Seyi Agboola began growing his brand in 2009 from his bedroom, where he made footwear for just family and friends. But now, he is privileged to connect with thousands of customers and stores everyday with exceptional products, serving Nigeria and the world at large. Agboola talks to Tosin Clegg about his footwear brand, challenges running a business in Nigeria, success stories and more
I’m the founder and creative head of Itele footwear
I’m a shoemaker and fashion entrepreneur, and I have bagged multiple awards in this business. I founded Itele footwear in 2009, so as to meet ample demands for classic handmade shoes in Nigeria. Itele specialises in premium footwear for those who appreciate modern and functional apparel. I have being running this business for 11 years now, and my team and I, looking at the future, are working tirelessly to put our organisation on the global scene.
l’m quite a creative person
So, I played around old footwear in the house, recreating them and making new design out of them. Then I started making new ones, for my brother, my friends and myself, when I was in secondary school. It was when we got demands from more friends that I realised this could be the shot to make money, and indeed it was.
Challenges I Faced
Basically, they are external factors which we had no control over, and they are challenges every entrepreneur in Nigeria is still facing; poor state of infrastructure. Lack of good infrastructural facilities is a serious problem affecting the development of businesses in Nigeria. Someone living in developed countries in Europe or in America might be surprised at this. The state of infrastructure in Nigeria is just destitute. The unstable power supply forces you to spend more than necessary on generators and fuel. We hardly get up to three hours of public electricity in a day. Sometimes, we could be without electricity, for weeks. The insufficient supply of electricity has negatively affected many businesses. The unstable Nigerian economy and politics is another serious challenge for entrepreneurs. It is without doubt that all the socio-economic problems and political instability don’t help in the successful development of businesses.
Shoes aren’t usually the first thing that others judge about you
It is at the top of the list of things that can reveal much about who you are. In my opinion, shoes crown any clothe you put on. No matter how well dressed you are, if your shoes don’t fit your clothes or maybe it’s not looking good enough, instantly your outfit will lose the respect it could have had and, obviously, it will be all on you. So for any fashionable individual, shoes signify status, class and in a way command respect. Shoes signify strength. Christian Louboutin once said Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally. When you wear a right pair of shoes, you get the good feeling, being in charge of your own life. We all know the story of Cinderella how a pair of shoes can change your life, and that is true.
We have realised there is a lot to do with leather in the fashion industry
So, we decided to diversify into other leather products such as belts, wallets and bags, and the way people accepted those products is so amazing and for that we are grateful. In future, we will introduce other products, but one step at a time.
I believe strongly Nigerian fashion can debut on the world scene
And that’s if we do what’s needed to be done. Within a decade, Nigeria’s fashion industry has grown in size and sophistication, attracting global attention. Despite the fact that we are growing, the Africa’s share in the global fashion industry is less than 1%. This tells us that there is a lot of work to be done to debut the world scene, otherwise we will just remain inspiration to international brands and they will create what we should be creating. I have another fashion brand apart from Itele footwear that specialises in real gemstones bracelets and I also do branding consultation for SMEs.
Feedback has been very encouraging and it makes us want to do more
Sometimes their facial expressions give me joy because we beat their expectations for a typical Naija brand. Quite a large number of them don’t have trust in made-in-Nigeria products, especially in the fashion space. But, fashion entrepreneurs are changing the narrative. First, there is no limit to where we can take this, As much as we have our eyes on the global scene, we should also be aware that there will always be room for improvement. We will go as far as time and space permit. Number one on our list for expansion is to increase production capacity. Once that is done, we will start having more walk-in stores in urban areas across the nation. Then, we will move to opening international stores.
The government should put proper infrastructure in place
Stable electricity supply, good roads, and business-friendly policies. This country is blessed with vibrant entrepreneurs that can really boost our economy in short time if all these are in place. Investors should go beyond expectations of profits and shares alone. They should be part of their investments, seeing to it that the entrepreneurs also become successful by giving them adequate support. Entrepreneurship is really about solving problems and monetising the solution. The good thing is that Nigeria is full of problems and it’s an opportunity. Avenues that the youth can explore are numerous, such as I.T sector, agriculture, real estate and many more.