I started this business four years ago as an apprentice. I was not born with the skills. I went through the apprenticeship for about a year before I could start producing on my own. I started with using tools from my boss. He was and still is my mentor and so I still use his facilities. I am still saving up to get all that I need so I can fully operate independently.
Q: You make these shoes yourself? From scratch to finished product?
Yes, I do. I make shoes for all occasions (laughs…). People marvel when they see the quality of my work.
Q: Why did you choose this business; and what do you enjoy about it?
Everyone needs footwear all the time. I knew it would be a business that would have a steady market demand although trends willdetermine the design that will be predominant at any time. As a business student, I chose something that would meet the need people have for quality and affordable shoes to match any occasion and need; something that would always challenge my creativity. What I enjoy most about my business is that apart from being a source of income for me, it’s a dynamic job that gives freewill to exhibit skill and creativity in as many ways as you choose. It is something I’m passionate about. When my clients put on my foot wears and are happy, that gives me great pleasure. Nothing matches the joy of knowing that my clients are happy with my work.
Q: What were the challenges you faced at the start as a beginner? And how did you overcome them?
Customers have various needs and it’s almost impossible to satisfy all their needs all the times. I guess this has to do with the Nigerian factor; people prefer foreign brands to locally produced shoes. So they always expect to find faults even when none is there. The price difference in foreign and locally made shoes is another issue, while foreign shoes are mass-produced with less quality, ours is handcrafted, customized and with better quality depending on the design preference and the financial capacity of the customer. Another challenge is the tax from the local and state governments who despite not creating conducive environments for us to thrive still request all sorts of taxes from us thereby shooting up our operating costs.
Q: How much have you grown compared with where you started from?I am still a work in progress but I am not where I was when I started. At least I can now afford most of my needs and some of my wants. I am now able to recommend and convince customers on designs unlike before when they just wanted me to do what they had in mind without minding my input. I have been able to influence the market in my neighborhood at least for now.
Q: What challenges do you face now?
Unavailability of soft loans, high cost of materials, constant power failure, tax rate and the preference of Nigerians for foreign products
Q: Are you willing to offer train starters?
Yes I am, as long as they are willing to be humble, cool headed and hardworking. I have already started mentoring some young people around me who are interested in this line of business.
Q: Is it rewarding?
Yes it is rewarding, very rewarding. At least it pays my bills and I can comfortably pay my school fees and other little financial responsibilities even as a small time entrepreneur. It is important you keep in touch with current trends and designs and using the right quality, not just producing for production sake. You need to understand the market you work in. at least I don’t owe anybody a dime anywhere. That’s how rewarding and profitable it is.
Q: What was the perception of people around you when you started?
Initially people looked down on me like a road side shoemaker, some referred to me as a cobbler and a shoe mender. Zaraman is a shoemaker just like me, Giuseppe Zanotti is also a shoemaker too but they are international brands with values of millions of dollars and they started like just like me. So long as I continue to deliver on right quality and consistency with hard work and creativity, I believe I will get there and surpass these brands.
Q: Where do you see yourself and business in the next 5 years?
I see myself making a substantial influence in the fashion industry in the country, building my brand to become a strong force to be reckoned with in the fashion world.
Q: What advice do you have for young unemployed people in Nigeria?
Look beyond the white-collar jobs and don’t have the mindset of being an employee. Look for a need and fill it up, that may eventually be the big break you need.