Ibrahim Muhammad Jamiu, 400 level student of Mass Communication has been involved in cap washing business ever before being admitted into Kwara State University. Even as 400 level student, he is still into the business and is still running his shop in Malete, Sobi Barracks and elsewhere in Ilorin. He takes on an excursion into the cap washing business. Enjoy!
As cap wearing gradually becomes an inevitable aspect of traditional outfit, the business of cap washing equally thrives as many people have taken to eking a living out of it. Despite that cap washing business started more than a century ago, it still has not gotten out of the stronghold of the two tribes – Hausa and Kanuri – exclusively known with the trade in northern Nigeria. One thing is however certain, majority of men from the two tribes are gradually embracing the business as it is equally becoming lucrative. Cap washing is being formally organized like many micro-economic concerns. Cap wearing is not limited to a particular tribe or religion. “It is an old trade that started over one hundred years and people from across tribes of the world and irrespective of their religions have embraced cap wearing and they bring their cap for washing,” he says.
Cap washing business appears simple when viewed from the materials used; all that are needed are a plastic bowl, detergent, starch which can be obtained within the neighborhood. Detergent is more economical and saves time but I often substitute it with other soaps depending on availability and economic situation. “I do not use washing-machine. I do all the washing manually,” he explains.
He adds, “Cap washing is an energy sapping trade. But in spite of that I make use of my bare hands. This is because using brush would weaken the threads and make the cap to depreciate in quality.
But there are other methods applied. He explains this as follows: “After the washing, I leave the caps on a very large nylon for desiccation. After that, I take them into the room and apply starch. But most people in the business use gums extracted from trees as alternative to starch. But starch is very cheap, and gum makes caps to be stronger and enhances its durability than when we use starch.
“The next stage would be to place cap on a wooden structure; then a club is used to hit it so as to make it flattened at all sides. This system is an alternative to modern day ironing of cap, commonly used due to inconsistency in electricity
“All the activities involved in this business are traditional and would appear primitive, but this is how I will continue hitting it until it becomes smooth as if I used the white-man’s steam-iron or locally-made one,” he narrates.
“There is a way we identify the cap of a customer,” he says. “With years of working experience, I have taken care of that because over tome I do recognize a customer with his cap. However, even at that, it was discovered that people still miss their caps brought for washing. Not only that, it is common to hear people who bring cap for washing expressing disappointment for not redeeming washed cap when they come for it. I agree to this fact, because cap washers make the mistake of giving a cap to the wrong owners, such mistakes are rare. If such happens, some people return such caps, but others do not. People react differently to lost items. Few react violently and insist on being paid; others request to be called if their caps are found while others take the matter lightly and keep patronizing. But others who feel too bad stop coming. Occasionally, after paying for lost caps, people return them and they become my item. But how many fairly-used caps am I going to keep in my shop?” he querried.
He continues, “Although many would see ‘lost but found’ caps as a business opportunity, the nature of my business did not create room for that, because selling such caps would earn me bad name when news circulate in the town that caps lost but retrieved were being resold. If you come here to buy a cap and you later bring that same cap for washing, what impression will you have if your cap should get lost in my shop? Would you be convinced that your cap truly got lost in the cap sellers’ shop? Will you keep coming here? Of course no!
“As a matter of fact, due to my years of experience to deal with the issue of identical caps, with the aid of coding customer and a receipt booklet I do issue to customers and I equally write names and registration numbers of customers on their caps for easy identification. Notwithstanding, I do record lost caps. When caps miss, I refer to the receipt for detailed information and give the owner a week so that we might find out from other customers. If I cannot find them, I give them new ones of the same quality from our stock because I deal in varieties of qualitative caps and perfumes as well in order to boost my business and avoid unforeseen embarrassment from my customers,” he concludes.
Says Jamiu in conclusion, “As a cap washer I do make more cash during festivals. At those periods, the Hausa proverb Wakin hulla ba zai kai ka dare ba (meaning Washing of a cap should not take you into the night) readily comes into play.”