When Vera Sojobi-Sloan was serving as a Youth Corps Member in 2012, she fell in love with bag making which was done at the bus-stop she passed every day to her Place of Primary Assignment (PPA). Vera who had been thinking of what she could do after NYSC decided to pick up the skills in the bag making craft. She enrolled with the bag maker at the bus top as an apprentice and the rest they say is history. In this interview with Ikeja Record’s Abel Adekunle, Vera speaks on what it is like to thrive in a male dominated sector.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
ABEL ADEKUNLE: CAN I MEET YOU?
VERA SOJOBI-SLOAN: My name is Vera Sojobi-Sloan, CEO Verality Bags Limited.
AA: YOU ARE INTO BAG MAKING, WHEN DID THE JOURNEY BEGIN?
VS: It goes way back to when I was serving, at the place of my PPA (Rita college) at Ojodu Berger, where I saw a place where they make bags. I’ve been very passionate about bag making, although I felt strange when I saw the place the bags were made but with the help of some of my fathers in the Lord, they assisted and encouraged me to go into it and backed me up. I learnt bag making throughout the year of my service (2012) after that I went back there for 2 months to perfect it before my freedom ceremony. My boss was always so particular about me because I was a copper and he was passionate about teaching me.
At the school I did my youth service, there were some co teachers that wanted to get wedded so when they placed their orders for souvenir bags, I usually gave it to my boss, and he handled it from there as I was still learning at the time. I bought some of the machines I use now with my allowance as a Corps member and with the monetary gifts I got from my Wedding in August 2013.
AA: HOW HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU AS A FEMALE NAVIGATING IN A MALE DOMINANT CRAFT?
VS: I find it easy; I feel anything you have passion for, you’ll do it with enthusiasm and be happy.
AA: HAS ANYBODY LOOKED DOWN ON YOU BECAUSE OF THE CRAFT YOU’VE CHOSEN?
VS: Yes, a lot of people have, but the joy in it for me is that I’m a graduate and there is always that unique difference in my work.
AA: DID YOU STUDY ANYTHING RELATED TO BAG MAKING?
VS: No, I studied Electrical power options at the Polytechnic of Bida, Niger State.
AA: Did you look for a white-collar job?
VS: Of course, I tried white collar jobs but that period was plagued with nepotism, I did my SIWES with NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) at Kainji Dam and I also did my one year in industrial training at globacom where I worked with jolly A investment. I was working with a contractor for globacom but I was fortunate to meet some engineers that worked for globacom and they all said I should go back for my degree. I applied for FUTA and some other higher institutions but the funds were not forthcoming so I went back to do my HND. By the time I was done with the HND program, the contractor was no longer at globacom so I had nothing to do and then I decided to commit fully into bag making and I’m happy doing it.
AA: WOULD YOU SAY BAG MAKING IS SOMETHING WORTH DOING THAT ONE CAN BUILD A CAREER ON?
VS: I would say it’s a lifetime career, this is my 11th year in bag making and I’ve never regretted it.
AA: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN BAG MAKING?
VS: I would say a year should be enough, and at least 6 months for people who already know how to pedal a sewing machine as it would be easier for them to catch on.
AA: HOW MUCH DOES SOMEONE NEED TO START A BAG MAKING BUSINESS?
VS: Anyone aspiring to start a bag making business in 2023 should have a budget between ₦300,000 and ₦500,000.
AA: WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF YOUR BUSINESS?
VS: I make different varieties of bags, although I’m mainly into souvenir bags as it is the most profitable for me right now, I also make school bags, hand bags, lunch bags, travelling bags and Ankara bags.
AA: WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR NIGERIAN GRADUATES STILL LOOKING FOR JOB OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE?
VS: To start a craft or handwork little by little even though getting capital isn’t easy, just remember Rome wasn’t built in day.
AA: HAVE YOU EVER GOTTEN ANY GRANT?
VS: I applied for a grant some years ago but it had a stressful process and some other reasons that made me stop applying for it.
AA: IF YOU GOT A GRANT, HOW WELL WOULD IT HELP YOUR BUSINESS?
VS: I would be glad to receive a grant because it would enable me to get more of the necessary equipment and machines, I need to aid my business as it is a very broad business and better machines would make it easier, faster and better presentable. Then I would like to create a show room and brand my business better.