Women can do it better; Introducing an inspiring female tailor
Friday, August 10, 2012
has for long been that women have all what it takes to do what just men can do
– 50-50. And indeed they have proven themselves over the years, with some doing
even better than men in today’s modern society. Time and time again, women have
shown to be key players in socio-economic development and grassroots poverty
alleviation strides. They are seen in every sphere of national development,
both in the formal and informal sectors.
edition of the Bantaba features one of those young inspirational skillful women
in the informal sector, who at the age of 27 attained self-reliance through the
lucrative business of tailoring. Born on November 28, 1984 in Pirang, Kombo
East, West Coast Region, Fatou Korta is operating her own full-time tailoring
workshop in Latrikunda Sabiji, and has since employed Gambian youths to impact
her knowledge on. Many may ask whether she does the entire tailoring herself.
Yes, she does everything in her workshop from cutting,
designing, sewing and training of the youths she employed. She is one such young female tailor who went through five years apprenticeship during which she was taught virtually all skills required for modern day tailoring. Her case has been very unique because as young as she is, she serves as a role model and continues to inspire many young people to take up skills acquisition, especially her colleagues, two of whom have since joined her workshop for full time training.
Please read this extensive interview that showcases the trials and tribulations of this young lady.
Bt: Please tell us more about your background.
FK: I was
born in Pirang village in Kombo East, West Coast Region on November 28, 1984.
My mother is Jojo and my father Ceesay-ding Korita. I attended a Quranic school
and could not proceed beyond grade three. So after dropping out, I was sitting
doing nothing except helping my mother in the daily domestic works.
But I had
realised that if I should continue doing that, the future will be insecure for
me, thus I will not be able to achieve my goals. So as young as at that age, I
realised that sitting at home and doing only domestic work will not really pay
dividend. So thank God during that period of critical thinking as to what I can
really do to better my life because I always belief that I have had a hidden
talent at the time – a skill center was established in our village.
But before the skill center, there was one very good and kind hearted lady in the person of Absata Nyandu– my cousin sister (she learned the skills of tailoring, while, staying with her husband in Libya) who introduced me to the skills of tailoring. So it was during this time that I was so closed to her and she trained me on how to sew bed sheets and so on. But when the skill center was opened, Absata was chosen to train villagers and in fact she was the very one who really encouraged me to enroll at the skill center to gain certificate. I graduated from that skill center in 2005 with a certificate.
Bt: May I ask what motivated you to chose tailoring when you could have opted for other skill ventures?
FK: I have a natural love for tailoring and I have realised that it’s a skill venture that a woman can do better as that of a man. In fact women can do any form of skill acquisition, but tailoring is what I prefer. This is because it is a very lucrative venture, and also once you are fully trained, you can also be in a position to impact your knowledge on to others well. This is why I want to encourage those women who want to venture into skill jobs to choose tailoring given its ever lucrative and enterprising nature.
Bt: You also went through apprenticeship just like men to earn this skill that has since two years ago made you a self-reliant person. What can you tell us about that part of your life?
started my apprenticeship in 2007. When I was sewing bed sheets, I had realised
that that business was not enough for my goals given the limited skills I had
at the time. So I had this foresight to venture into full time apprenticeship
to learn modern tailoring skills. So I bought a Kola nut with the guidance of
my sister and we took it to one tailor in Brikama who accepted me. This man is
a Gambian, but I later parted company with him because he refused to teach me
modern tailoring skills – he insisted on giving me the basis which was really
not my objective.
My objective was to learn every new skills of tailoring, and
so when I realised that this man was not open to give me such, I kiss his
workshop a goodbye. I was really frustrated that my own compatriot citizen
could not have the heart to teach me the skills I needed. So this is how I
moved to Latrikunda and I was fortunate to fall into the noble hands of a good,
honest, qualified and professional tailor in the person of one Omar Jallow, a
Senegalese based Gambian.
This man really opened his heart for me and trained me on all the skills that I needed as a tailor. Jallow trained me on all the skills for five good years. In fact, there was a time he told me that he won’t release me to settle on my own if I did not master the skills of to how sew ‘Gurufi’ (a mesmerizing tailoring design).
Bt: I am sure you must have endured all sort of comments, notably negative remarks from the people during your apprenticeship in view of your status as a young lady. How did you manage with that kind of challenge, which could have actually discouraged you, leading to your abandoning what you thought was right?
know it is a fact that if you are doing something good, there is no way that
people will not talk about you. So when I was on the apprenticeship, I
experienced such. I could remember when I was going to the skill center, I used
to talk to my friends that they should venture into tailoring just like me, but
they said they were busy for gardens. They thought venturing into this kind of
job was useless for a woman.
So when I was doing the apprenticeship, I had
received all sorts of comments – that “this young lady has no ambition; she
failed to go and help her mother and wasting her time on apprenticeship – that
we have known men to be doing this kind of thing and not a woman.” They
actually uttered many negative remarks meant to discourage me from abandoning
the path that I had chosen for the sake of my future. But I had turned a deaf
ear to those comments and focused on what I believe, and thank God, this has
I had done
apprenticeship just like men, and I struggled with them shoulder to shoulder in
that market; exercised patience and worked hard until I achieved what I wanted.
One thing that I was able to do, though hard, was to focus on full time
training and forgo the pleasures of life because that is what is required,
especially if you are a woman.
This helped me to be who I am today. Whilst most of my female colleagues saw the thing I was doing as inferior, I saw it as something great with much reward in the future, and this is exactly what is happening now. I could remember I had a care free attitude towards how I should look like in terms of dress code; what was important to me was to dress decently and go for training. So it was a hard but great experience.
Bt: How many years did you spend on apprenticeship because I know it takes some longer periods before they could master all the required skills? Also tell me when did you settle for your own business?
FK: I did
apprenticeship for a period of five years, and as I said during this time, I
was trained virtually on all skills of modern tailoring – ‘sampal’, designing,
‘gurufi’. ‘dawme’ the list goes on. I am lucky to be among those very
privileged few Gambian women trained on how to do ‘gurufi’. Thanks to my boss I
was able to do this because he insisted that I must master that skill before he
would release me to settle on my own.
I was also the only female tailor he trained on this skill among the four. This was due to the natural regards he has for me. I could remember at one time when he went back to his native country, Senegal; he handed over the workshop to me. I am telling you this, in his absence; I was able to save for him over D20, 000 dalasi in less than a week. I am now in my second year of operating on my own.
Bt: Now that your have settled on your own, how have you been faring with the job? Is it profitable?
FK: Oh yes,
the business is much rewarding and it has been progressive for me. If you are
definitely qualified in tailoring, there is no way that you won’t be successful
or starved of customers because people want quality. Let me just take the
example from my Senegalese boss, he is today successful than most Gambian
tailors. You know we have a chronic problem in the Gambia, and that is, people
are in a haste to graduate themselves when they are not due.
This has affected
the professional development of most Gambians, and thus could not be that
qualified individuals in their respective fields. We are always in a rush to
settle on our own for the sake of quick money, and the reality is, such never
pay us any dividend. Unlike Gambians, this is not typical of the Senegalese and
this is why, most of them are very qualified in whatever they do. I could
remember when I was with my boss, many people wanted me to quit and settle on
my own because they thought I had mastered all that I needed when that was not
I did not listen to them because I wanted my boss to feel that yes she is fit to go and compete in the market. But look at today, those that I found doing the job, I have an edge over them because of the good skills I acquired. Yes I am a woman, but today, I have an edge over many Gambian men tailors.
Bt: Many people have their minds pervaded by the strong concept that they can only work in offices and nowhere else. Are you really happy that you are one of those people who are not sitting in office, but yet makes much money than some of those on monthly wages?
FK: I am
not envious to those working in the office and in fact I feel sorry for some of
them. Look I am in my second year since I settled on my own, but what I am
receiving on a weekly basis, and on a monthly basis, is more than the earnings
of some of those people sitting in the offices. What I earn even a day can pay
some office workers their two months salary.
It is apparent that all of us cannot sit in the office; some have to venture into technical, vocational and skill ventures for gainful employment. Skill acquisition is not just for any one category of the society – it’s for everyone regardless of gender. For me, I don’t have that belief that this is for men and that is for women – all that is required is the ability and willingness to do it. In a period of less than two years, I have managed to reinvest in my business and got all the tools and materials I need for the job. I am really proud of who I am today.
Bt: What don’t you do in tailoring? I mean do you do everything by yourself?
FK: Look I am not one of those women who hire tailors to sew for them to sustain their business. I am everything in my workshop. Unlike some of them, I cut for myself, design for myself, sew for myself, and train about seven people for myself. So I do everything that a qualified tailor does with no assistance because all those who came for training under me, came with no skills in tailoring.
Bt: Talking about also being a trainer, how many Gambians are you currently training?
FK: I am currently training seven young Gambians – five boys and two girls.
Bt: If you should have the resources and the power, will you think of pioneering your own tailoring school for both business and skills acquisition where young Gambians can be trained to graduate?
FK: Oh if I
have much resources or an external sponsor, this is something that I want to
do. I want to train as much Gambian youths as possible if I have a very big
workshop that I can call a school. I really feel sorry for many youths who are
not on any skill acquisition. I feel bad anytime I see them idle and I have
this urge to help them exploit their hidden talent. But at the moment, I am
constraint by the space available, which will not give me much room to fulfill
Our president has long since been calling for the youths to
venture into skill acquisition for self-reliant purposes and he is also on
record for having said that the foreigners dominate the Gambian skill
workforce. I really share this fact with him. There are countless number of
Senegalese tailors who really are very professional and are available at every
nook and cranny of this country. They feel comfortable here doing tailoring
because of a good skill.
One advantage of a good skill is that you are able to excel wherever you may find yourself in. This is why I have always stress that people must learn and master there skills so that they could excel wherever they go to. But if you have not learned your skills properly, certainly your success would be in the balance.
about President Jammeh’s advice to the youths in the area of skill acquisition;
how much has his call for youths to take up the employment markets through
skills personally encouraged you?
FK: As I
said, I strongly share the president’s views on these issues because skill
acquisition is key to self-reliance. So it is up to the youths to heed to those
advises because they stand to benefit. I think my fellow youths should give a
trial in their country before thinking of Europe. With a good skill, you don’t
need to go to Europe through those treacherous routes because you can really
make it here.
But I particularly enjoin my fellow women to come on board and
learn skills so as to better their lives. Let us stop the culture of looking at
certain skills as inferior because that is not the fact about them. I repeat it
again, with a good skill, be assured of no regrets in life because those skills
will cater for your life sustenance.
Bt: I understand that you got married last year. How do you cope with the marriage and tailoring?
FK: [Laughs] Well it’s true that I am married but you know everything is about understanding. I am lucky to have a caring and an understanding husband who is supporting my cause. But I want to state that my marriage came second after I mastered all the skills that I needed. I made sure that I am okay with my skills before marriage because I didn’t want to be on the training and at same time on marriage.
Based on other people’s experience, I was able to focus first on the training before anything else. In whatever you are doing, you really need to be strong. I remember when I was on the training, many people had advised me to get married, but I always insisted that I must never think of such without mastering the art of sewing. So thank God I have achieved both objectives – that is I have my good marriage and skills. So I will again advise my colleagues who want to venture into tailoring to focus on the training first before anything else.
Bt: This time of the year is particularly a very busy one for the tailors given the fact that the demand for new clothes is high among the masses. The demand is much higher than the service. How are you coping as a female tailor?
FK: Well, for me I think I am just used to this even when I was not on my own. So it does not disturb me despite the fact that I am married. I am coping very well and things have been sailing smooth even though the challenge to meet the demand is high.
Bt: Well Fatou Korta that does it for this interview, but before taking leave of you, what would be your final words of wisdom to your fellow youths, particularly women and those boys who sit around to drink green tea from sunrise till sunset, in relation to the importance of skill acquisition?
advice could only be short and precise – Gambian youths lets wake up and learn
skills for self-reliant purposes. It’s never too late and if you do it now, you
will reap the fruits in a few years. Also I want to reiterate that if we get up
to venture into skills acquisition, please let us exercise patience, get
focused and learn very well before settling on our own.
Bt: Thank you so much for the time.
FK: Thank you too for choosing me to be on the Bantaba.
Author: Hatab Fadera