Her name is synonymous with Aso Oke. The reason is simple. Chief Mrs. Iyabosola Ninalowo is the leading Aso-Oke merchant in Nigeria. She’s been at the centre of producing and selling Aso-Oke for decades. She was born into it.
The beautiful woman started the business through her mum. This started at her mum’s shop at Isale-Eko before she went on to set up her own. She has been able to build her business to an enviable height in the last few decades. She is the CEO of Culture Speaks, which deals in fabrics, especially Aso Oke.
Few days back, she spoke with City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, via City People Instagram Live Chat and reveals a lot about herself and business.
How has your business been?
I actually sell Aso-Oke and this is what I’ve always known to be doing.
I was born into this business. My mum tried so hard to send all of us to school. I got my first degree and second degree. As it is now, I actually inherited the business from my mum. I needed to do it because it’s a family business and someone is needed to be there to keep the business running.
So at what stage is the Aso-Oke business today?
Aso-Oke business in on another level. We are not at the apex yet but we are moving gradually. We are almost there. Aso-Oke business is what it has always been and it’s far better than what it used to be. We’ve gone so far. We’ve been able to modernize Aso-Oke to the extent that it can be used as everyday wear now. it can be used as furniture. It can be used as occasional wear. e.t.c. Thank God we are on another page. It’s far better than what it used to be.
I noticed that at times when you look at the new aso Oke fabrics they don’t look like aso oke, why?
Yes. One of the things we have been trying to do to make Aso-Oke look better than it used to be, is to make it lighter. So lately what we’ve done is we’ve changed a lot of Aso-Oke to laces and the only way we do that is change the background to Aso Oke and we use a lot of machine works and we embellish it. That makes it better and it turns it to lace Aso-Oke, just like what I sell of here.
What do you call those kinds of designs? Do they have names?
We have a lot of new Aso Oke fabrics. Some are called Laser Cuts. Some are called Hand Cut and it’s fully embellished. In other words it’s called Lace Aso-Oke. We have also mat Aso-Oke. It’s done with full stones. We have a lot of them in different colors.
What about the one you are putting on?
What I’m putting on is called Etu. Its a traditional etu, which is known to be one of the oldest. The old traditional Aso-Oke are called Etu, Alari, Sanyan, and Fuu.
You’ve been doing this for how long now?
I was actually born into it. So I’d tell you I’ve been doing Aso Oke all my life. But I started my own business in year 2000, moving away from my mum.
So throughout the period were you not afraid that Aso Oke will go off the scene at one point?
No, that can never be. You see when it comes to aso oke, the only thing that will make aso oke out of fashion or out of the scene is when there are no parties anymore. And when you don’t have beautiful or gorgeously looking ladies anymore. So for as long as you have beautiful ladies everywhere, you are bound to see Aso Oke. A lot of celebrants are not complete without wearing Aso Oke. That’s a fact. So for as long as we have people celebrating, having parties and going to parties, Aso oke is going to be there and it will be forever.
So how did you cope with the pandemic since March?
To God be the glory we are alive and by the grace of God we will see the end of the pandemic. The pandemic only showed us another part of life, that every time can not be Christmas. In my line of business, we sell party clothes. So when it comes to party clothes and there are no parties, what do we do?
To me, I’ve been able to train myself, to learn more and discover other things like more colors, more designs. So we were only able to cope because we have some things in reserve.
So now that parties are not coming the way they used to come, does that not affect business drastically?
Well, just like I said, we might not be having the aso ebi as it used to be but people are doing it the little way they can. It’s not like the big way it used to be.
What advice are you going to give your friends, fans, clients?
What I’d tell my friends is that the pandemic won’t be the end of our lives. We are still going to go back to our old selves where we party every week, where we have reasons to rejoice and reasons to wear aso oke. So hello guys out there, we’re going back to our old selves every weekend where there will be an owambe, there will be an aso ebi waiting for you somewhere. So don’t give up, hang in there and we have so many designs and colours waiting for you.
So how do you get inspired in terms of designs?
A lot of people will tell you that I love going to parties. To me, party is a classroom. I go yo parties and I see so many lovely colors. I copy them, I write them down and when I get to my office I sit down and start combining it. When I get to parties, I tap designs. I see you wearing an Ankara and I say wow this would be nice in aso oke and I steal that pattern out of it put it on my desk, design it with aso oke and we get a better one. What inspires me is seeing people looking very nice, seeing beautiful ladies, seeing beautiful men. When I see them it gives a push to go higher to make them look more beautiful.
Talking of the name of your business, why did you give it ‘Culture Speaks’?
Aso oke is a traditional thing. When you go out and you see a Nigerian lady or an African wearing Ankara, its casual. It doesn’t give us the name. And when I dress up, as I am now, without being told you can tell that culture is speaking. I’m fully dressed in aso oke from head to toe. I have everything traditional. My bag, shoes, everything is done with aso oke. So the cultural aspect speaks for itself. Anyone seeing me now will know that this is a traditional attire and she’s got this cultural heritage that she’s trying to exhibit. That’s where the name comes from. Whenever you wear aso oke, something speaks for itself without being told that it’s either you are an African or you are trying to be an African.