When I was younger, one of my grandmas (Mummy Ile-loun) had a shop and she sold provisions and soft drinks. Her shop was quite further into the street and each time the Coca-Cola truck came to supply drinks, they’d park by the road leading into the street. My cousin and I had to carry empty crates to them and exchange with new ones. Usually was between 5 to 6 crates, which meant 5 to 6 trips because we had to hold them by each side. We couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old.
One day, a woman on the street had beckoned to me while on one of these trips and said to me in Yoruba
‘Face your studies, make sure you face your studies! This manual labour life is not for you at all, I have been watching you’
It’s hilarious when I think about it. I must have looked ridiculous, sweaty, breathless and red-faced under the sun; pretty much how I look doing any manual labour.
She was absolutely right.
Laziness is not something you can afford to have in a Yoruba house, I got into trouble all the time and I began to look for creative ways to solve the problem. It started with hiding plates with dried eba on them because it was too tough scrubbing them off.
Then because I couldn’t imagine fetching water up a flight of 6, 7 floors as an undergraduate just to cook, bathe and do my laundry, I had to outsource labour and pay for it. That was the life. Paying my way out of physical labour. I always imagined how indignant my mother would have been if she found out I got to be lazy and it was a satisfying picture.
There was just one problem, my monthly allowance finished in half the time it was supposed to last. Of course, I couldn’t justify this if I had to ask for more so I knew I had to find an acceptable-to-God alternative.
So I began my first venture, Eden Hostesses which then morphed to Eden Events. I would go to Aleshinloye market on weekends, get fabric and sit with a seamstress there while she made ten pairs of whatever outfit was needed for the event. I supplied ‘Ushers’ for parties (Yoruba people loved partying and I loved the money), got a commission from each Usher’s pay. When business picked up, I sold my forms for 2000 naira for girls that wanted to register. It was pretty good, making a profit of about 10,000 after paying for dry cleaning the outfits, transportation to and fro and other expenses. It meant if I had two events in a month, 20,000. Plus money from forms sold, and after a while competitors started paying to rent my outfits because I pretty much had every colour of uniforms.
This taught me some lessons, never underprice your services just to make profit. I started charging very little fees when I started because I wanted to sell. But it was my
undoing as I couldn’t break out of that price-range. People who were your clients referred you to those who needed cheap and when they could pay more, they looked for those who charged more. I have never been one to compromise the quality of my service because the pay was not great. So I ended up going over and beyond for very little.
Another lesson I learned was that there were certain ‘expectations’ from Ushers that I did not know about and was not ready to meet anyway. One of such was that Ushers were required to serve tables and wash plates at events. I obviously never agreed that my girls did that but it was stressful having to argue over this all the time.
The other one was that grown adult men thought it was okay to drop their business cards with the girls or ask for their phone numbers or make passes at them. That was one very annoying thing I had to deal with as politely as possible each time and eventually was the reason I gave up the venture. I simply could not stand it.
Today I run multiple businesses with clients all over the world and some of the principles I learned from Eden have helped greatly. I would never compromise on quality, but I don’t blink when I charge for my services because I can defend the value I bring to the table. It’s okay if many others are in the same trade, the excellence I bring to my craft is unmatched and I say this with the most humility. Giving your best to your craft is what I learned from my father.
At the end of the day I have discovered that I might not be lazy, there’s just a different kind of labour I’m great at. Intellectual labour.
– Mojolaoluwa Olaifa
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