A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week in the Life” dropped out of school and fled home as a teenager due to parental abuse. After years on the road, she had dreams about denim and is now carving a niche for herself as a Denim Pro.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
I wake up high on hope today, and the first thing I do is pick up my phone. With motivational quotes flying up and down on social media, I have a feeling this will be a good week. My day usually begins with pressing phone, and today is no different. I go over my content calendar, choose a topic, then post on my Facebook and Instagram personal and business pages. Today, I’m posting about the history and cultural importance of stonewashed jeans. After that, I take a deep breath and get ready for the week.
Mondays are slow for my business as I usually don’t make a lot of sales. Maybe it’s because everyone else is serious and trying to change their lives on Monday. So, after posting content online, I’ll use the rest of the day to tend to the little business that comes in. Towards evening, some customers stop by my apartment to try on denim outfits on their way back from work.
My heart leaps for joy at the sound of each credit alert.
By 6 p.m, I lock my doors and head to the gym, where I’ll work out till 8 p.m. When I get back home, I take my bath, eat, scroll through social media and plan tomorrow’s social media posts before I sleep.
I wake up grateful that my love for denim changed my life. I’m so glad to be sharing this love with people and getting paid for it.
I’ve always loved denim, but I didn’t always know I could make a living from it. I spent so much time drifting aimlessly through life as a teenager before I started having a recurring dream about denim. In these dreams, I’d see myself running around in denim shorts while holding a camera.
I come from a poor background with an abusive mother and a father who wasn’t always around. I dropped out of school after my first year and ran away from home. My parents couldn’t afford the tuition anyway — after paying for my first year, they left me to fend for myself. I didn’t even choose the course I was studying — nursing; they did, and I hated it.
I tried many things to help me survive. I ran errands for people. I took on writing jobs for content mills that took advantage of my desperation and paid me next to nothing.
I learnt early that people would not help me if they weren’t getting something in return. And most times, if I asked a man for help and I wasn’t giving anything in exchange, my body became something they had to take.
From 2016 to 2018, I spent so much time on the road, travelling to different places. I was a homeless, broke teenager trying to figure out life. The women I’d tried to befriend didn’t seem to connect with my reality. They either treated me badly, didn’t care or couldn’t help me. Some would offer to help but just leave me hanging.
But men? Men were always more than willing to spend money as long as they were sure they were going to obtain sex.
There was a time I went to squat with someone in Edo State, a man who I’d met on Facebook. He raped me and took the small money I had. When I left his place, I got into a car headed to Bayelsa State, completely penniless. Lucky for me, I struck up a chat with a guy in the Sienna. Later in the conversation, I told him, “See this car wey I dey so? E be like say when we reach, the driver go need to come down come beat me because me I no get shi-shi to pay am.”
I lied to him that I’d come to Edo to look for work. As someone who’d been stranded before and had strangers help him, he offered to pay my t-fare.
When I got to Delta, I begged a driver who was going to Port Harcourt to take me along with him. I also managed to convince this one too that I was job-hunting. In reality, I was going to squat with another man.
I lived with him for a while. My denim dream continued: me running around playfully in stylish denim outfits while holding a camera.
In 2018, I went to the market and saw a woman selling the kind of denim I’d dreamt about. It was a dream come true, literally. She sold two pieces to me for ₦500 each. When I got back to my host’s house, I told him about it, but he didn’t give a shit.
The reason he’d let me stay with him was transactional, but he could’ve at least pretended to care. At this point, I was tired of it all and could no longer continue living at the mercy of men. I told him I didn’t want to keep having sex with him, and he promptly kicked me out of his house.
I was stranded yet again. In the scorching sun, I thought I had come to the end. They say, “He that is down needs fear no fall.” I was down and out.
But I got lucky. While I was moping around, trying to figure out my next move, a student with whom I’d recently become friends on Facebook texted me, “How are you?” I told him my plight. I didn’t know where to go, didn’t know who to ask for help, and I was tired of fucking men for shelter. He told me that he was in Lagos for his Industrial Training programme, but he could let me stay at his off-campus room in Uyo for a while.
I had enough money for transport fare and nothing else and I expected to sleep hungry that night. But when I got to Uyo, he called his friend, sent ₦1,000 to buy fries for me and asked him to give me the change.
When he came back to Uyo, I told him about my denim dreams and plans: we lived close to students, and I’d read somewhere about starting a business, niching down and building brand recognition. I was going to make sure I became known for all things denim.
As I go to bed tonight, I feel so blessed because it still feels like a blur. I don’t know how I was able to build all this from nothing — the sleepless nights and peppery tears, the panic attacks and rigid goals. Now I’m squatting in my own room because the clothes I sell are so many, they now own my space. Na small small sha.
Today made me laugh so hard!
I usually travel interstate to restock thrift t-shirts and denim clothing every Wednesday. Depending on the quantity I need and how much I have, I either go to Aba, Port Harcourt (PH) or Lagos. I don’t go to Lagos often because it’s very stressful and expensive — I have to spend ₦50k upwards on transport alone.
Today I went to PH. I left my room before 5 a.m., arrived at the bus park by 6 a.m and boarded the first bus to PH.
In the bus, I posted content for Wear or Tear Wednesday, a fun weekly series where I post different denim styles and ask my audience to choose the denim outfits they’d wear and the ones they’d tear. I love how it gives me a chance to share interesting things about denim as well as entertain them. After posting, I closed my eyes and slept for the rest of the journey.
I got to Port Harcourt at a few minutes past 9 a.m and went straight to my suppliers’ stalls. I wanted to buy t-shirts first because they are lighter to carry, then denim jeans and jackets later. A bale of t-shirts costs about ₦200-₦250k, while jeans cost anywhere from ₦300-₦500k. I didn’t have enough money to buy full bales, so I had to join the section where wholesalers open their bales and share the clothes among retailers. Those wholesalers have a rule: no one touches a bale until the owner opens it, and in cases where more than one retailer likes a piece of clothing, the wholesaler decides who gets it.
While we waited for the owner to open his bale, I noticed that the small man beside me was fidgeting. I don’t know what entered into his head, but he dipped his hand into the bale as the owner was opening it. What happened after that was complete chaos.
Get this: retailers usually buy t-shirts at around ₦1k each, but prices have soared recently, and the wholesaler grudgingly agreed to sell at ₦1,800 per shirt, so he was visibly pained.
Have you ever seen an angry Igbo trader?.
The wholesaler yanked him up by his collar and dangled him mid-air. The small man kept shouting, “Drop me!” It took a small crowd to get him out of the wholesaler’s grip.
After that episode, everybody comported themselves.
I left PH at 4 p.m. and arrived at Uyo around 9 p.m. I was so tired I fell asleep immediately I got to my room. Even in my sleep, I was laughing at the thought of the man flailing in the air. I wondered what gave him the guts to dip his hand into the bale. You should never mess with an Igbo trader.
I said it that this was going to be a good week!
A tech-bro acquaintance called me and told me he needed clothes for himself and his friends. Good thing I’d just restocked, so I took a pile of denim and t-shirts to their compound and sold nearly everything. It was the most money from sales I’ve ever made in a single day — over ₦100k.
When I returned to my apartment, I lay down and looked at the ceiling, like, “Ehen, is this me like this? In this life? Me that didn’t have ₦100 to buy fries not so long ago?”
The day kept getting better — customers kept stopping by to buy jeans and t-shirts.
As I wind down for the day, I look back on my life and feel so grateful. I feel that thing that makes people cry tears of joy, but I can’t muster the tears. As I’ve reached this height like this from nothing, how many more heights can I reach? How much more can I climb?
That climb that I’m climbing ehn, e go long o, because I still dey climb dey go.
I don’t know when I became the poster child of the go-get-it attitude or became this person that if I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do everything in my power to achieve it.
If I trace it, this started when I decided to get into the denim business. I got ₦20k from a friend I’d mentioned starting a business to. At first, bills came from nowhere and took a chunk of the money. By the end of the week, despite how much I managed, I was left with just ₦13k for market runs. I just closed my eyes and used ₦2k to buy shawarma because why not? The money would go away anyway.
After stress-eating, I sought help from a Facebook friend who’d done thrift business before. She was pursuing a master’s in English in Nsukka, but when she returned home to Aba, I visited her and she taught me everything she knew about Canva, basic brand identity and marketing.
I combed the markets for weeks, searching for good quality Okrika denim products. They were too expensive, so I decided to start by selling bralettes and other small clothes. Over time, I grew my revenue, started buying and selling jeans and T-shirts and founded two thrift brands: Denim Pro and Polo Palace. I went for it and got it.
Recently, I’ve picked up skating. I don’t remember how I learnt to skate; all I know is that one day I said I was going to learn to skate and I did it. I’m the happiest person once I have the wind in my face.
Today, I’m thinking about the future. Someday, I’d like to go back to school and get the best education money can buy and study a course I actually want. I know it’ll be something in the humanities, possibly psychology. I find that I’m great at either putting people at ease or making them uneasy. I also want to collect their money while at it. If I don’t become a therapist, I’d like to do economics or marketing psychology and work in an advisory role.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll find something else that I love doing that can bring me money. I don’t have all the answers now, but I know I really want to go to school, and that’s why I work so hard. Either way, life will figure itself out.
As I put my skating boots in my gym bag and step out of my room, my heart is full.