How did you start making footwears as a medical student?
I basically started making foot wears in 2018 but before then after my Cambridge A levels, I came back home and was a bit quite bored on what to do. So I was just involved in other creative activities like crocheting, bead making and I got to realise that my cousins were coming over to Nigeria to pay us a visit and I wanted to give them something. So, Being fascinated so much with creative activities and creative works, I felt that’s what I should give them and they would appreciate it because they have better things over there so no matter how much I spent in getting them something, they might not really appreciate it. So, I went into the market to get some threads so I could crochet shoes for them to wear. It was after I did that people really loved the work and my friends and family told me to make for them. That was how I went into it. By the time I resumed school at UI, in 200 level, some of my classmates and roommates really loved the work and they told me to make for them too, and that was how I started selling.
Did you actually learn it somewhere or how did you start?
I started crocheting foot wears in 2017. There was this shoe maker beside my house so I went to meet him and I asked him how much I would pay him to couple this up for me because I just crocheted a top for it, what they use in place of leather, and so I gave it to him and he said he wasn’t going to do it, that I should do it myself.
He just told me the materials I should buy in the market. That was how I went to the market and within three days, I was done making my shoes.
Not that you started as an apprentice somewhere?
From there, I started crocheting; I would meet him and he would assist me till I came down to Ibadan and I met some other shoe makers that I could borrow their equipment since I didn’t have mine.
So whenever I met them, I also watched what they were doing, and that was how I learnt and again I learnt from the internet. It was until last year I had to pay for a particular course on how to make some of those Italian shoes so that was it.
On what platform was that?
I came across it on Facebook and I just paid for it to see some of the books and I was sent some videos. I had to still go very far to check for some other materials on how to make some things. Throughout last year, I was just learning a lot about shoe-making because I really didn’t know so much; I was just with the normal Nigerian mentality so I had to really go deep in learning the theories of leather, types of leather, stitches in shoes and all that.
Would you say you have attained some level of perfection now?
I can say yes. Honestly because the person that I employed to work with me, has been in shoe-making for at least 25-27 years and still he hasn’t acquired all the basic knowledge in shoe-making. He just knows more of the practical aspect in shoe-making so I have to be the one to say this is the standard way they make this etc.
You employed him and you pay him on a monthly basis?
Yes, I pay him on a monthly basis. I had to do that because I am a medical student and it is not so easy for me. It is very strenuous this time; I have to crochet, probably spend three hours crocheting, then go back to the shop to make the shoes. It wasn’t easy so I had to get people to help me.
I hope that is not affecting your study?
No. Not really. I am very pretty good at multitasking; even when the orders are so much. I remember there was a particular week I was in a surgery post; that is one of the very strenuous postings in medical school. I was rotating through that posting and within a week, I had about 40 orders. That was when one of my tweets went viral and so people were bringing orders. I had to carry one of my crocheting pins to the ward. So anytime I notice there is nothing going on, I would carry the pin and start crocheting randomly but actually it is very strenuous.
Where do you hope to take this shoe-making venture to? As a medical student, are you thinking of abandoning it when you finish your medical programme and qualify as a Medical Doctor?
Cuts in: I will probably abandon the medical school and pursue shoe-making because it will bring more money compared to the stipend they pay Doctors in Nigeria. I just want to have the certificate, honestly speaking. I would have just left it but I feel people will respect you more when you have a certificate. I don’t think my secondary school certificate is enough and again still may actually not be there 24 hours making the shoes; people may help me. So I may be bored and I need something to do. I may be practising medicine but the brand is still there.
What is your plan with growing the brand?
My aim really, I started with crocheting. When we were small, my mum had this complaint that she would buy shoes and would just get spoilt in a short time. So she had to always go for those UK-American used shoes because she felt they were of good quality and durable. So by the time I started making the shoes, I was like ‘I need to help my mum so that she won’t be complaining of shoes like this’ and that’s why I had to pay enough attention to the quality and the good thing is the crocheting part of it which I use the nylon thread to crochet. It’s more like a synthetic material, it’s something that can’t wear or tear out easily unlike leather that peels easily. This is something that is more like a fox material whereby it doesn’t wear out easily; it tends to be very durable and again the tensile strength of the thread I use is very high. I don’t know how I got that idea of, ‘let me buy that shoemaker thread they normally use to stitch the shoes together’ and it has been very durable. Most of my shoes, I can use them on water. I won’t be scared of it because I know it’s going to last and again, it absorbs so much gum; it is very friendly with gum compared to leather. I have never got a complaint that, ‘oh it pulled out’ neither do I have it cut.
Since you started your footwear design, will you say it has given you some financial independence?
I told you it’s because I just need the certificate. If they should just give me, I will receive it and leave school. I just needed one because honestly speaking, the return is very pretty much…. and people get surprised when I tell them that people working with me are not receiving less than 50k and they will be like how is that possible? I get pretty much gain from it. It’s helping me financially. I stay on my own. I had to leave my parents, probably they just pay my school fees which I feel is their responsibility.
Like in a month when the business is good, how much do you make?
It depends; on average, I don’t make less than N200, 000. Sometimes it gets up to N300,000 in a month and I have to keep on investing. The money is coming; the money is going into the same business, trying to get this, trying to get that. I want to get to that stability level. So I have to just keep on investing.
So probably your medicine is what is pushing you back?
Yes, it is delaying me from putting in so much time. That was why I was happy with the coronavirus; with the virtual classes, and I don’t have to go to class.
What were you doing during the coronavirus lockdown?
Still the shoes; I was actually at Lokoja then because my parents had to call me back so I was making the shoes but not there; the shop was here.
Like how many people do you have working for you?
There’s one. There are actually two ladies who work on contract, if I have anything, they would just come and crochet. There are three others who are just apprentices.
Based on your orientation, what is your advice for your peers that are still in schools and probably hoping to get white collar jobs when they graduate?
I find it difficult to advise people because I don’t know if they are really mentally and emotionally strong to stand the stresses and the hurdles of business because it can be very depressing but I will still say that whatever your hand finds to do, do it well. It could be in the tech aspect. If you have a purpose, I don’t think anything happening within your surroundings would actually influence you.
What do you think the government can do to promote entrepreneurship?
A lot; I will start with the exchange rate; it is very high and it has affected me personally in getting some things outside the country and also getting my materials. Within last year to this year, things have really spiked up so high and customers would ask you, ‘why is it so high’ and they are expecting you to reduce the price but they won’t understand the materials are very high. And for you to get good quality materials, you have to look outside the country and you have to use dollars.