On a blisteringly hot Friday in Cameroon, Michelle and I were working hard at continuing to develop our business. Whilst Michelle stayed cool indoors as she set up our seller's page on Etsy, I braved the sun and headed out into town to look for new material. My search for the material was obviously hugely important for Grass-Fields, but at the forefront of my mind was the fact that we desperately needed to track down a new tailor who could produce the quality we needed in a short period of time.
We had a large amount of clothing orders to finish before Sunday evening, and the tailors that we had working with us at the time were, unfortunately, incredibly unreliable.
To say that I didn't look my best whilst running those errands would be a bit of an understatement. Hurrying around all day in oppressive heat had taken its toll on my already slightly worn out flip-flops, and the soles had split right at the front, making them look like they were trying to talk every time I took a step. My weave was in need of some serious TLC and make-up had certainly not been a priority before I had left the house. For hours, I had been lugging big bags filled with the various things I had purchased, and by now, I was getting weary. I soldiered on though, because my business had become my baby and I was determined to get us the last thing we needed before going back to my sister; a tailor! So I hefted my bags, blocked out any thoughts of my own comfort for the time being and decided to hit one of the local markets.
And that, readers, is where I was lucky enough to meet Ahmed.
You may wonder what made him stand out to me through the hustle and bustle of the busy shopping area. many people were browsing and buying, but one small section of the whole place caught my attention almost immediately; Ahmed's shop.
Now, it wasn't for the best of reasons that I noticed the shop; I had heard raised voices and looked to see what the cause of the noise was. I observed a man shouting loudly at another man about his inability to pay the rent for the space. Intrigued by the chaos, I started to wander closer to the scene. All the while, my appearance was drawing furtive glances from sellers and customers alike. Some even tried desperately to avoid eye contact with me, hoping that I wouldn't approach them. I knew I looked a hot mess, but I was not deterred. I had spotted something on the ground near the two arguing men, and my gut just told me that I absolutely needed to have a closer look.
Finally, I reached them. Unfortunately, it was just in time to hear the word 'evicted'. One man departed, leaving the other standing dejectedly amongst his various sewing machines and other equipment. But, I at last had a close up view of the object that had caught my eye; a beautiful, hand-made dress.
'Excuse me' I said, 'Is this dress your creation?' He looked at me, then at the dress. 'Yes.' he replied simply. I was suddenly very excited. I had finally found what I had set out to look for! Discovering a tailor who could create such wonderful patterns and great quality garments in Cameroon is like striking gold, so I knew I definitely had to make the most of this fantastic opportunity that had presented itself to me out of what seemed like absolutely nowhere.
Spurred on by my overwhelmingly good feeling about this man, I proceeded to introduce myself and tell him about Michelle and our business. I also mentioned the issue we had been having with regard to the reliability of our current tailors. Ahmed seemed to be excited for us, but also slightly hesitant because, as I have previously mentioned, I hardly looked like a driven, educated business woman who had just returned back home from the UK! Couple that with the fact that he had literally just been evicted from his place of business, he was hardly enthusiastic about his own talent at that moment in time and at first even seemed quite reluctant to talk.
Despite that, and mostly due to Ahmed's kind heart, he eventually agreed to make a skirt for me after we had been chatting for quite a while. I told him that if I was impressed with the skirt, I would be back to ask him to make a lot more garments for us. Again though, he seemed unsure, but we agreed to meet on Monday. We said our goodbyes, and I began the walk home. I was optimistic and I couldn't wait to tell Michelle about the man from the market!
Monday rolled around, and I returned to Ahmed. He showed me the skirt he had made especially for me, and I really, honestly could not had been more pleased! This was our new tailor. I had no doubt whatsoever.
It was at this point that I suddenly remembered that I hadn't even paid him in advance. Not only that, but he had also had the grace to not even mention money. At a later date, in fact, Ahmed confessed to me that he didn't even think I would have been able to pay for the skirt, because I had walked into his business looking like a beggar!
We began to discuss how many garments Ahmed could make for us realistically. His first estimate was fifty per week. However, due to his talent and tenaciousness, within just three months he and his amazing team were producing three hundred fantastically made, good quality and completely stunning garments per week for us. We had done it, at last!
Ahmed and I did not meet in the greatest of circumstances. He was down on his luck and I was running out of time, so if there ever was a perfect example of why you should never judge a book by it's cover, then this is it! The working relationship that Ahmed, Michelle and I have forged is completely supportive, friendly and just wonderful.
Tune in next week to find out what happened next and to get Michelle's take on this part of our journey!
Thanks for reading,