For a minute, forget everything you know or ever heard about Aba, the commercial capital of Abia State. open your mind just like I did when I was at Innovation growth hub where teams of individuals try to come up with ideas and create companies out of them within 54 hours.
I was invited by Daniel Chinagozi, founder of innovation growth hub and convener of startup weekend Aba for this year’s edition to do one job; to listen. obviously, if you were invited to listen to someone its expected of you to observe and take notes. Here’s my note.
Two days gone already. it’s the third day, the D-day, each team are to present their ideas that could change the world to a panel that has a software engineer, a journalist and two hub owners to judge who’s ideas made the more sense and deserve the highest points.
Sitting behind the audience, i listened. one team pitched about making renting a shop in Aba market flexible and cheaper, another pitched about carrying of out research of some sort for SME’s and off cause the regular; e-commerce. But two thing seems common about these ideas; make doing business in Aba as easy as possible and solve Aba’s branding problem.
Aba is a robust brand, A brand known for producing clothing and leather materials that serves a large proportion of the African market. But the misconception and the faulty thinking that ‘made in Aba’ products are substandard and swindle of overpriced foreign brands made manufacturers in Aba to label their products as foreign brands to sustain their businesses. This system is working but at a cost. Manufacturers have to give up having an identity.
The least T-shirt i could find on Gucci’s website cost about $380(₦139,000), in a country where 86.9 million of its population(nearly 50% of the estimated 180 million) are in extreme poverty not a lot of people have the purchasing power to afford a T-shirt that pricy. But irrespective of the size of the pocket, people will always want to follow the latest fashion trends and therefore will opt out for a Gucci rip-off. As long as it’s doesn’t say made in Aba or made by Chukwuemeka, it’s a go. Most manufacturers don’t care- “as long as it sells, we’re fine” – Nonso, who designs and sells boxers at Ariaria int. market told me.
The lack of representation of the Aba brand is dangerous. Goods of the same quality and sometimes better than foreign products designed in Aba are sold for less, this results to an underpaid workforce, product exploitation & discredit and sometimes leads to bankruptcy. This is why manufactures opt-in to produce cheap rip-offs and sells at an affordable amount to cover the operational cost and at least put food on the table.
Not one of the five TechStars Startup weekend, Aba has occurred without at least two teams coming fort with an idea that leverage technology to solve Aba’s representation and the going global as a brand problem. it could be an e-commerce website that allows Nigerians, Nigerian diasporas and foreigners to buy made in Aba products from anywhere in the world or a team trying to retell Aba’s story using the media to educate the world about the astonishing craftsmanship of ‘Eyimba city’ aka, Aba.
Permit me to fill you in with a little surprise, remember Touchabl – the Shazam for pictures app that allows you to buy an object of a picture? yea that one. The founder Gabriel Eze, won the first-ever startup weekend Aba with – Mypaymart- an idea about helping traders accept payment for products using an escrow link shareable on every platform.
Gabriel’s new venture, Touchabl, still revolves around getting Aba products to the forefront of consumers. when you touch an object on a picture instead of showing brand like Amazon and ASOS, its Ai suggests local Nigerian brands/businesses to buy from.
Social media tops the list of many businesses in Aba as the means of selling on the internet and reaching new customers as a brand. prior to the widespread of social media, people had to depend on referrals for more customers. since Aba produces one of the best clothing materials in the world, you just can’t forget to refer. off cause it had its disadvantages; Traders had to wait for customers rather upselling via social media.
Daniel, via innovation growth hub, tested training on online marketing with a few business owners at first, lots of orders started coming in and revenues boosted. A leap into 2018, partnership deals from facebook and google flew in and Daniel is about doing the same with 10,000 more businesses in Aba to learn how to Boost their businesses With Facebook technologies and google my business platform. if this works out, he’ll do the same with business owners in Onitsha main market and Nnewi Auto market.
Aba has a population of over 600,000, with over one-tenth of this population being artisans producing garments and leather shoes and fabricating machines. One in six of these people is a manufacturer and an employer of labour. This market is hugely informal, Daniel’s hypothesis is if these manufacturers and traders adopt a formal setting, let’s say a software that handles payments, stocks, payroll, an accountant & social media handled by graduates and the anybody who’s going to take over the business after the owner trained though it’s popular apprenticeship system, could sustain businesses that’d last for generations.
Industrial and commercial activities in Aba has strong potential for Nigeria’s economic growth. i identify two critical gap areas, Awareness and capacity building as Aba’s biggest challenges. technology can properly address this and help the city achieve its potential as one of the clothing and leather materials manufacturers of the world.