Onyinye Chima, a graduate of English Literature, is turning into one of Nigeria’s promising entrepreneurs bringing creativity and style to the world of shoe making, writes Peter Uzoho
Her creativity and desire to make a difference keeps driving her. She is determined not to be a job seeker but to be a job provider in a world of growing joblessness. And this is in tandem with her motto-‘to employ myself and employ others’. Chima, a graduate of English Literature from Ekiti State University, is one of Nigeria’s young graduates anxious to contribute towards solving the country’s economic problems through manufacturing. She is a budding entrepreneur bringing her entrepreneurial spirit and skills to bear in the world of shoe making.
She makes fashionable sandals and slippers for all sexes, satisfying the taste of young and old in foot wears. Indeed, she realised the importance of this aspect of man’s need and wants to solve it.
“People constantly yearn for new things and I’m out to give them that,” she told THISDAY.
Even when in Nigeria, shoe making business and craft is widely believed to be a vocation reserved for the male folk, she refuses to allow that ro dissuade her from fulfilling her ambition. Her bold step to defy the odd clearly shows her ability to conquer stereotype and succeed. She is a typical example of what a man can do, a woman can do even better. To her, going the easy way is out of question. Her being a woman is never a restraining factor as she always pushes to accomplish whatever she sets her mind on, not minding how tough that can be. “I like doing things that people see as difficult. I like trying new things,” she said confidently. Chima’s interest in creative work did not just start. At her tender age, she was fond of fixing things when they are spoilt in the house to the amazement of her siblings. “When someone’s cloth got torn I would be the one to sew it or stitch it back. I like using my hands and brain to create or fix things,” she stated.
While in the university, Chima was also learning how to make shoes as a part time programme. She always kept herself busy, trying to balance academic work with something more practical. Done with her programme, she started making quality sandals and slippers on her own. In 2015, when she completed her degree programme and was deployed to Osun State for the compulsory one year national service as a corps member. She could not resist the urge to continue shoe making work despite the inconvenience of combining that with her national assignment. Also, as someone disposed to learning new things and laying her hands on different things, she decided to use her NYSC period to also learn how to make liquid soap and hair shampoo conditioner.
Being so passionate about her shoe making business, she continued in her shoe manufacturing immediately after her youth service. Although, she does not have enough resources to acquire some of the tools needed to expand her business, she continues looking the way of notable organisations that have been supporting budding entrepreneurs, such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the Bank of Industry, and other SME-friendly financial institutions, for support. “I am committed to this business and I want to remain focused on satisfying my customers. I strongly believe that at the right time, the required support would come from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the Bank of Industry or any other reputable organisation,” she enthused.
While many see shoe making as a non-profitable business, Chima says there is much to gain in the business. “It’s profitable. You know putting on shoes and other foot wears is very important. There is no one that doesn’t wear it. Both young and old people wear shoes, and for them to wear it they must buy it from people like us. So it’s profitable because it’s something that records non-stop sales not minding the season. So long as you can make good shoes, people will definitely be looking for you, and as they come and buy, you make your money,” she explained.
Ordinarily, as always viewed in our clime, being a young lady and a university graduate, one would have expected Chima to have her eyes on an elitist job- to work in a bank, oil and gas, or to be a university lecturer just to satisfy her ego whether there is passion on the job or not, and whether she will be productive in the job or not. But, on the contrary, humility has remained a major factor oiling her ambition as she maintains a very cordial and courteous relationship with her customers, both young and old. She realises the real worth of a customer and accords them their ‘kingship’ respect. The odd nature of the job of shoe making in relation to her gender and people’s perception about it has in no way discouraged her as she remains resolute in following her passion. To her, the impact of what she is doing on her life is uppermost and so no cause to chicken out.
“When I’m set to do what will be of benefit to my life I don’t get discouraged by what people say or how they view it. I don’t feel shy doing what I want to do. People can say whatever they want but it won’t bother me. But there was no discouragement from my friends because they know me as someone that loves creativity. So when I told some of them they didn’t discourage me instead they supported me. Some even do come around to help me in the work. Life is about having the right friends and relatives with you,” she explained.
Knowing the complexity of venturing into a business dominated by men, the shoe stylist believes in updating her knowledge on new trends in the business in order to compete favorably; gain a fair share of the market, and grow in it. “It requires continuous learning- learning new ideas about the business. New designs come up you just want to know how it’s done. You see someone doing something new, you want to put your eyes on the ground to know how to do it,” she noted.
According to her, many people are in the business of manufacturing shoes but not every one of them can produce neat shoes. She said her selling point is in the finishing of the work and her ability to deliver promptly. “This is what makes my customers to always come to look for me. I pay much attention to my work. I make sure I do a neat work that drives my customers crazy. When I promise them that I will deliver on a particular date I make sure I fulfill it because I know what it means to promise a customer and disappoint him or her at the end of the day.” In simple terms, she explained how the business will impact on the economy of the country if the needed support is given to her. “These days you find out that many people graduate from school and they don’t get employed. So as I’m starting this I’ve employed myself and by the time the business grows and stabilises I’ll think of employing some people who will be working for me, and through it, they will be sustaining themselves. With that there will be a drop in the unemployment rate. I will also train people on the job who will later be on their own.”
However, realising her great entrepreneurial dream is being hindered by lack of capital. Chima does not have her own shop as she squats with her friend in her shop. She does not have the necessary equipment to do the work and this has been a major concern for her. Now she produces in a small scale and can only serve the demand of few customers due to lack of capital. “To do this work you need money. So that’s my challenge at the moment. I really need money to do this job. I need money to buy tools like sewing machine, filing machine and others. I need money to buy the materials I use for the work. So these are the major problems I have. I will really appreciate it if government and good spirited corporate organisations can support me with fund. Also, I beg government to create programmes related to shoe making so that more people can be trained on the job.” The job of shoe making requires constant electricity to thrive and Chima called on government to improve power supply for the survival of operators in the business.