I’m Building itele footwear To Rival Global Brand
AGBOOLA SEYI is the founder and creative head of itele footwear, a premium bespoke shoe brand that has become a staple for fashion’s avant-garde and many entertainment celebrities. In this recent chat with select journalists, Agboola, as a multiple award winning shoemaker and fashion entrepreneur, bares his mind on the fashion business and other sundry issues
Tell us a bit about your journey into footwear business.
I founded itele footwear in 2009, so as to meet ample demands for classic handmade shoes in Nigeria. Itele specializes in premium footwear for those who appreciate modern and functional apparel. I have being running this business for 11 years now. My team and I, looking at the future, are working tirelessly to put our organization on global scene.
How did you discover your passion for shoemaking?
It started while I was at a younger age of 9/10 thereabouts. l’m quite a creative person. I played around with old footwear in the house, recreating them and making new design out of them. Afterwards, I started making new ones from scratch when I was in secondary school for myself, my brother and my friends. It was when we started getting demands from more friends then I realized this could be the shot to make money and indeed it was.
What challenges did you face?
Basically they are external factors which we had no control over, and they are challenges every entrepreneur in Nigeria is still facing: the poor state of infrastructure. Someone living in the developed countries of Europe or America might be surprised, but the lack of good infrastructural facilities is a serious problem affecting the development of businesses in Nigeria. 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 electricity in a day. We could go weeks without electricity sometimes. The insufficient supply of electricity has negatively affected many businesses. Unstable government policy 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.
What, in your opinion, do shoes signify for a fashionable person?
Although shoes aren’t usually the first thing that others look out for before they judge you, it is still at the top of the list of things that can reveal much about who you are. In my opinion shoes are the crown to any outfit you put on. No matter how well dressed you are, if your shoe is not fitting the outfit 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 class and in a way boost your status and earn you 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 shoe, you get the good feeling, being in charge of your own life. We all know the story of Cinderella how a pair of shoe can change your life and that is true.
Do you think Nigerian fashion can rule the global scene?
Yes, I believe strongly if we do what is needed to be done. Within a decade, Nigeria 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 still a lot of work to be done for us to fully debut on the world scene otherwise we will just remain an inspiration to international brands and they create what we should be creating.
Many entertainment celebrities have rocked your designs. What has the feedback been like?
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 some of us fashion entrepreneurs are changing that narrative now.
You are presently based in Ibadan, what are your plans for expansion?
Number one on our list for expansion is to increase production capacity. Once that is done, we start having more walk-in stores in urban cities across the nation. Then we move to opening international stores.
How can investors/government help to promote entreprenuership?
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 a short space of time if all these are in place. Investors should go beyond expectations of profits and shares only, they should be part of their investments seeing to it that the entrepreneurs also become successful by giving them adequate support.
What other avenues do you think youths can explore in enterprenuership in Nigeria?
Entrepreneurship is really about solving problems and monetizing the solution. The good thing is Nigeria is full of problems and it’s an opportunity. Avenues that youth can explore are numerous including Information Communication Technology sector, Agriculture, Real Estate and many more.
What other projects are you involved in?
I have another fashion brand apart from itele footwear that specializes in real gemstones bracelets and I also do branding consultation for SMEs.