“Yes, I miss Nigeria. But what can we do? ”

 

As the weather turns chilly, our thoughts turned to Damilola, who doesn’t like the cold, but whose fabrics summon up sunshine and warmth.  Ridley Road is among the most gloriously chaotic of London’s markets, a joyful collision of colours, sounds and smells. There’s plenty of cheap’n'cheerful discount stuff – batteries, postcards, CDs, T shirts, fruit and veg – but the main attractions are the riotous collection of African and North african food and fabrics. This is the place to come if you fancy cooking goat, pig’s trotters or anything involving yams – and of course things like fresh herbs are cheaper and better quality than you could find in your local supermarket. Alongside Brixton, though, Ridley Road is one of the best sources for African fabric – if, by African, you mean Dutch or Swedish. “Hollandaise” are colourful, slightly shiny fabrics in a riotous range of colours, printed using blocks of wax; they’re unusual in that the pattern is printed on both sides. Derived from Indonesian batiks, Hollandaise has been popular in West Africa for nearly a century. In recent years, it’s started to become crowded out by cheap Chinese fabrics in Africa. But in London, many people still seek out traders like Damilola, who sources the real thing directly from Holland.

How long have been selling Hollandaise? And who are your customers?
I’ve had my stall for three and a half years. You have to register with Hackney before you start. I get my fabrics from Holland. And my customers… they like to buy the clothes for when they want to party. It’s for summer clothes, party clothes.

Can you remember your first dress made from Hollandaise?
Oh… it’s a long time ago. My first dress was when I was, like, 10. In Nigeria. If you buy the cloth, you give it to someone that  will sew it for you, into a dress. My dress, it was blue, it looked really nice on me.

Do you miss Nigeria?
Yes. A lot. I miss Nigeria a lot but what can we do?

Did you always wear Hollandaise before you started selling them?
I always liked them myself and always wore then. And tomorrow is Saturday, and I shall wear them tomorrow.

Where do you source your waxed fabrics from?
We have a lot of different people. I  haven’t been over to Holland, sometimes they send me samples and I choose the ones I want. I think I do have a special eye for what my customers like. Well, some of them like it, some of them don’t. I like blue, pink, orange yellow, bright colours. Then the lace is from Sweden, and also we have French lace and organzas.

This looks like a bustling, friendly market. Is it?
Sometimes it’s busy, sometimes it’s not. But there’s friendship here. It’s a nice place.

We often hear that life for stall-holders is harder than for people who have a shop. Would you like to move to a shop eventually?
Yeah, we work hard. Because we have to set up, and to carry everything. But I prefer doing a stall to a shop. Because it’s free-er.

Damilola’s stall is roughly halfway down Ridley Road. The market is open every weekday, plus Saturday.

 


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