Since age 10, her lawyer father groomed her to become a lawyer and ultimately take over from him. At 25, she stands in defence of her clients in courts. But that did not last for long and neither did her law practice give her any fulfilment.
Yet, there is a burning ambition in Stephanie Maduka, which she did not discover until she went for her Master’s programme at University of Calabar. There she fell in love with colour, African designs and finally costume business.
Rather than a law chamber with a crop of ‘learned people’, her office on Marian Road in Calabar, hosts young people who are creatively minded. They earn a living clothing people who need unique look for special occasions, actors and actresses to look the character in the movie script, and recently revilers to look chic on carnival floats.
“Rather that argue it out in court in favour of a client, I am more fulfilled making our world happier with colourful designs. If you visit Calabar or Port Harcourt during carnivals, you will appreciate how much peace colourful designs can bring to our cities,” Stephanie says.
Her charges are never fixed. But it does not give room to hard bargaining like in the local crayfish market, she notes. “My charges can go from N500,000 to N5 million depending on the type of costume I am told to make. But the volume of job defers, there are times we get more, and sometimes less. But we have never been dry since my four years on the job,” she explains.
MaryGold Dresser, a costume outfit in Port Harcourt, doubles Stephanie’s earnings since handling the costume job of two carnival bands in Carniriv for the past two editions. Mary Akpe, the CEO of the outfit, brings her four years experience with a major costumier of Calabar Carnival.
Beyond passion for beautiful designs, she has sustained a living and that of about 10 permanent staff and five casuals with money she earns from engaging her hands creatively in costume business.
Of course, she is one of the many who are branching off from their formal training to follow their passion particularly in costume making. Truly, costume is now both career and business that a whole lot of people depend on to earn honest and comfortable living.
The fact remains that the practitioners are usually backstage, they are the power and brain behind the camera that make sure viewers see the right representation or correct interpretation of characters portrayed in the movie script.
However, if there is anybody that is happy over the turnaround in the creative design business, it is Iyen Agbonifo-Obaseki, president, Creative Designers’ Guild. The fact that people can now pride themselves as creative designers because of the career they were able to make out of costume business is commendable.
For her, it is a sign that the once neglected, yet important aspect of the creative industry, is coming to the front burner and even becoming lucrative. “My 17 years in the practice has been very rewarding. I have comfortably sustained good livelihood from costume,” she notes.
Her name may not ring bells to movies viewers, but in her 17 years in the creative design career, she has handled the costuming of many actors and actresses that are must-watch in movies. Costume job underscores the fact that everybody will not be on stage, and those behind the camera are the engine house of the thrilling movies people enjoy on the screen.
Her insistence on professionalism marks her out and is the reason creative designers in Nigeria are making headway in a job that was once looked down on. “When the costume is wrong, the viewer is short-changed because you are not giving them the right thing, and the right message is not sent to the viewers who are buying the movies,” she notes.
However, core to the growth of costuming as a career is a seeming cultural rebirth that in recent times sees fashion in Nigeria going indigenous. The trend ensues high demand for authentic African outfits even in corporate places. The growing demand gives more jobs to designers who continuously engage their creative ingenuity to sustain demand for their designs.
Again, the way movies are being churned out today in Nollywood requires more costumiers to professionally cloth the characters. Beyond the job opportunities the proliferation of Nollywood movies is creating, it also tasks costumiers to improve on their skills, research works, ability to interpreter scripts and to make the necessary inputs that will see to quality movies put out there.
All these factors, according to Iyen, create platforms for creative designers to express themselves as creatively as they can in their works. She is most elated that her constituency is now getting recognition especially at the recently concluded Africa Movie Viewers’ Choice Award were members of the guild won in costume and set categories.
Like Stephanie, she notes that the money worth of an average costume job in essence may not be given because the script determines how much a costume job is worth. “I may have a script that I have to costume just one character, and the character is putting on just one dress throughout the movie.
“I may also have a script where I have about 150 scenes were about 100 people have to change at various times. Ultimately, a script determines the amount a client would pay for the costume. The script is the guide of the costumier. It is our bible,” she explains.
If movie producers continue to churn out more films, and fashion keeps going indigenous in Nigeria, the president of Creative Designers’ Guild, notes that in five years, costume business will be a force to reckon with in the Nigerian economy because of the quality it adds to movies, the many jobs it creates; the designs that would be sold outside for foreign exchange and many more.
Her views are also shared by Ngozi Obasi, whose company won the Costume Category with ‘Mirror Boy’ in the Africa Movie Viewers’ Choice Award (AMVCA). She looks beyond the colour to the job opportunities that are opening up and the needed skills that are acquired as costume practice turns into serious business in Nigeria.
For her, time is gone when people look down on costuming because it is as good, as challenging, and as lucrative as any other profession. So far, costuming has developed her entrepreneurial skills, made her self-reliant, an employer of labour, and recently placed her on a continental pedestal with the AMVCA.
“It is difficult working behind the camera, but the joy of every costumier is when the best come out of your labour, then you appreciate your efforts because a whole lot of people only see what is on stage and hardly what is backstage. And we costumiers are truly backstage.”
However, before the money starts spinning in costume business, Agbonifo-Obaseki warns that costume business requires 100 percent interest and consumes quality time. The fact that one read Dramatic Art in the university or attended one designing school or the other is not enough to go into costume full time-the undivided interest and sustained creative ingenuity determine how far one can go on the job.
Yet, to be that costumier that every movie producer will hire, every fashion house will engage and every carnival float will wear his/her logo, Agbonifo-Obaseki says one needs to put himself or herself on the edge. That can be done by striving to do what others have not done, continuously seeking for knowledge, undergoing continuous training, retraining, reading and learning from the right sources.