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TOLULOPE IDIAKHOA: People laugh when I say I am a carpenter

Published by The Nation on Sun, 06 Jun 2021

Creating furniture pieces, sketching designs and working on random experimental stuff. Welcome to Tolulope Idiakhoas world. She is an architect, but also a carpenter producing exclusive pieces. In this interview with Yetunde Oladeinde she talks about her passion, inspiration, working on dual purpose furniture and more.How did you start as a carpenter'After I decided to return back to Nigeria in 2014, I thought of what I would like to do at home and was determined to start a company with design and furniture as its core. With this goal in mind, I took a diploma in Carpentry, but wasnt with the hope of becoming a carpenter; it was more about me having knowledge of the field of business I would be going into. I didnt want to be one of those bosses who ran a business but had no technical knowledge concerning the business.When I moved back and rented an apartment in Lagos, I found I had surpassed the budget I allocated for rent and still needed to get the two basic furniture pieces needed in a new house; a sofa set and a bed. The problem was I had just enough money for one of these items. I chose to get a bed first, but it led to a torturous one month where my friends and family basically had to sit on my bed when visiting. Worse off they would sometimes place their feet on my bed during the visit. I remember wishing I could flip a switch that would turn my bed into a sofa whenever visitors came. I began researching on it and sure enough, I found relevant resources online. As soon as I got my salary, I bought a sofa set, made at a local carpentry showroom, but within three months it started to fall apart with termite holes. I remember being so upset because I had spent a lot to acquire it. That was when I determined to start doing affordable and functional furniture for others like me.What was the inspiration'I would say a lot of factors including a knack for creativity. I love being able to bring something from my imagination or from a picture to reality. Also, I really believe that people deserve access to affordable, functional and beautiful furniture.What are some of the things you produce or work on'I produce statement and convertible dual-purpose furniture i.e. furniture that serves multiple purposes. For example, a bed that can be folded up into a sofa, or a wall frame that can be turned into a reading table and so on.What are the challenges'I would say performance bias i.e. female carpenters have to prove themselves at a higher bar than their male counterparts. Perhaps, its because its traditionally a male dominated profession. Dont misunderstand, male carpenters still have to prove themselves but its different for women. Prospective clients are frequently unsure of whether to give you a job or how to address you. Usually, you have to do some convincing which in all honesty can be tiring. It gets better though. At this stage, a significant proportion of my jobs come through referrals therefore it is a lot easier as they trust the opinion of the person who referred me.Surprisingly, it still doesnt stop a lot of them from doing a double-take when I introduce myself as a carpenter (laughs).Not many women are in this line, what is the reason.Well, I think for one, many women havent really seen enough women in the industry to be encouraged or inspired enough to consider it. For example, I recently visited a secondary school in Lagos to have a talk with some of the female students and when I mentioned that I was an architect and carpenter they all started laughing, thinking I had made a joke. It took me two full minutes to convince them that I wasnt joking. I watched as the smiles slowly disappeared from their faces and then they began bombarding me with questions. One of them asked to see my hands and said you mean you hold a hammer with this hand'Another reason could be a lack of knowledge of the financial benefits of carpentry. I think a lot of females arent aware and havent been enlightened enough on just how well carpentry pays in comparison to a lot of white-collar jobs or that carpenters are very successful.Lastly, I think its the way carpentry is perceived. It is neither medicine nor engineering and isnt regarded as classy by a lot of people. Carpenters are generally seen as scruffy-looking people with worn clothes, pencils in their ears, hammering away at wood, all day. It sure doesnt look cool to a lot of people and we like to associate with the cool stuff.What advice do you have for women who want to come into the sector'Just go for it. If you are genuinely interested in the profession, trust me; you are already half there. Dont let anyone intimidate or discourage you from this trade. People who truly care about you and genuinely think they are helping will try; stand your ground! Nothing worth pursuing comes easy. Secondly get all the training you can; YouTube has over a million free resources on carpentry, utilize it. Get formal educations if you can, attend technical school or intern at a furniture company. Lastly start making your items and document it; take pictures of your finished jobs and create a portfolio while continually raving about what you do to whoever cares to listen.What are some of the changes you would like to see'I would love to see more women in the trade. I would also like to see more technical colleges giving scholarships to females to learn skills in things other than clothes making, makeup and soap/cream making. I love that there are now a lot of female painters and I believe we can achieve same.How can the government make things better'The government should sponsor more vocational training and make sure these young and not so young females taking up these jobs have access to loans and grants. I think more small business startups should have access to grants and loans. This would be way more effective if a proper accountability system is set up. Also, the government can set up a scholarship scheme for women in carpentry.What are the other things that occupy your time'When I am not creating furniture pieces, you would find me reading and researching. I spend a great deal of time weekly looking over designs, new design techniques and methodology from experts all over the world and learn from them. When not doing any of these, you would find me sketching designs, creating random experimental stuff or simply emptying myself at my Fathers feet so I may be divinely inspired.Do you have people that you are Mentoring'Yes, I do; several as a matter of fact. Every once in a while there is that young person who doesnt know what to do about their skills or interests. There are also those who think they are living their parents dreams and not theirs. I work with them to gain clarity and maximize their opportunities. Recently, I and a group of friends started a secondary school outreach program where we visit schools and talk to females about their future, the importance of hands-on skill acquisition and how they can leverage technology.
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