TWO NIGERIAN FOOTWEAR BRANDS ARE GAINING TRACTION AROUND THE COUNTRY AND BEYOND, BOTH ARE MAKING INTERESTING CHANGES IN THEIR HOME COUNTRY NIGERIA, ONE THROUGH CULTURE PRESERVATION THE OTHER THROUGH SHOE POWERED SOCIAL WELFARE PROGRAMS.
Tunde Owolabi’s Enthik is an interesting youthful casual footwear brand based in Lagos, Nigeria. The shoe brand is preserving a rich Yoruba culture which might be facing the danger of extinction. The Yoruba people are a tribe found mostly in Nigeria and Benin Republic of West Africa. The Yoruba people make up about 12% of the population in Benin and 21% in Nigeria. Tunde who is the founder of the shoe brand delved into shoe making in 2015, originally a photographer, Tunde noticed the slow but steady disappearance of the rich Yoruba Aso Oke fabric in the contemporary Nigerian culture. The one time cultural identity for most Yorubas was varnishing into rare occasional appearances only at ceremonies and events. With a decision the save this culture, Tunde set up the Shoe brand, Ethnik.
The Aso Oke material which is produced using an ancient Yoruba hand weaving technique stands as the major material for the shoe brand. Not only does this preserve culture, Enthik is ensuring that older artisans are kept busy in production even as they pass on the intriguing craft to newer generation of artists and artisans.
The wool used in the Aso Oke production are sourced locally. Dyes used in designing and printing its vibrant prints are also sourced locally from specific tree bark. Beyond shoes and boots, the Enthik brand has expanded into accessories like bags and purses using the Vibrant Aso Oke fabric. With an average to low startup capital the brand has grown from a cobbler staff strength of one to over nine cobblers, making a revenue of about a million Naira in 2015. This year, Tunde hopes to cross beyond the fast rising Nigerian fashion industry into international runways.
In a similar way, Jide Ipaye is blending culture into his casual footwear brand, Keexs. Going through Jide’s collection, bold African fingerprints and colours are evident all over. With one piece in the collection celebrating the late legendary and iconic Nigerian activist and Afrobeat music originator, Fela Kuti, Jide won the hearts of local fans.
Jide hopes to save as many Nigerians as possible out of poverty through his shoe brand, as he donates some percentage of profit made to programs tackling poverty in the country. Nigeria which has been feeling the pains of a recent economic recession and the resulting high rate of retrenchment and unemployment has her salvation in the hands of Entrepreneurs like Jide who are offering young Nigerians employment through his Keex shoe brand.
Though Nigeria’s manufacturing sector is in a poor state with setbacks in availability of steady power and unstable exchange rates, leading to a difficulty in raw materials sourcing, Jide against the odds does as much as designing and producing minimally in Lagos, Nigeria. The scientist turned shoe maker in pursuance of his dreams, studied innovative shoe production at STEM, Netherlands, where the shoes are majorly manufactured then assembled in Nigeria. With a dream of helping many young Nigerians out of poverty the shoe brand is looking to attract more investors thereby expanding the business through crowd funding. This is all in line with the ultimate dream of building a mega shoe manufacturing industry in Nigeria.
With the early loss of his parents, Jide must have understood what life on the street was like, as he moved around living with various extended family members and guardians. This perhaps fuels his social welfare sentiments and passion.
The both brands with online and real retail stores in Nigeria are gaining local and international grounds, though dealing with the logistics of international shipping, they both are determined to cause the required change in their country and make happier Nigerian feet. Interestingly, there can be no better time to do this, as Nigerians and Africans are beginning to bask more in their rich culture.