Posted by Olaniyi Abodedele on Thursday, January 23, 2014 Under: Fashion, Tradition & Culture

Gone are those days when Africans find it difficult to make a living from contemporary African dresses or attires in a foreign land. The amazing fact is that gele (head tie) is associated with Nigerian women, but funny enough this time around, the king of gele in a foreign land happens to be a Nigerian male. Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye, aka Segun Gele, is a man making a name for himself in a woman's world. To meet him is to understand how he became a celebrity in a field only a few years in the making. He is a Houston-based businessman who makes his living from tying geles (African headtie) for women. Watching Segun Gele whip the material into graceful folds and arcs in less than five minutes, evidently supports his mastery of the trade.

He earns approximately $60,000.00 per annum just from tying geles and has been global trotting every weekend for events since his business started. He’s not only a vivacious self-promoter; he’s also clearly thrilled to find himself making money doing something that comes so naturally to him.

"Gele" is a Yoruba {Nigeria, West Africa} word for a female head wrap. A "head wrap" is a long piece of cloth that you wrap and tuck on your head to create different looks. If you wrap it tight enough, the material will not come off. If it loosens you could always rewrap it.

Geles come in different fabrics such as damask, jacquard, net and “aso-oke” (hand-woven fabrics popular for Yoruba special occasions in Nigeria). The most popular fabric among Nigerian women is a metallic fabric made from jacquard. Gele is often used to grace a woman’s outfit, although most women tie it when they are wearing traditional African clothes, this is slowly changing and the use of gele is being revolutionized to tying it with Western dresses or skirts. Also it is not uncommon to see women at African events all wearing the same gele in a uniform; this is called “aso ebi” in Yoruba.

Gele has been worn by Nigerian women for generations, but in recent years has become the ultimate fashion accessory for important parties and events in the U.S., something that Segun Gele partially credits himself for.

He said when he moved to Houston, Texas in 2003 from Nigeria, many Nigerian women had stopped wearing their gele because they found it too difficult to tie by themselves. To Segun Gele, this was a great tragedy.

"I mean, you would not find a woman wearing a good gele (headwrap),”. They would rather wear their jeans to a Nigerian party. And when they had the gele (head wrap) made, it was just okay."

He first noticed he could turn his skills into a promising business when he offered to tie a woman's gele at a friend's wedding.

Within minutes, he had whipped the two-yard fabric into a headturning, vertiginous shape that left other women at the party impressed. Before long a queue had formed and he started charging $7 a piece to tie gele at the wedding.

Over time his rates grew to $10, then $15, and now he rarely ties gele at parties but reserves his services for weddings or other special occasions.

"In the past, I used to have so many people. I think I had about 20, 30 people standing in the line to have their gele tied. But it got to the stage where it was overwhelming".
Segun Gele now charges $650 to tie gele for brides and their party for Houston weddings, and $1,000 plus hotel, rental car and airfare for out-of-town weddings.
It's the only business he's done since he moved to the U.S in 2003, and one that's showing no signs of slowing down. He has students that pay to train with the master, flying in from around the U.S, London and Dublin etc.
So long as gele remains a fashion statement for Nigerian women, Segun Gele is sure to remain king of his domain.
When asked how he got into the gele business?

Many people ask me how I got into the gele (headtie) business and I jokingly requested the presence of CNN before I can grant the HISTORIC interview so as to avoid repeating myself  whenever someone else wants to know how I started, but thanks to this medium, it will forever go down memory lane.

My passion for gele started as a young inquisitive man always wanting to help my mum look good by any means or way. Like every other women she would always struggle and fight with her gele hours before we go to church on a Sunday; the outcome? Not too good so I’ll always try my best to help tie it on my head and fit it on my mama’s head which always looked better than whatever she earlier made and as a proud mother she would wear it to church. It got to a point where her gele was a way to tell if I was home for the weekend from school because her gele was exceptionally different.

Time went by, I improved on all I learnt by helping my mum and graduated to helping some brides tie their gele on their traditional wedding day after styling the bridal hair for the next day. This was as far back as 1995/96 in Nigeria.

In : Fashion, Tradition & Culture 

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