THROUGH THE EYES OF OUR FOUNDER…
Hi, I’m Bolatito
I am the Creative Director & Founder of Bolakoka. Everyday, I get excited by all that Bolakoka is able to accomplish in the textile space, sometimes I wonder why I did not start this earlier.
A job disappointment in 2008 accidentally introduced me to the world of textiles. Even though I secured other 9 – 5 jobs afterwards, I never stopped running the business of Bolakoka which gradually transited from a side hustle to a full-time business after I had my daughter in 2014.
As a trained Chemical Engineer, I often heard that working at an oil firm is the ultimate dream even though it did not appeal to me at any point in time. On my journey with Bolakoka, I discovered that manufacturing textiles is purely chemical engineering, even though not as popular as oil and gas which was the major focus during my training back in University of Lagos. Nonetheless, my resolve to stay in the path of textiles has brought me fulfillment in every sense of the word!
I come from a long line of textile merchants in Ake Compound, Itesi, Abeokuta, Nigeria dating all the way back to the 1800s. Below in italics, is a short story of my textile heritage –
Chief Isaac Olufusibi Coker (alias “Aderupoko”) was a very prosperous farmer and trader who used to overload the canoes carrying his merchandise from Lagos to Abeokuta via Ogun River. On sighting such overloaded canoe, people will exclaim “Ha! A – da – eru – pa – oko!”. He was an outstanding philanthropist and was very generous. He had a machine for spinning and processing cotton and was an exporter of cotton used in the processing of fabrics.
Between 1887 – 1892, the Egba chiefs invited him to become the Alake of Abeokuta but his elder brother, Chief Samuel Sowemimo Coker, disallowed him for the fear that most of the Alakes then used to die prematurely. All the clothes he had ordered from overseas for the enthronement were distributed between Oba Adila of Erunwon and the would be Oba Gbadebo 1, Alake of Abeokuta. It was further revealed that the clothes meant for Alake were laid from Itesi to Ake palace for the new Alake to tread on to his palace, after which Aderupoko sent all the rolls of clothes as gift to Oba Gbadebo 1. He then ordered another set of the rolls of clothes for himself. It is said that Oba Gbadebo 1 and Chief Isaac Olufusibi Coker used to dress alike, almost every time.
Aderupoko became the first Oluwo of Abeokuta in 1905 by Oba Gbadebo 1 since he was forced not to accept the throne of Alake by his elder brother and he consented. Aderupoko was my father’s great grand-father.
I live in Lagos, Nigeria and I have been to 20 states of the Federation…I can get up to go anywhere once my mind is made up. As a grown child in Ibadan, once in a while, I would go to the shop with ‘Maami’ (my mum’s mother) and on one of the days when I handled a transaction for her, I gave the customer the goods she requested and the change she would require but did not remember to collect money! I received very good spanks and will never forget this experience…this was my first shot at trading and it has helped the team at Bolakoka a lot.
The impact Maami had on me (snippet below) unknowingly shaped the history at Bolakoka…
Maami, my late grandmother was a very influential figure in my life. The default destination for every holiday was Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria where she lived with her husband; mother would drop my siblings and I, leaving for Lagos, Nigeria the next day. On approaching Maami’s house, it was a sure thing to see her seated at her balcony with Baba and their warm smiles quickened our footsteps. It was always a delight! Once welcomed on arrival, we knew that real life began the next day. It was my role to get water from the well in their compound every morning, amongst Aso Oke weavers who would also be setting up their weaving looms for the day’s work. This was my first encounter with the Aso Oke textile, I was 10! I would watch them weave and volunteer to set up their warp threads once the spinning of the yarns were concluded…forgetting all about Maami’s need for water. Maami would call…B-O-L-A-T-I-T-O!!! On leaving for her trade, she would give strict warning that I focus on my chores. After a while, the sound of the Aso Oke Motor (Oko) would call…
Sakala – si – sakala – sa
Sakala – si – sakala – sa
I watched in awe as beautiful Aso Oke patterns were created and when I heard the voice of my brothers calling to say Maami was approaching, seeing from the same balcony where she usually sat I would rush upstairs and pretend that I had not been anywhere.
I was part of a Christian lifestyle group, Eden (www.edennigeria.com) in University of Lagos, Nigeria and the head of our team had just announced his brother’s wedding ceremony in Ibadan, (Same Ibadan! This time however, Maami and Baba had moved to their homestead in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria) the colors were ‘Wine and Gold’ and the group decided to attend in a fabric with those colors. The onus fell on me to present something we would all wear. I got on this assignment with my mother who took me to Lagos Island textile market, one of the popular markets in Lagos, Nigeria. We found the solution to this quest with the Ankara Textile. It was an instant sell out with the group!
As a youth corps member in Jigawa state, Nigeria I really wanted to make the best of my service year and I felt a bank would be the best place in that region of of the country. I confidently prepared to serve in a bank, more so, a close relative was a Director at one of the top banks. I felt my ambition would be easy even though I had been posted to a school as a Mathematics teacher to resume only two days a week. I continued my bank arrangements and I travelled to Kano State, Nigeria (a 45-minute drive from Jigawa) to pick up my appointment letter when I received the huge shock…I would not be getting a job with the bank! Tears welled up in my eyes and I just wanted to get out of the bank and chill out some where for a bit before heading back to Dutse, Jigawa.
Walking down the bank’s staircase, I suddenly remembered that during one of my Lagos-Jigawa trips I had heard someone say that Kano had a huge fabric market. I asked the bank’s security personnel outside who showed me the market.. a 5-minute walk from where I was standing. For real??? I was too happy. I forgot about going to chill out and bought two Ankara fabrics with the 3000 Naira transport compensation I had received from the kind interviewer. Let me say that I ended up travelling to Kano from Dutse at least thrice in 2 weeks, each time to buy different kinds of fabrics to sell to fellow corps members, bank workers and top government officials back in Dutse. After 8 months in Jigawa as a primary school teacher, sewing apprentice and business woman, I recorded a significant profit from selling fabrics and also made a Nigerian flag for my school.
The business of Bolakoka Aso Ebi was birthed to focus primarily on Aso Ebi, otherwise known as uniform clothing – providing large quantity of the same fabric for wedding events and we proceeded to other events with time.
Bolakoka Aso Ebi Ventures became registered on 31st January, 2012.
Business as usual continued until the cross road came. Where did all the fabrics we were come from… were they imported or produced locally and what else could African fabrics do apart from Aso Ebi and traditional wears? This phase birthed FABRIKANA to take African textiles mainstream.
The Fabrikana Afrocentric Label was launched at The French Week in November, 2016. Read more here
I started researching African Textiles and discovered that there was not so much information about textiles and how Africans have used both local and imported textiles to communicate over several decades. This is an ongoing work that has culminated into a school – My Fabric My Heritage.
Fabrikana became established as a registered trademark of Bolakoka Aso Ebi Ventures.