A Sociology graduate from the University of Uyo, Helen Eric Orok is an Akwa Ibom born entrepreneur. She specializes in Ankara Craft, handbags, shoes and general leather works. In this interview with PAULINUS NTA, shear bears her mind on her chosen career, her prospects and challenges.
Who is Helen Eric?
I am from Ibiaku Itam in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, but I was born and raised in Lagos. I later came down to Calabar where I picked interest in leather works. While in Calabar, I learnt how to sew clothes and I worked for someone when I realised I was under paid, I dropped and picked up a trade in fashion and other works of leather. I later relocated to Uyo when I had admission to study sociology and anthropology in University of Uyo.
How did you combine your studies and trade?
My programme was a diploma and when I completed, I could not secure immediately direct entry admission, instead of waiting for the admission, I decided to go into fashion design.
What about the shoe making?
I started shoe making about two years ago. I picked interest after attending a skills development training in my church, I ventured into Ankara craft, handbags, shoes. I also learnt additional skills by watching a tradesman in Lagos. I can make assorted leather shoes (men and women) palms slippers, handbags and others. I sew assorted women clothes and handbags.
Apart from having it as plan B, when you did not have direct entry immediately after your diploma programmes in the University of Uyo, did you have any other motivation to your chosen trade?
(Cuts in…) Yeah, sure. I developed strong passion for fashion and craft right from my childhood. I like creativity; I love to make things for myself than to depend on what people do for me. Right now, I am still contemplating going into beads shoe and cap and even beads jacket.
How does it put food on your table?
With this work, I paid my school fees when I later had admission to study computer science in the same University of Uyo. I feed myself, I pay my house rent. In fact, I pay my bills with the proceeds of this trade
Don’t you think some men would look down on you as a common shoe maker?
Sensible men appreciate productive women who do what others do not do. Many men come my way on daily basis but I take my time to study them so that I don’t fall prey.
Can you recall any embarrassing moment in the course of your chosen trade?
I have never been embarrassed or feel that way, except when a customer once embarrassed me to a point of insulting my parents. He gave me a shoe to make for him and on the day he was to collect it, I went to file the shoe outside my shop. So when he came, he felt disappointed and he went straight and reported me to my parents that I have collected his money without fulfilling my promise. The man was foul-mouthed, but to his surprise, when I appeared with his ready shoes and he saw me, he felt ashamed. I was embarrassed by the foul words he used, especially for going to tell my parents to tell me to return his money if I cannot make the shoes. I think that was the only embarrassing moment I have recorded in the course of my chosen trade.
What are your challenges?
The only thing I would call challenge is non availability of necessary equipment and a more convenient workshop.