Typical of the Telegram group, The Fashion Collectives, the admins host Industry Giants from time to time to inspire members and promote better performance among members and the industry in general.
Recently, the admins went in search of Adetutu OJ Alabi “The Model with Tribal Marks” and engaged her in a no holds barred interview.
Omonigho: Hello Tutu, welcome to Industry Giants… let’s meet you
Tutu: good evening everyone, I am Adetutu OJ Alabi, I am a model and a tambour beading artist; I also do other businesses.
Omonigho: You came into prominence sometime in 2017/2018, when your #tribalmarkschallenge went viral and eventually caught the attention of Rihanna who followed you on Instagram, how has life been since then?
Tutu: After the tribal marks challenge started, that was when I wanted the world to know what people with tribal marks go through and they can’t really talk about it, then when Rihanna followed me and the fact that I said I wanted to be a fenty model. Well… things kind of moved faster because people wanted to work with me for that period and the fact that I have to stop some things, conceal my tribal marks a bit, not showing my nudity and posting that there is nothing wrong with nudity; and then my religion, African Traditional Religion (ATR).
I later found out that if you are not well connected, you can’t move in that industry, especially if you are not under any agency. I was a freelance model, I was doing things on my own. So, life since that is just do it on your own until you make it.
Omonigho: You’re not only a model, but a gifted Tambour beading artist (in fact, I met you a few years ago at the Seye Oladejo Atelier, where you came for a tambour beading job), you have a skin care line and an indeginous jewellery line…can you tell us a bit about this?
Tutu: I learnt the tambour beading because I have been a beadier with needle and thread on fabrics and I needed to upgrade my beading, so I learnt tambour beading since 2011 and I have been doing it since then.
I also make black soap for different skin types but I am not o much into that now because I am not cool with the crowd in it. As for the indigenous line, it goes on; more of cowries, that’s it!
Omonigho: Most Nigerians seemed to be concerned about your sex life…lol..you went viral again when you admitted you were an online sex worker to make ends meet for you and your daughter…can you tell us why you had to go into it?
Tutu: Well… Nigerians concerned about my sex life, it is a topic that generates comments. I went into online sex work because I wasn’t making any business. For instance, no beading classes, nobody patronizing the cowries because of the assumption that cowries is evil and things were very tight and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want my girl to be sent away from school at all and I was ready to risk anything and make her understand. I explained some part of it to her and I just had to do it.
I quit because I was able to save up for two terms at least, life goes on. I had to do it because I didn’t want to beg anyone for help, but I am out of it now.
Omonigho: I found out something interesting about you, you are into traditional worship…a worshipper of Ifa…can you tell us a bit about this?
Tutu: I was born into an Ifa worshipping family, my forefathers were doing it; my father met it and transferred it to the children too. So, it is not a new thing for me; we didn’t practice much of Christianity.
It was after my father died that my siblings took active part in Christianity. But me, I prefer the ifa religion; it is more explanatory to me about culture, history of Yoruba or Africa. So, I stayed back in ifa and it is cool.
Omonigho: I expected that in this age of diversity and inclusivity, you would have been a topmodel by now, of the likes of Winnie Harlow, who’s trademark Vitiligo has opened doors for her…but that does not seem to be the case… do you think your lack of success in the Nigerian beauty industry is due to a lack of diversity and inclusion? if so, can you proscribe possible solutions?
Tutu: I think… here in the Nigerian modeling and fashion industry, they did not call me until I got popular. People eh… they don’t really encourage art much about tribal mark that you can become a top model with it… no… no…no.
Most times when I still go for a shoot, may be for a clothing line, they still want me to conceal the marks and I’ll be like that’s not what you paid me for. I have to show my marks, because that’s the brand I am trying to showcase to the world now. The inclusivity is not there anymore and I am tired of complaining that they don’t want to give me jobs. I just stay back and do my own shoot at home or on my street and post it.
Possible solutions will be that if people in the fashion industry don’t see the tribal marks as an issue just as Winnie Harlow doesn’t have an issue anymore.
Omonigho: You had a bit of a beef with Nigerian musician Davido after appearing in his Superwoman video, would you like to tell us the origin of the beef?
Tutu: I don’t consider that one beef, I think it is about what they say that when you want to grow in the industry, you do some free stuff; he didn’t tell me he was calling me for a free work video, I would have told him “No”, I am not looking for free work that I just need to survive that’s why I’m doing this.
I just went that day and they put me in a taxi, no pay, no nothing and I was just quiet. I was hurt that I wasn’t paid for showing in the video, all other videos that I have featured, I was paid. So I just kept it on the low, it is not about beef; I am cool with him, that how he knows to do things. It is left for him, I think that’s ow things are in the industry that I am in and that’s not a cool thing.
Omonigho: I know you have been through a lot, with people judging you and saying all sorts. I also know you are a gifted tambour beading artist, even the skin care, the packaging was good; the cowry work is good. Beyonce used such, from Brazil in one of her videos.
The question is, how do you want Nigerians to help?
Tutu: the tambour beading, you have to be patient; it teaches you to be patient. Most times before I can get tambour beading classes, it will be someone who has done enough research who come to my DM to ask for it and because most of the raw materials are not easily assessable in Nigeria, people run when I tell them the price. I charge seventy five thousand naira for the classes, when I go to teach in other fashion schools, I do a discount.
About the cowries, I don’t get Nigerian customers; they are mostly from the United States or Brazil. Nigerians always ask if the cowries jazzed (Voodoo) when they want to buy and I tell them it is just cowries. I don’t know how else to explain to them.
All I need Nigerians to do is to stop seeing it as something evil and if they need to learn the tambour beading, they shouldn’t say the price is high when they don’t know the reason. The only way Nigerians can help me is to patronize me. I will appreciate.