I wish I could start the story of how Moda by Maryam came to be by telling you that I had always had a passion for fashion design and sewing and I left my Job because I wanted to follow my dream.
Unfortunately, our story is not as romantic as that. In fact I lived my life up until graduation from first degree at university without ever thinking that I could do anything away from the sciences. I was going to do a Masters in Virology or Immunology and live my life looking at stuff under the microscope… because science was cool!
I cannot say at what point everything changed. I believe that there were 2 or 3 completely unrelated events that may have brought me to this point and it is only in retrospect that I see how those incidences connect and feed into the Moda by Maryam brand today. The irreplaceable Steve Jobs put it nicely in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.
“Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
After I graduated from University, because of some errors in the system, my name kept being omitted from the NYSC list. Consequently, I didn’t do my youth service until 2 years after graduation and so I got very bored. Around the same time, my outlook in life had started to change, and when I imagined my life in the future with my husband and kids, I felt that I wanted a job that would give me flexibility with time to raise a family without having to do a 9-5. So I arrived at an idea that I would learn a skill which would enable me work from home. And at the time I took a look at my life up until then to determine where I had some talent I could build upon. I decided I was going to learn how to sew based on 2 incidences that had happened previously.
The first was a sewing lesson we took in home economics class. I was so serious about it that I came home during the holidays and hand sewed a skirt and top for my younger sister. I remembered how proud I had been of that project. The second incidence I recalled was one of a holiday when my mom took us to fashion designer Folake Majin of Schon Afrique and she measured us up for some new clothes. I remember how fascinated I was by the result. I had never seen anything quite like it. The inside of the clothes were as neat as the outside! Completely closed off. Unfortunately, I hung my clothes out to dry that holiday and it got stolen. I had been so attached to it that I went through a mourning process where I attempted to describe the styles to other tailors…am sure you all can all imagine how that went.
And so off I went to a Ghanaian tailors place in Kaduna where he sat with 4 staff after paying 5,000 naira ready to produce clothes the quality of Folake Majins because by then in my head, that was the standard that I would aim to achieve. Boy was I wrong.
The first thing I was told was that it would take me 2 years of apprenticeship before I could sew. Err if I applied myself. “Really? 2 years” and it’s not like it was a fashion design course. Next, I was told that I couldn’t start cutting directly on fabric. In retrospect I realise; it was probably wise but am glad I never followed that rule because I believe not doing so, made me learn sewing faster. The 3rd rule was that as the apprentice, I had to go and buy food for the big Ghanaian. Am a graduate for crying out loud! Plus I don’t do street food. Think about my reputation. The gall of him! I blatantly refused.
That incident, as well as my objection to shaking his hand by way of greeting caused some friction between my mentor and me. I realised then that I wouldn’t last in that environment and so I stayed only long enough to understand how to cut basic styles and left after 2 weeks amidst calamitous warnings from my instructor that I would never become an accomplished tailor …something about too much pride and inability to take instructions.
Eyes narrowed, Challenge accepted! So off to the Singer dealer in Kaduna I went. I bought my first sewing machine for 15, 000 naira, I named her Aurora and kept her in my room. I proceeded to spend the next few months of my life teaching myself how to sew through reading online, watching YouTube videos, reading used pattern cutting books which I got for awesome prices from the book sellers at the post office in Kaduna and practice, practice, practice.
Several irreparable ankaras later (apologies to the family members whose fabrics I used to experiment), I got good enough to start charging for my work. And so it began; the start of what would evolve to become the Moda by Maryam brand.