Asafa: Nigeria’s Leather Industry Has Untapped Potential

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Olubukola Asafa

Oba Couture is a Nigerian luxury brand founded in 2011. In this interview, the Chief Executive Officer, Olubukola Asafa, speaks about the potential of Nigeria’s leather industry and his business. Ugo Aliogo brings the excerpts:

 

What is the Oba Couture all about? 

Oba Couture is a Nigerian luxury brand founded in 2011, we manufacture luxury leather goods such as handbags, footwear, belts, other leather goods and just recently ready to wear clothing. OBA prides itself in its fine craftsmanship by creating beautiful, unique, and long lasting pieces.

I understand that you are engaged in production of leather bags, shoes, and sandals. What inspired you to go into the leather business? 

I used to make linen tops to sell not too long after I graduated from University, but after my NYSC I went into paid employment and then studied for an MBA. After I finished my MBA I knew that I no longer wanted to go back to a 9am to 5pm job. At that time, I used to sell ready-made shoes and bags, but I wanted to do something more unique, and God gave me the answer, ‘manufacturing the shoes and bags’. I started my research as to how I can start manufacturing handbags and footwear that can compete globally, with a passion for bringing made in Nigeria back. I travelled to Italy and London for a course in shoe making and handbag making respectively.

In the area of raw materials sourcing, how you do source your leather materials? 

I source my leather materials from Kano, and I also source them from Mushin here in Lagos.

Regarding the issues of loans and grants, how much have they played in expanding your business?

When I just started my firm in 2011, I won a grant from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. it was called the YouWin grant where I won a sum of N8.2 million. That was very instrumental in the growth of my business. Unfortunately, I have not accessed any loans since then.

In terms of sales, where is the market for the sale of your shoes, bags, and sandals and have you been able to scale?

The market for my products has mostly been online many of our customers have found us online via social media and also from word of mouth. We have been able to scale, as we have been able to expand our product line to clothing and we are still pushing harder to achieve more

 What have you done to make your products stand out in the midst of competing brands?

To make our products stand out we take quality very seriously, we only use the best raw materials, hardware and leathers in all our production.

In terms of consumption, why is there higher preference for foreign made shoes, bags and other leathers products instead for locally made ones?

There is a higher preference for foreign made goods than local ones because they are sometimes cheaper than the locally made ones. Secondly because many of our products are handmade we are not able to produce in large quantities unlike the foreign brands that do mass productions. Lastly, because they are handmade they may not be as nicely finished as the foreign ones which use more manpower, sophisticated finishing tools and machines that we do not have.

Can you tell me about your workforce and how they have helped you achieve success in the business? 

I am blessed with a very hardworking, dependable and committed workforce who has job satisfaction which leads to improved performance and reduced turnover. They are valued and are important to the organisation.

What are the potential for growth for the leather industry in the Nigeria?

The leather industry in Nigeria is the second major earner of foreign exchange after oil. It contributes about 25 per cent of the total agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The industry generates about $600 million to $800 million through exports annually. There is a huge potential for growth of the industry if the proper measures are put in place by the government. Also, recently, the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), in its recent report projects that the Nigerian leather industry can generate over $1 billion by 2025.

How can government make leather production attractive for investment?

The leather industry has massive potential for providing more employment, growth and to grow exports. The government should aim to double productivity of the leather industry in next 10 years, by launching a developmental plan for the leather sector.