Just as he is a household name in the Nigerian fashion industry, so has his fame spread all over Africa where he operates his fashion brand. Popularly known as Mudi, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo is the face behind MUDI creations, a male fashion outfit that has successfully carved a niche in churning out exquisitely designed African clothing from his ultra modern corporate headquarters which he personally furnished with urbane and contemporary décor pieces. He dissects in this interview, some of the virtues that has kept him on top of his game for over two decades.
You have remained in the fashion industry long after most of your contemporaries lost steam. What has kept you going in all of the 23 years you have been in this game?
Nothing but hard work, focus, discipline and constantly improving on my craft. These are a few of the things that have kept me from derailing. I work round the clock, I am a work-a-holic so to speak and I enjoy it. The body is designed to work so why should it remain in an idle state? It has been a long tortuous journey but I am driven by the passion for what I do. There are times when I wake up with pains in my joints but the work has to continue. I would rather get to work and sleep than to remain at home and sleep.
Was there anything about your growing up years that suggested that you would end up in the fashion world?
I want to believe that I was wired and pre destined to be in the fashion industry. First, I am endowed with the ability to illustrate because while in school, I always came out tops as the best arts student in every class I was in. Also as a youngster, my mother made sure my siblings and I dressed well especially during the Christmas period. She would ask us to go to the best boutique in town to pick the very best of clothes and thereafter, the bill would be sent to her. We were a middle class family so I grew up with that mentality; to always look good at all times. Till date, my friends would always seek my opinion before they go shopping. So, from an early age, my mother imbued in us, class and style. She is old now though, but in her younger days, she was among the best dressed women in town.
Aren’t you formally trained to do this?
I did get some training but even getting that had to be prompted. After school in Delta State, I came down to Lagos and immediately got a job at Benex industries, a lighting company. During break while my colleagues would be taking naps, I preferred to sketch just for the fun of it. But during the Ibrahim Babangida regime, about ten of us were retrenched causing me to live on people’s good will. Seeing that I had a talent which I didn’t take seriously, two of my friends persuaded me to attend a fashion school. I ruminated over their suggestion and concluded that going to a fashion school would be a waste of time, instead, I approached an experienced tailor in Ketu area of Lagos for a nine month training programme, to learn a good cut and be perfect with my finishing. Shortly after, Mudi was born.
When would you say was your turning point?
I don’t believe that I have any yet because I am yet to get to that point. I don’t think I have had any breakthrough. Whatever I have achieved today is as a result of hard work and being consistent for 23 years. I mean if after 23 years of doing something well and you aren’t successful, that means something is wrong somewhere. Your instincts should be able to tell you that something isn’t quite right. Good things don’t come easy. I started from the scratch with no capital unlike some of my contemporaries and a few of the younger ones now who had it all mapped out for them. I have never taken a dime from the bank to run my business. After undergoing training, I began to move from office to office to sell my creations and market my skills until I decided to get a shop, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money. I approached actor cum commissioner, Richard Mofe-Damijo whom I will forever remain grateful to, for help. I had saved only 17,000 naira, he gave me the remaining balance. But even after paying for the shop, it took another three months before I could move in because I had to source for money to buy the essential things a fashion designer should have.
What has been the greatest challenge running Mudi?
It hasn’t been a walk in the park building this brand but I would consider my greatest challenge to be managing people. It is extremely difficult to manage people and satisfy them. Another challenging thing about building the brand is the negative attitude I get from Nigerians for doing extremely well. If another national does extremely well in Nigeria, no one will raise an eyebrow but when a Nigerian does the same thing, people insinuate all kinds of things. They don’t believe that one can succeed without doing drugs, dirty deals or belong to a secret cult. I mean if you get to your office by 1am and I get to mine by 7am every day, there is no way we can both be on the same level. When people say all sorts of negative things about me, it hurts and it makes me wonder if it is an offence for a black man to be successful. After doing business successfully for these number of years, especially in a society where there is so much envy, jealousy, backbiting, wickedness and unnecessary competition, I think I deserve a pat on the back. That is one of the statement I am trying to make with my corporate headquarters. Here, people don’t believe that one can remain consistent in a trade for this long and emerge a success. I have been called an ordinary tailor in many quarters and people wonder how an ordinary tailor can have such a huge and beautiful edifice as headquarters which I consider my greatest achievement thus far. That is the level of their mentality.
What inspires some of your unique designs?
God and the kind of music I listen to. I like to listen to pure African music.
What else are you equally good at besides fashion designing?
I am also good at interior decoration. In fact I designed the entire structure of my corporate headquarters including the interior which I personally saw to. I am thinking of going fully into it in the nearest future. I would probably get someone who is good at it, an architect or an interior decorator whom I will rub minds with to get exactly what I need.
You are one designer who doesn’t believe in remaining a ‘king in his community’. What is the driving force behind your expansion drive?
It is basically to push the brand. Just because I have made a success of the brand in Nigeria doesn’t mean I should remain a local champion. Fashion is universal and has no language barrier. So the essence of pushing the brand out of Nigeria is to tell people that good things can also come out of Nigeria. I have an obligation to project the country’s image even though it is capital intensive. However, it isn’t about how much I am making. Everything is made in Nigeria and sold in the outlets in these countries. I always as a matter of courtesy, seek the opinion of the ambassador to any country I plan to expand into. He or she must give me their blessings, get me a lawyer to explain the nature of business there and its implications and thereafter, business starts.
While building your fashion empire, who were most of the people you looked up to?
Quite a number of people as I made progress, people like Kesse Jabari, Lanre Ogunlesi of Sofisticat, Vivid imagination, Dakova etc. Unfortunately, most of them are no longer relevant and it breaks my heart. You can imagine that the likes of Giorgio Armani who has spent decades in the fashion industry is still relevant today. I don’t know whether it is as a result of distractions or the environment. Sometimes I get scared and wonder if that is how I would end up. In less than ten years, some of them have fizzled out.
Do you get bothered by the influx of young male designers in the fashion industry?
Of course not. Any profession where there is no competition can’t move forward. It is better when there is competition, it challenges you to do your best and be more creative. My only worry is that some of them are into this profession for the glamour; they end up getting carried away. Not that they shouldn’t enjoy the glamour, but they should set their priorities right. Most of them are out there in your face but with no structure and substance.
One of your well known admirers is Yomi Makun of Yomi Casuals, a budding fashion designer. Do you take time out to mentor male upcoming designers?
Sometimes I call them on my own free will and offer them my advice. We are in a country where many are talented but the problem is usually how to express the talent in a proper way.
What corporate social responsibility are you involved in?
I want to begin to give back to society by setting up a school where I can train people in clothes making. I get a lot of calls from people who wish to send their children and wards to me for training. I have put off the school project for too long because I wanted to get the structure right. Now I think I am ready. I am looking at a situation where I can train 36 people, one from each state and give them the best training I can. Thereafter, they will go back to their individual states to replicate what they have been taught. I want it structured in such a way that their state governments will pick their bills.
You have been honoured and recognized by various organizations. What do all of these awards mean to you?
I have lost count of the number of awards that I have but I must say that the most recent award I got was from Ovation magazine as the 2012 fashion designer of the year. It is my best award ever because it came at the right time; less than a week after I completed my ultra modern corporate office. I had never felt so happy. I know I deserve the award because I have worked so hard for it, I have paid my dues, I have contributed so much to the fashion industry in Nigeria. That and the rest of the awards mean a lot of things to me but basically, it is a further push for me to keep striving, to keep working hard and to step up my game. I am not like others who pay to receive awards, I just do my work and allow it speak for me. I believe in what I do and expect people to believe in me likewise.
What does style mean to you?
It is an expression of my inner self. My own style is simple and classic
As a work a holic, how do you keep your home front from suffering?
No doubt I have a busy schedule but I thank God for the kind of wife that I have. She is half Nigerian, half Ghanaian. We have been married for 10 years. She bowls me over with her humility and understanding as she has been able to cope perfectly well. She doesn’t have a choice, she has to because I don’t do anything other than this. Do you know what it takes to think for five countries; Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal. I have to keep coming out with new designs which is quite challenging.
What fond childhood memories can you readily recall?
I remember how we used to go into my mother’s room to take money from her purse and dash to Warri which was an hour away from Ughelli in Delta State, to buy clothes and quickly dash back. The communal life we were used to as children in those days have long since disappeared. Those days, it was common to eat in each others’ homes and even have sleep overs without our parents worrying, the liberty to do as we liked was there but these days, people cage their children. There is no more exposure, no communal life, no more trust among people.
How do you unwind?
By clubbing when I can or go to Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos where there is a life band. I loves live bands
Mudi, a lover of cars
- The kind of cars he drives are an expression of his style.
- He doesn’t have a favourite car, as long as it is a fast car
- He is a collector of vintage cars. He has a 1957 Mercedes Benz and a 1971 Peugeot