Promoting made-in-Nigeria footwear 

For many years, low quality footwear dominated the market, which make them less competitive in the global market. To check this, many Nigerians are rooting for the production of quality footwear, writes DANIEL ESSIET

Thinking of a shoe brand characterised by quality and durability, one will not need to go too far before arriving at Italian and Spanish shoes. However, these brands are desirable but unaffordable to most Nigerians who are mainly low-income earners.

To solve the problem, young Nigerians are creating quality and durable shoes that are affordable. They have made shoes which made inroads into the market.

Some cobblers based in Lagos and Abia states are producing shoes which the Georgio Brutinis and other top designers would envy.

One of them is the Chief Executive, AB Leather Work, Abraham William, a footwear producer in Lagos. He  learnt the trade in 2002 in Akwa Ibom State and thereafter came to Lagos to set up a shop.

Though he started with  a small capital, the business has grown like an oak. His customers comprise those from outside Lagos. People also come to him with their designs for production.

He has also expanded into imparting his skills to others such that over five apprentices have passed out of his workshop.

Regrettably, he said, unemployed youths, who could make a living from shoemaking, do not like learning trades under apprenticeship.

To grow the industry, he said the youth need equipment, and technical knowhow. He said shoe producers needed finance to buy the expensive input, such as leather, trimming and cutting machines, which are expensive because they are imported.

He observed that though Nigerians preferred imported shoes, some still ordered from him.

The graduate of Business Administration said young people could acquire skills and contribute to the growth of the footwear and leather  industry.

He added that quality leather plays a vital role in the production of shoes, as this convinces the buyer that he has bought a good product.

The founder, Right Legs, Temilade Adegbite, specialises in creating men’s, women’s and children’s footwears, such as shoes, sandals and slippers, in unique designs.

She started Right Legs to cater for those customers who were in need of big-sized footwears, and for kids who desired good school footwear.

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Adegbite, who has big feet, said getting the right designs was not easy for her and others. So, she thought of creating unique shoe designs in all sizes. Today, Right Legs offers quality and classy footwear in various  designs and sizes.

Before the lockdown caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, traders from West African countries stormed Aba in Abia State to buy various designs.

Traders from Chad, Ghana, Togo, Niger Republic and Cameroon came to the Ariaria International Market in Aba to buy shoes and other leather materials.

And when they could not make it to the market, they sent their product specifications to the shoe manufacturers via text messages or phone calls for production and transportation to their destinations.

According to reports millions of shoes are exported from the Ariaria International Market to the West African coast.

The Aba leather industry is made up of shoes, trunk boxes and belts. It provides employment for  thousands,  many of whom specialise in designing, patterning, cutting, skiving, stitching, peeling and finishing. It comprises clusters, such as Powerline, Imo Avenue, Bakassi, Aba North Shoe Plaza, Omemma Traders and Workers, ATE Bag and Ochendo Industrial Market.

In 2017, Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, signed a $1.5 billion deal with a Chinese shoe firm during the First Nigeria-China Governors Investment Forum. The Abia State Government brokered the deal with Huajian Shoe Industry in Dongguan, Guangzhou, China for the establishment of a shoe factory in Aba.

The factory is expected to produce 5,000 shoes daily and create 10,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs. Ikpeazu, who signed the deal with the Group Chairman of the Huajian Group, Mr. Zhang Huarong, is optimistic that it would bring the much-needed competition to indigenous shoe manufacturers in Aba. It would also phase out manual shoe manufacturing techniques employed by shoemakers.

In addition, the deal includes the investor training 100 Aba shoemakers in China on the use of the latest technology in shoe making. The trainees are expected to form the bulk of the staff members of the Chinese factory in Aba.

“The major constraint our shoemakers have is that most of their work is done manually. This has gone on for several decades.

We must change that. So, we plan to introduce them to automated shoe production and China is key here. The goal is to achieve 75 percent automation locally between now and the next 24 months.”

“This factory will create 10,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs from the secondary markets that will be created,” the governor said.

The state government started the Made-in-Aba campaign to attract foreign investors to the state and promote Nigerian shoes to major markets abroad.

The President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria (ASBON), Dr Femi Egbesola, said the future is bright for youths. His words: “The shoe-making industry in Aba is worth over N200 billion, but the size is still small compared with the number of players involved.

The sector is not restricted by education, government policies, gender nor need for huge capital and infrastructure. The demand for shoes keeps increasing on a regular basis.

If the government can succeed in curbing the influx of imported shoes into the country, the demands for local shoes will remain unmet and thus open up the need for more young ones to venture into it.”

Egbesola added: “Shoe business remains one of the businesses that can never wane nor fade off. It is an essential need and the demand for it will keep soaring.

It is advisable to encourage the young ones to tap into the unlimited opportunities and potential that are in the shoe business. If such ones can add creativity, innovation and uniqueness to the business, sky will be the limit.”

The President, Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN) Prince Saviour Iche, said Nigeria  is blessed with great entrepreneurs and innovators. Faltering electricity and logistics, according to him, are hampering the efforts of entrepreneurs.

Iche noted that micro entrepreneurs need the support to thrive.

At the Made-in-Nigeria Shoe expo in Lagos, shoe makers urged the Federal Government to halt the import of second-hand shoes, noting that this was hurting the local footwear industry.

They canvassed an enabling environment for petrochemical firms, which act as ancillary industries for raw materials, such as poly urethane and poly propylene chips required by footwear and leather industries to thrive.

According to them, there are few petrochemical firms in Nigeria with minimal capacity to meet local demand.

The National Coordinator for Made-in-Nigeria Shoe Expo, Mr. Emmanuel Ugbodaga, appealed to the government, particularly the National Orientation Agency (NOA), to address the consumption complex Nigerians display in their choice of foreign labels over local ones.

He said: “Even when we produce high quality shoes at affordable prices, Nigerians still believe that foreign ones are superior. This mentality requires a re-orientation of the mind-set of Nigerians by the government.’’

The Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Ambassador Ayoola Olukanni, described the footwear and leather sector as promising, stating that NACCIMA is committed to supporting the sector.

“We are working on modalities for access to finance to help grow the capacity of micro-enterprises in the sector,” Olukanni said.

The co-Chief Executive Officer, Tecnfilm SPA, one of Italy’s largest manufacturers of raw materials for the production of soles, who was at the   at the fair, Roberto Cardinalli, said he was delighted to be in the country for the first time.

He added that his firm was ready to partner Nigerian firms to source quality and affordable raw materials for the production of footwear soles. The expo offered free master classes to help improve the skills-set of artisans.

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