Kehinde Abiodun Christiana is the lady behind New U Concept, an outfit that handles aso ebi and aso oke in a very unique way, she has clients all over Nigeria and also outside the country. She was one of those who showcased their products at the City People Ankara Adire fashion Show in Abeokuta a few months ago and she wow the audience with her studded and perfect-finished aso-oke, guests could not restrain their admiration for her designs as they gave a standing aviation when she stepped out to take a bow. Mrs Abiodun is from Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State. She attended – Ansar – Ud – Deen Primary School, Ijebu Ode ,Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, and she is a graduate of Mass Communication from Moshood Abiola Polytechnics and Olabisi Onabanjo University.
She started her career with Oceanic Bank in 2003 , then trained as a make-up artist, beader and caterer, while she was still working at the Oceanic Bank and doing it after official working hours. Today, New U Concept has become a household name home and abroad , her beaded and stoned-bridal aso oke is also beautiful and neatly made. In this interview with BUNMI MUSTAPHA, the former banker speaks on how she started aso oke making and how getting sacked in the bank helped boost her career.
Can you share with our readers when and how you started making Aso Oke ?
I was doing many things at the same time ,I started as a makeup artist, Bead Maker, picking Aso Ebi for people’s parties, catering and also doing a bit of decorations. In 2006, my aunt was preparing for her wedding, but she had an accident that made her leave the planning to her immediate sister and I. So we went to Itoku market to pick Aso Oke and being a makeup artist then, I have seen many designs on brides, I put that into advantage to pick my sister’s.
Subsequently, if any of my colleagues was getting married, I always volunteered to go to Balogun for them to pick the aso ebi/aso oke. Then, the brides I made up inspired me too much. So, I decided to train formally. I went to enrol with a lady in Lagos in 2007, I used to go for training in Lagos every weekend. It was just to know different types of aso oke, the loading and the rest.
Before then what were you doing?
I was working with Oceanic Bank Int’l Plc as a teller (cashier). I was with Oceanic from 2003 till 2010 before I got sacked, owing to the mass retrenchment that affected about 5000 members of staff then . So, I was a banker and was also into event planning at the same time.
How did people in Abeokuta accept your concept when you started?
Well, basically, it wasn’t an easy one at all because when I started , I made sure I gave choice patterns to my weavers by changing certain things in the mix of my thread, the loading, the length, the width and I also made use of lurex much, which surely raised the prices of my designed aso-oke, so it was all about quality and uniqueness of designs. So, people usually compare prices of my bespoken aso oke with prices of those in the market, but I used to tell them to compare the quality too before complaining about the price difference. Again, most people back then either knew me as Biodun makeup artist, Biodun bead maker, caterer etc . That was why it took a long time before the brand was really embraced by Abeokuta people. Now, it is even really doing well outside Ogun state and abroad. All thanks to Facebook and other social media.
At some points, you were into catering, can you tell us about that ?
My sister, yes o! But it was more of a passion then, I did not train to be a caterer, but because of the passion and love I have for it, I went into it. I produced printed shirts which were given to service boys to wear and I equally procured service of a very reliable cook, and off we went to work. Mostly, I din’t go to event venues, usually I only gave the cook quotations, budget and get boys and two supervisors to get the job done because of my official work then. I also handled my bank and a few other banks’ end of the year party catering services. I was also patronised by the state govt. For some reasons, I have left catering. I am now doing only family catering.
Why did you leave your banking job?
Although I’ve been thinking of how and when to leave catering business to face my aso ebi and aso oke business fully, but ,the fear of the unknown and what the outcome would be made me stay at the bank till we were eventually sacked in 2010. It was God, who said: “Go and fulfill your destiny” because now I realised that the almost six years spent as a banker was actually a waste of time. But I thank God, it was an experience, and it gave me opportunity to meet some wonderful people.
How do you get in touch with your clients abroad when they need your services?
First, I got most of my contacts from Facebook, wonderful people, who trusted me enough to patronise me even though we never met before , I was so blessed to get referrals here and there and it was even through making aso oke that I went to the United States in 2012. We connect clients on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and through referrals.
If not this business what would you be doing?
Only God knows, maybe I would have perfected my makeup craft and soar as BMPRO ,or a decorator, caterer or a full-time event planner.
How lucrative is Aso Oke making and what are the challenges in it?
Lucrative enough to earn a decent living and pay bills and be contented
Tell us about the new beating and stoning of Aso-Oke today?
We thank God for the blessings. It exudes class, confidence, royalty and the glittering effects give the customers a kind of happiness I can’t explain. These days, we have more orders for the aso oke than the normal plain beaded ones.