The beautiful and elegant Hajia Taibat Okesanjo is the brain behind Montai Nigeria Limited. Many don’t even know her real name, as the name Montai is more popular in the social circle. This beautiful and hardworking lady started her business 21 years ago. According to her, her love for shoes made her go into the business, today she is one of the most celebrated businesswomen in Nigeria, selling strictly Italian shoes for both male and females and all the big names in the society patronise her because of the brand and quality of shoes, she sells.
Besides being a successful woman who deals in shoes, she also operates other businesses under the company name Montai Nigeria Limited. Hajia Montai as she is fondly called always steps out to events and parties uniquely and differently dressed. For her, she doesn’t really flow with the trend, she rather wears what she is comfortable in, and this always makes her stand out at every event.
She is also one celebrity that believes strongly that you don’t need to empty your bank account to look good, you can wear cheap fabrics and look extremely expensive, so how you wear it, is what that really matters.
In this exclusive interview with City People Magazine Publisher, DR. SEYE KEHINDE, she talked about how she started her brand Montai 21 years ago, how she came about the name, Montai, what inspired her to go into strictly shoe business and how she has been able to convert her love for shoes into a big-time business empire.
How long have you been running Montai business empire?
I have been around for so long, we to thank God for keeping us alive. I was actually in the banking industry for several years, so in 1994. I left the banking industry and started my personal business in 1994. We were on Apapa road then, I was selling clothes, shoes, cosmetics and all that. Then in 1999, I moved to Ikeja where I started Montai Nigeria Limited and that was how the business started, though we started with just shoes.
I know you have expanded but was it your love for shoes that made you start with just shoes?
Yes, I remember when I was in the University of Lagos, I used to have lots of shoes. If I clean my shoes on a Sunday, it’s always like from one end of the room to another. When I left the banking industry, I just wanted to hold on to something I will be doing. Though I was handling different contracts but I really wanted to do something I had a strong passion for, and that was why I went into shoe business. It’s shoe business I have been doing, I didn’t go into clothing, just shoes.
What made you think there was a future for such business?
It was my love for shoes that made me go into shoe business. I love shoes a lot, and I remember in 1999 when I went to Island, I attended a shoe fair and I discovered that I could do many exclusive brands. All I sell is made in Italy and every year I attend the fair, so all the good labels, I have their franchise and dealership. It is something I love and I enjoy doing it.
Would that be a lesson from you to people who want, to be like you, to always do what they like to do?
Yes, if you desire to start a business, try and go for something you love doing. If you start a business you love, your passion will always keep you going even when you face difficulties, which is expected in business. I love shoes a lot and enjoy wearing beautiful shoes, so always endeavour to sell what you can wear, don’t sell what you cannot wear. I have big-time clients like presidents first ladies because of the brand of shoes I sell and I sell for both male and female. People should be able to admire what you wear and even see it in your collection.
Fashion trends keep changing every now and then, so how have you been able to meet up with trends?
When we go for the shoe fair, what they will start selling like in months time or the following year will be previewed, so they already gave us an idea of what the fashion trend will be like and we start ordering in anticipation, especially those of us that have dealership with them. So when we order it takes a minimum three months, so by the time the orders get delivered, you are sure of selling the latest thing in fashion. So that is the only way we know as things and fashion keeps changing.
How did you come up with the business name Montai?
Before I started my business Montai, I used to have a friend, and you know Montai, is like Monami, so when I am greeting my friend, I will be like, my friend and she also says my Montai that was how I got the name “Montai”.
How was the reception when you started the business?
Most people don’t even know my name as Taibat. Everybody accepted me. Most people don’t even know my real name, almost everybody calls me Hajia Montai, so people were quick to accept the name. Even my personal business and contracts and other things I use Montai Nigeria Limited. I registered it that way, so under it, we have Montai shoes and some other things under it.
Let’s talk about your style, why is it that you don’t follow the trend, you create your own style?
Yes, that is me. Even when I was in Secondary School and University, I have always loved to be different and unique, I just love my own personal style. I love to look comfortable in my own skin. People might be tying gele to parties but I can just decide to let my hair down.
I don’t follow the trend, I just like to follow what suits me. Though after just coming up with a style that I like, people still admire me when I step into a party, they are always like wow, you look different and beautiful.
Do you do Aso-Ebi?
Yes, I do because I have lots of friends and Aso-Ebi will always come up. If not for the pandemic, I already have like 10 Aso-Ebi that I was supposed to use between March and June alone this year, they are all just there in my office. Take a look at my 50th birthday, the great turnout of guests and that is because I have graced a lot of parties too.
Why did you decide to host an elaborate party?
I think after my 21st birthday, I have not had any big party. For my birthdays, I always visit Dubai especially from my 40th to my 49th birthday, so I have been saving little by little into an account and also hoping on God’s support to have a grand 50th birthday. So let me just say, it was God that did that party for me, it’s not by my power.
At what point in time did you decide to be different and unique in your dressing?
I remember when I was in Kwara Tech doing my A-levels, I was the Deputy Social Coordinator, I was always introducing something new so it’s not something I started when I started making money. Even in my secondary school days, it has always been part of me. If you ask Emir Sanusi, he will say oh Taibat, I went to Federal Govt. College, Yola, which was a Hausa dominated school. I was part of the happening babes. We brought music. DJs from Lagos, we were the ones controlling what was happening on campus so it’s not new, I have always been like that.
Do you speak Hausa?
I used to, a little, but now I have forgotten what I learnt over time. it’s just the greetings aspect I can still remember.
I want you to explain how you see fashion and style?
Fashion evolves, it comes and goes. When it comes to fashion, it is inbuilt. Same thing applies to style. Take, for example, if something is trending, some people will just say, I don’t want to go with what is trending, I want my own. I remember when Ankara first came, not many went for it. But if you look at it now, everybody is wearing Ankara. When Obasanjo came and turned things around and banned clothing materials, we all started wearing Ankara. Fashion evolves, it keeps changing. Style could be so many things, it could be your handwriting, the way, you wear your hat, the way you walk, that is the person’s style. So it all depends on how you decide to blend the two.
Do you have a designer that designs your outfits?
I am the simplest person on earth when it comes to designing my outfits. Some of the attires I wear, I spend as low as 2,000 naira to make them, I don’t stress myself, I just tell the tailor to do one or two things, but once it’s out, it becomes a big deal. Some even cost 5,000 but when you see it, you might just conclude I have spent 50,000 making such outfits, but that is not true, I am just always comfortable in whatever I wear. I can even use 1,000 naira to make my clothes and I am off to the party. I always create my own style and it has worked for me. I remember one of the City People events I attended and I was wearing this feather lace, that was the first time people were seeing a French lace with feathers and I had a long chain on and City People was like, wow. Even the celebrant, Aunty Derin, was like wow, Montai, you are gorgeously dressed. That is me, I wear whatever I like and it works for me.
What determines the choice of what to wear to any event?
The event determines what I wear, if there’s an event and they say strictly traditional, I can’t go there with a jean and a top, or you don’t go there with an evening gown. But if they say come in your best, then I don’t have a choice than to look my best. So the event determines what I wear but at the same time, I go the extra mile to wear something catchy, I am not doing it to compete with anybody, but that is just my style and my personality.
What are the basic advice you give your customers when they want to buy shoes?
First and foremost, we ask questions about what they really want. Some will come with a demand for a particular colour in different shades, so it depends on which exact shade they want. Their budget is also very important, you can’t have a budget of 20,000 and you will looking at shoe worth 120,000, it won’t work. As a businesswoman, I have come to realise that it is important to have different prices of goods, so it can be affordable for everybody. Fine, the cheapest item you will see in my place is for 30,000 for slippers, we also have some that are for like 350,000, 400,000. So as a customer, if you can’t afford those ones, we still have affordable ones for you.