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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

GRACE OMOLARA DAGUNDURO the founder of L & D Ethnic designs shares her touching and inspiring story.

I am an indigene of Ogbomosho in Oyo State in the south west of Nigeria, but I was born and bred in Lagos. My parents had two children, and I’m the first. While growing up, my father worked as a building contractor, while my mother had a grocery store. 

I had a challenging childhood experience because my parents got divorced when I was still a toddler. They had a serious misunderstanding that made my mother leave her matrimonial home.

 Raising two kids wasn’t easy for my dad. Thought I was already in the Boarding house as at the time of my parents separation while my brother was with my dad.As a growing child, I didn’t enjoy parental care because I started living in the dormitory when I was in the nursery class. The only people that were around me were my school teachers and seniors. Most of them weren’t nice to me. As a baby, they punished me for urinating on my body. No one was ready to take care of me, so I had to learn how to be independent at a young age. 

But my childhood story was not entirely sad. While I was still in primary school, there was a day I slept off on the staircase. Then Miss Foluke, who was a serving corp member, saw me and carried me to her room. She met my housemaster and requested that I stay with her because her room was close to our hostel. I was so happy when my housemaster accepted. That was how she became my guardian. She took good care of me throughout the one year she spent at our school. Each time I remember her love and kindness towards me, I always smile and wish her well. 

Another incident occurred while we were living in the dormitory. Some students reported that they were seeing snakes everywhere. So, the school management locked up the hostels and informed parents to take their children home. At that time, my dad couldn’t pick us up, so he asked his sister to take us to her house. At first, I thought we would stay there for a while, but after some months, I realized my dad had left us in her care.

Honestly, it wasn’t easy living with my Aunty because her house was very far from my school, we did a lot of trekking over there. And taking care of us wasn’t so easy for her too because she had many children of her own. It was not easy. The more I stayed there, the more I missed my parents and the more depressed I was until my Dad came to pick us and my heart was filled with joy. Sadly, my father didn’t know what I was going through because he was living far away from us. Thankfully, one day, he came and picked us up, and that was the end of my suffering. 

I finished my primary school at Alakara Primary School then went straight to Surulere Girls Secondary School, Lagos. Generally, life in secondary school was boring for me, because all my mates have gone ahead of me.

. However, All that changed when Ebehi Ahkabue became my best friend. She was very nice to me and we shared everything together.

In the beginning I was doing well in my studies, I was getting the first or second possition in my class… My dad wanted me to become an architect but I was aspiring to be lawyer.

When my dad discovered I was failing my subjects, he suggested I drop out of school and learn a skill. However, I refused because I wanted to be educated. Thankfully, after I passed my O-level examinations, I was admitted to study Theater Arts at the diploma level at the University of Ibadan. Later on, I attended the University of Lagos and got a degree in Creative Arts. 

As a young girl, I had a cordial relationship with the opposite sex, but I never got involved in any sort of romantic relationship. My father had warned me against premarital sex, and I listened to his advice. Although he was always busy, he still created time to play with us. He was all that we had, and he loved us so dearly. One sacrifice he made was to remain single because he feared that a new wife might maltreat my brother and I. A time came when he fell sick and died. It was all very sudden and I felt life was unfair. I still miss him because he was the best dad ever. 

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After I completed my tertiary education, I wanted to get a white-collar job, so I submitted applications to several companies. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an offer, and I was staying at home. I love admiring beautiful things. So one day, while I was admiring a dress sewn by a tailor, my husband said, “Why not learn how to make your dresses?” When he said that, I liked the idea and went for it.

I met Mrs. Margret Fawole Clement, who was the same person who made the dress, and told her I wanted to learn the skill. She agreed to teach me, and that was how I began my journey to tailoring. Whenever people see my handiwork, they tend to assume that I learned it from a big fashion school. Well, back then, Mrs. Clement was sewing at the balcony of her house, and most of the work was done manually.. Therefore, the secret to my success is hard work and determination. 

Ninety-nine percent of failures come from those who always make excuses. L& D Ethnic designs was born because my focus was on the bigger picture. During the period of my training, my dad was very sick, and I was the one taking care of him. So, I wasn’t always available, but I’m grateful for the teacher that I had. She understood my situation. There were times she waited for me to come before sewing a new dress. She also monitored my learning progress and was always correcting my mistakes. She was really an angel and I will forever be indebted to her. 

Since I started L&D Ethnic Designs, my husband has been very supportive. He didn’t want me to become an actress, and that was why he encouraged me to develop my talent. I sew native and corporate clothes for all genders and ages, and he is my top model. I get my inspiration from God and the things I see around me. For instance, each time I see beautiful flowers, I’m always inspired to create a new design using a mixture of colors.

Every business has its ups and downs. There was a time when most people couldn’t afford to purchase new clothes because of hardship. So, I had a few customers and my sales were low. It got to a point where I felt like giving up. However, I held on and believed that everything would be fine. I didn’t abandon my work. I was still punctual and used that period to learn new designs. People saw my products and liked them. They also referred others to me, and that was how I built a brand for myself. So far, I’ve received surplus orders, and I had to employ other tailors to attend to them. 

As a fashion designer, I have received many positive reviews for a job well done. Since it is impossible to please everyone, I have met some customers who don’t know what they really want. Such people insist on sewing styles that won’t fit their body type. Then, at the end of the day, they would blame me for not making a beautiful dress. I thank God for giving me the wisdom to handle such situations.

Some Africans are ashamed to wear their traditional attire in some parts of the world, and that’s very wrong. Native and cultural attire is unpopular today because Western fashion has dominated the world for so long. I design African styles that can fit into trending styles. I sew clothes that can be worn comfortably and without fear of criticism. 

L&D Ethnic Designs currently has a training school and a workshop at Ajao Estate, Lagos. We have many apprentices and our goal is to take African fashion to the next level.

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In 10 years, I believe that L&D Ethnic Designs will become a global brand just like Gucci, Fendi, Christiania Dior, etc. I know that it is a big dream. Therefore, I must remain focused and determined to achieve it. I also believe that God will make it a reality. 

Apart from sewing, I run other businesses too. I have a stall where I sell hair extensions and their accessories. I also sell food items in another stall. I work hard because I hate depending on people to meet my needs. You can call me a jack of all trades because I’m open to doing all kinds of legal transactions to earn money. 

My deeper purpose in life is to reach out to the less privileged. As a Christian, the Bible commands me to love my neighbour the same way God loves me. Sometimes, I donate money and food items to orphanage homes. I do all that because I understand how hard life can be.

As a mother and wife, sometimes my family responsibilities clash with my work schedule. I always try to maintain a balance, but it has not been easy. To ease the workload, I employed people to manage my stalls. I don’t want a situation whereby an employee would ruin a business I worked so hard to set up. So, I always go to the stalls to supervise what they are doing. 

I’m a feminist because I can’t condone any form of harassment or infringement of women’s rights. However, I don’t support women disrespecting or dragging roles with men. Whenever I see women who are competing with men, I always advise them to channel that energy towards building themselves. If you are successful and intelligent, then you will gain the respect that you deserve. 

Although I’m a workaholic, I create time to rest. I relax by either sleeping or watching Nollywood films. Sometimes, my husband and I go on vacation. We would spend three or four days in a hotel just to enjoy ourselves. Good music helps me relax a lot. My favorite song artists are Maria Carey, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Lionel Richie, and many others. If I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a well-known figure, I would love to meet Oprah Winfrey, Donna Summer, Maria Carey, and Michelle Obama.

We all go through trials and tribulation in life. I gave birth to my daughter after waiting for nine years. It was a very stormy phase of my life. I cried, prayed and fasted. Some people mocked and called me all sorts of derogatory names. I spent money on drugs, and there was no result until God wiped away my shame. He gave me a very beautiful daughter and brought joy to my home. The same woman that was called barren is carrying her baby today. It wasn’t easy, but God was the pillar that I leaned on throughout that period. I’m still praying for more children, and I believe they will come at the right time. 

Finally, I want to offer an advice to women who are facing challenges in their lives. No matter what the issue is, just know that someone has gone through the same waters and came out victorious. Even those in worse conditions are still surviving. So encourage yourself, then seek God’s grace and wisdom.

There is no problem without a solution, but you must have faith. Meanwhile, while you are making physical efforts, don’t forget to fight your battles through prayers, too. After you’ve conquered in the spiritual realm, the results will surely manifest in the physical world. So keep pushing until you have a testimony. I wish you the best.

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