Jay Paul, a young boy born into a family of entertainers, knew where he was heading to early. His grandfather was a radio broadcaster and his father the first animator in Nigeria. As a young kid he had always wanted to go into entertainment, so it was no big surprise that he became a child actor at the age of 10 on the popular kiddies TV show, “Fun Time”.
Upon completing his Computer Science program at the University of Calabar, Jay Paul went into presenting, starting as a red carpet presenter for Inside Out, and then he moved to Rave TV which has Agatha Amata as its MD CEO. “I was working full time with RaveTV. I was the Head of Entertainment. I did red carpet events as well”, Jay said. “I was there for 5 years since the inception of RaveTV; and television (industry) in Nigeria is not easy. It is very difficult. There is not a lot of money in television.”
Half a decade of life as media person has helped Jay acquire a powerful resource – a rich network – that he would be using in pursuing his ambition for more relevance and impact in the industry. “Television takes your whole life, no holidays. When people are sitting down at home they will want to watch TV, so we had no holidays. We had to go back to back every time, trying to entertain the people and then you”, he started. “I said to myself let me do something else because I felt I had built a network, people know me in the industry. I have connections. I have the network and they say your network is your net worth. So I said let me tap into that. I sat down and said, ‘how do I become more relevant in the industry?’”
The Nigerian entertainment industry is a budding sector, with lots of entertainers, media houses and celebrities. The competition is intense among the players. Sustained relevance for these players demands continuous evolution. It is this understanding that prompted Jay to broaden his horizon. “The industry is a place where you need to be relevant. People need to know you for something. I wanted to do something that would make me important in the industry.” He continued, “I sat down and thought, ‘I am a Calabar boy, what more can I export to the world asides what I do as an entertainer?’ It occurred to me that the Calabar people are known for their colourful culture, food, music, dance, beautiful women and tourism.” Jay said.
The elegance of the Calabar culture is popular. The capital city is a jewel state of the East and one of Nigeria’s homes for tourism. Calabar’s cultural wealth continues to fascinate the natives and people living in foreign cities. Jay sees the gap and he hopes to build a bridge by exporting the cultural beauties of Calabar, starting with the rich delicacies. Interestingly, he met a great Chef who loves his idea. He said, I want to take those things we love about Calabar and take it to different places around the world: the food, the colourful attire, everything. And fortunately for me, my CEO, a fantastic chef, has shown interest. She cooks everything herself. She loves food. She loves to cook and she loves hospitality. So she said to me ‘I love this idea, let’s partner and let’s push forward.’ The idea has since blown up. It was conceived about August last year and we are already rolling.”
“Made In Calabar Kitchen” is the first initiative of the Made In Calabar project. Jay hopes to build an empire that would help him bring the culture closer to the people. Made In Calabar also focuses on talent management i.e. managing the different talents that come out of Calabar and even other parts of Nigeria. He explained “We want to help Nigerian talents focus on their craft while we give them the exposure that they need and deserve.” He went on to talk about how far he is willing to push the “Made In Calabar” brand. He said, “you know they say if your dream doesn’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. I can’t sleep because every time I sleep I wake up and I’m thinking this brand is major. It is beyond what I thought it was. Everyday it evolves. I didn’t even know I was going to have a kitchen. I didn’t know we were going to have a clothing line and I didn’t think we were going to do talent management. We have lots of talent from Calabar and in Calabar.”
The colourful “Made In Calabar” logo embodies all the elements of the brand. From looking at it, you can tell what the brand represents. The Peacock represents the beauty and pride of the people of Calabar. The artistic blend of purple and green colours gives notice to the natural wealth of the culture. Jay said, “We just want to celebrate culture. We want it to be a movement that’s worldwide such that people can associate with the movement from all the corners of the earth. It could be by wearing the Made In Calabar shirt or by other involvements. We just want to celebrate culture.” He added, “Knowing where I come from and appreciating my people is why I’m doing this”
Jay Paul gave an insight into the purpose of the clothing line. “We are going to tap into the creativity of young fashion designers. We want to be able to create something that will teach people that culture shouldn’t be forgotten. Culture is evolving, so we will be taking the old and merging it with the new. We have designers from the Calabar culture who can design something for the young, trending people today.” He has a future plan to organize what he called “The Made in Calabar Night” – an event organized to celebrate the Calabar culture, not just for the Calabar people but anybody that loves to associate with the Calabar culture. There would be performances by top musicians. There would be delicious Calabar dishes and all the beautiful things the Calabar culture has to offer.”
The first step Jay is taking towards achieving this global dream is to grow the Made In Calabar Kitchen. The new franchise is a hit in Lagos Island already, where the orders have been trooping in. “So far so good. I did not make a mistake but it has taken my life because I don’t seem to have any free time anymore. I have to answer the phone calls that are coming in every time for orders but it’s a beautiful experience and I love it.” Jay is determined to protect the innocence and purity of the idea. He isn’t looking to involve the government into the project. When asked if there is going to be a future partnership with the annual government-sponsored carnival in Calabar, he said, “If they call us, we will think about it. The thing is we don’t want to associate ourselves with the government for a reason. Once we’ve been able to build a brand that is not influenced by the government, we can be independent enough to be able to stand for the people.”
Starting a brand like Made In Calabar in a country like Nigeria comes with peculiar challenges. However, Jay Paul has found ways to make it work for him. He has a partner who understands his vision and their promising partnership is looking like a future pair of successful entrepreneurs who would make a lasting mark on the Nigerian business space. “My CEO is the best person I’ve ever met in the world, she is amazing and she is a go-getter; anything she sets her mind on she gets it done. I’m looking forward to achieving many things with her.”
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets