By Balkis Tijani.
The stereotype associated with aso oke as local clothing meant to be worn only for special occasions like marriage, burial, coronation, festivals, naming ceremony among others has limited the demand and popularity of one of the most colourful locally made fabric in the history of the black race.
Aso Oke, a hand woven fabric popular in the South Western part of Nigeria, is one of the most important contributions of the Yoruba ethnic group to the fashion industry, particularly in Nigeria. While most fashion savvy ladies and men in Yoruba land have embraced this lovely fabric, the fact that its usage is still limited largely to specific occasions, especially when families need to wear it as uniform (aso ebi) suggests there is still a yawning gap towards a more expansive acceptability for aso oke.
But this story is about to change with the initiative of the 23 year old Solaudeen Jamiu who is spearheading a national event that will bring together lovers and admirers of aso oke to Ilorin, Kwara State, as a platform to expose the beauty of the fabric to target customers in the northern states.
While Igbos and other ethnic nationalities in Lagos have worn aso oke and relished its beauty due to the cosmopolitan nature of the city, the Hausas up north have scarcely appreciated it due to the stereotype around it as the fabric for yoruba occasions.
Tagged #IbileChallenge, Solaudeen hopes to use the event to bring fashion enthusiasts from across Nigeria to Ilorin, being the gateway between the north and west, coupled with the plurality of its culture, to come feel the beauty of aso oke as one of the oldest trades of Ilorin people and a mainstay of its informal economy.
Although many argue that aso oke is mainly produced in Ede(Osun State),Okene (Kogi State) and Iseyin (Oyo State), the truth is aso oke weaving used to be a booming craft in almost all households and compounds in Ilorin. It’s a vocation that almost all indigenes of the community were exposed to right from their young age. But with the passing of time, it has become almost extinct and only a handful now engage in it. Solaudeen hopes to change the tide and redirect attention back to the time young people earned decent living by embracing aso oke weaving as both an individual vocation and a communal business.
However, #IbileChallenge, which is being spearheaded by Solaudeen hopes to achieve more than create an advocacy around the acceptability of aso oke. Ibile Challenge hopes to create a platform for aso oke as a sub-sector of the Nigerian fashion industry and also showcase other items that aso oke can be used for, aside the normal everyday agbada or ‘dansiki’ wears.
“I want to create an environment where everyone participating in the Ibile challenge would turn out in aso oke. From the weavers and sellers to the ambassadors of the event, to the governor as host and other dignitaries, everyone will turn out in aso oke. This colorful event would expectedly create the sort of environment that will be conducive for aso oke weavers, particularly those of us from Ilorin, to showcase the uniqueness of our own brand of aso oke,” Solaudeen said.
Beyond the event however, Solaudeen who is still an undergraduate student of Quantity Surveying in the University of Ilorin, plans to create a market hub for aso oke which he tags IBILE OUTLET. The outlet, when achieved, will provide a better shopping experience for customers especially those who always want to examine the quality of what they are buying. Ibile outlet will also provide customers with greater flexibility to purchase from different aso oke weavers and sellers on the same spot, thus guaranteeing access to greater number of premium sellers and wider range of fabric products.
Solaudeen, who already has close to 4,000 followers on Instagram where he displays his aso oke fabrics, also plans to create a mobile app, complete with all social media components, to provide a network of business for players in Nigerian fashion industry who specialises in the making and marketing of aso oke.
With his lofty ideas, it would be a huge glory if the government of Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq supports this impressionable young man to actualise his plans.