I’m a doctor in my country. Everyone knows me well. If you look me up and down, you will know it is true. Standard living, standard living. (song)
Almost every adult Nigerian is familiar with the aforementioned song (the end is often sung as “sandalili sandalili”), it’s a popular song a lot of us grew up singing. And although the profession mentioned in the song is often interchanged with other popular professions, the doctor profession is the most prominent of all. These professions typically use to define ‘standard living’, so young people often aspired to them. But not so much anymore. It’s why a medical student can choose to be a shoemaker or even consider quitting school to focus on business.
Goodness Adeosun, a 400 level student of Dental Surgery at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, is the creative director of Gudie, a fast-rising handmade footwear brand in Ibadan, Nigeria. In this interview with Ventures Africa, Adeosun takes us on a journey of how what she started as a hobby transformed into a business entity and shares her prospects for the future.
Seeing how Medicine and shoemaking are worlds apart, I am inquisitive about what made you choose the sciences; passion or parental influence?
To be specific, it was parental influence. But I don’t regret it because I had nothing in mind to do. I was very versatile growing up so I was finding it difficult to decide on what I wanted to do. I had a passion for everything. I was advised to go into catering, food technology, and then art. We kept going around in circles. When it was time to take JAMB, I still did not know what I wanted to do but went with Dental Surgery.
How did you get into shoemaking and when did you learn the craft?
After my Cambridge A levels in 2016, my mum told me that my cousins abroad were coming over to Nigeria. I texted them to get something for me when coming and I thought it’d be good to return the favour. I wanted to get them something handmade, so I thought of crocheting shoes.
I didn’t know how to crotchet at the time, but I had always been fascinated with crocheting so I decided to give it a go. I got the materials to crotchet for N350 and spent about three days trying to crochet the shoes. I had a design in mind and I knew what I wanted but I didn’t get it at the first, second, third, and fourth attempt. However, as time went on, I got more insight into what I was doing.
When I was done, I needed a shoemaker to help me make it into a whole shoe. The shoemaker I approached insisted I do it myself. He told me what to get and guided me through the process. The finished product was good and people appreciated it.
So when did you start selling these shoes?
Unfortunately, that year my cousins did not come to Nigeria. But I made a lot of shoes for myself and went to school (University of Ibadan) with them and people loved them. They sold for N1500. I was making gladiator designs at the time and university students loved it. They became my target audience. I made a lot of sales.
Dental Surgery is a tough course to study and you seem to get a lot of business orders. How do you balance studying and business?
I don’t know. But I must say it is overwhelming juggling school and business. I have to attend classes, I have to read. I can’t employ just anyone to manage my social media accounts. How do I get them to advertise online the way I do or communicate with my clients the way I do? I can’t just get anyone and train them within weeks, it doesn’t work that way, it’s not that easy. These thoughts are overwhelming.
Yes, I have people working for me but if you are not there, they won’t do things the way you’d like them to, especially if they don’t have the same goal as you. Even when I think about involving my family members, they may also not have that same goal as me.
It is a terrible phase for me; sometimes, I get calls from the shop when I have classes to attend, “We lack so and so material”, and I would have to transfer money to them to get the material or contact a supplier. Other times, I have to call customers to be sure they have received their orders. Sometimes, I think of quitting school to focus on business.
What is the price range of your footwears and what is profit like?
In the next two months, I should be going into luxury branding. I need to bump up everything. Right now, I don’t have anything less than N10,000 for female footwear and nothing less than N17,000 for male footwear. For now, the price range of my shoes is between N10,000 to N40,000. The ROI on shoemaking is very nice. It is a very profitable business.
How much do you pay your workers?
It depends on several factors. I pay based on the amount of work and skill applied by each person. But generally, no one earns less than N50,000. I am only just starting. I don’t have access to investments or investors yet, so I pay from my savings and profit. My workers understand why they can’t earn past a certain amount until things get better.
What has the support been like from your family?
Initially, they were not supportive, which is understandable. Juggling medical school and business is tough and they were concerned about that. They did not want to see me fail. However, as time passed, they became supportive. Sometimes, I get financial support from them when business is slow.
What are some of the challenges you face in this business?
Being a shoemaker in Nigeria is challenging. I have to import certain materials and equipment that I can’t find here in Nigeria and the exchange rate is so high. I am trying to build a very high production standard. I don’t want to do what regular shoemakers in this country do. I look up to shoemakers and shoemaking brands in countries like Italy.
Do you ever intend to venture into other clothing or fashion items? What are your plans for Gudie design?
I am going to launch the luxury brand with my bag collection. During the lockdown, I worked on other fashion items like clothing, bags, and wallets. I was also working on some designs during this period. I’m choosing to rebrand Gudie as a luxury brand because I spend a lot of time crocheting and Nigerians don’t seem to appreciate it enough. I could spend an entire day on one design and Nigerians want to pay two to three thousand for it. I feel the only way to get good profit from my crochet designs is to sell them to people outside the country or to upper class and upper-middle class Nigerians.
So how soon should we be expecting these products?
Not until my goods arrive in Nigeria. I go for premium leather, which is the most expensive. And I get it from Italy. Meanwhile, I am drafting my designs and working on my patterns. All my crochet designs will become luxury.
Since I started the crochet designs, I have never gotten any complaints from customers about wear and tear because I make use of nylon crochet which is very gum-friendly.
Where do you see Gudie in a few years?
Probably a household name in Nigeria. It would be too early to say I look up to luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, and all but I am trying to bring a luxury brand out of Nigeria.
A lot of times when I post my products on e-commerce sites or stores in the US, I often don’t want people to know they are made in Nigeria because I think they’d feel they are substandard. I need to win their audience and trust.
But don’t you think it’s high time you changed the narrative? And if you don’t want your brand to be ascribed to Nigeria, then where?
Just Africa. They don’t have to know it’s a Nigerian brand initially. Many people hear Nigeria and begin to doubt or question the quality. When I succeed in getting people’s reviews and trust, then I’ll let them know it’s a Nigerian brand, but for now, let me be silent. I want them to be surprised. I love and wish the best for my country.
Written by Adekunle Agbetiloye