By Lawrence Enyoghasu
Nobody gave George Ayoola, the CEO of Ayu’s Kampala a chance to survive, while growing up. With bleak prospect of being educated or providing for himself as a child of poor parents, he turned what was available into a huge opportunity; he learnt to make Kampala dress from his best friend’s father. And it paid off. Today, George is a household name in the tie-and-dye fabric industry. He dominates the market in the Shitta area, in Surulere, Lagos State. With some success, he later sponsored himself to school.
How did you start?
When I was in Junior Secondary School, JSS 1, my best friend’s father was a tie-and-dye artist; whenever I went to play with him, my interest would always be drawn to his father and I discovered that somehow I am talented in the art. But it was not until my Senior Secondary School that I really focused on it.
Throughout my secondary school I was the one funding myself with the money I made from batik. It was very tough working and earning stipends to foot the cost of my education.
How did you cope doing this with your studies?
I wouldn’t say I was actually learning, it was as if I was playing, because we were having fun at that time. My dad noticed that it was not disturbing my studies. Consequently, he didn’t stop me. I continued doing it. He allowed me to learn mostly during the weekends or vacations.
How did your friends view your taking to the vocation?
They were making jest of me back then. They thought that Kampala was not a really good vocation to learn, but I thank God that I did not make any mistake listening to them and that I made with the right choice.
Is Kampala something one can learn by just hanging around?
Like I said you can learn any trade by hanging around, but what you learn would just be the basics, not the nitty-gritty. When it comes to tailoring, one can look at how they fix button or thread, but when it comes to sewing or cutting, you have to learn it, you have to give your time; hanging around would just give you the basic and nothing more than that.
How much did you save as apprentice while in secondary school?
Then, I was learning, so when customers of my boss came, they always gave me stipends, what I had then was just to play around, but I would say I was living well above my colleagues, they used to ask money from me. While I was in higher institution, I had friends, some I paid their school fees, some I fed.
When did you fully start your own business?
I started fully after I rounded off my NYSC, that was in 2004.
How do you feel as a graduate doing tie-and-dye?
After my HND, I went for a job interview with Standard Chartered Bank. While they were going through my résumé, they saw that I was into Kampala art and they asked: why are you looking for a job? Why don’t you face this? I lied that it was a family job and that I was looking for a more challenging job. They said, go back to it. I thank God for that. I wouldn’t say it went bad, because the output was good for me, if not, I would have been in a not-so-good position, today we have bankers leaving their jobs to come and register for training.
What is the uniqueness and success secret of Ayu’s Venture?
One thing about Kampala is that it is a compilation of so many things. Under Kampala, we have batik, adire, eleko; there is the needle work, the machine work and so on. In order for you to do this job, you have to be creative. Creativity is crucial, because if you depend on what you have been taught alone, then basically, you can’t go far, but the moment you are creative, you do most of your designs, you would definitely be in business.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in this job?
That would be the issue of copyright. I remember years back, when some people came around regularly, got samples from me, at times they bought, then they took it back to their companies and mass produce it, by the time they brought them back, they would be cheaper, because they were not of good quality. People prefer to buy cheaper product, but they soon discovered that it didn’t last and that affected the business then.