shoulders like cameramen seeking to capture important moments with their devices.

But unlike the cameraman who aims for shots, the mobile tailor wanders about with his sewing machine, with his only hope for relief coming when he gets a call from prospective customers.

Mobile tailors or Obioma as they have come to be known in most parts of the country, move from street to street clicking their scissors blade to draw attention to their presence.

Unlike your regular fashion designers who are usually stationed in their shops sketching designs and meeting deadlines, this crop of tailors are allowed into private properties to make necessary adjustments to cloths in exchange for next to nothing.

The Obiomas have gradually become an essential part of the fashion industry, as they are always available to make amendments on those clothes customers find reluctant to take to their tailors.

When Metro sought to unravel the story behind the name Obioma, we found out that though an Igbo word, the term Obioma as we know them today originated from the western part of Nigeria. The term was used to describe a set of tailors who, at the time, were mostly from the eastern part of the country.

Directly translated, the word Obioma means kindness or a kind heart in Igbo. This Reporter gathered that the term was later used to describe the mobile tailors because early patrons found their services cheaper than the conventional fashion.

According to reports, the Obioma street tailors became very popular after the Nigerian civil war in 1970 and "Obioma" which is the Igbo word for kindness became a household name especially in Lagos where many of the returnees from the eastern states of the former Republic of Biafra flocked into the street in search of means of survival.

They moved from place to place with the popular Singer 99K sewing machines often used by housewives to stitch torn clothes.

Though mobile tailoring is believed to have originated from the eastern part of Nigeria, the business has gradually been taken over by northerners. In Abuja for instance, most Obiomas seen roaming the streets are predominantly Hausa speakers.

While compiling this report METRO met Abdul, a mobile tailor, who said the business is lucrative and easy to start up as one can learn the business in a very short period of time. Abdul revealed that he makes as much as N3,000 during the week and more over the weekend.

“My brother taught me how to sew under 3 months and I was able to purchase a sewing machine which I have been using to provide for my wife and two children. I have been into this business for well over 3 years and I must tell you that I make a lot of money from it but it’s very strenuous having to move from street to street, so that is why I must say that not everyone can do this job.”

Speaking on the advantages of his mobile services, Abdul said part of the benefit of running a mobile business in Abuja is that they are not harassed by men of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB.

In addition, he said one does not require the huge amount needed to rent shops in the federal capital, thus he is able to save up and have all his income to himself. He said the zeal to touch lives and equally have a source of income made him delve into the business because most of his customers are the middle classed low income earners who may not have the money to patronize the regular tailors.

He however added that he has been able to build a client base of loyal customers. He said most of his customers have his phone number and can call him up whenever they need his services so he doesn’t have to walk around for too long.

METRO also spoke to Mrs. Chinyeremaka Prince, who runs a fashion outlet at the popular Garki ultramodern market.

She said Obiomas will continue to be a part of their industry because cloth amendments are very tiring and time consuming.

According to her, most tailors would rather invest that time making new dresses, than spend it making adjustments for the ‘little change’ their owners are willing to part with.

“In my home town, they are still called Obiomabecause they charge less; they are cheap compared to the conventional tailors. When it comes to amendment, the amount of time you will use to amend a cloth can be used to make a new dress but that also depends on the nature of the amendment,’’ she said.

While reacting to claims of Obiomas are gradually taking over the fashion market, Mrs. Chinyeremaka stated one cannot compare the works done by the mobile tailors to that of a professional tailor. She said the influence of a tailor is in the quality of the work done, and not on the amount charged for the job.

“A conventional tailor who is smart should take not less than 1year to learn which will expose you to several aspects of tailoring that is way you cannot not say the mobile tailors are taking over our customers. Several things are done differently, ranging from neatness of work (ironing while sewing), precision, wide range of options, we also add lining to clothes, we are the main tailors but I will add that they reduce the stress on conventional tailors,” she said.

Chinyeremaka dismissed claims of any rivalry between more established tailors and obioma, stressing that they are both partners in progress.

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