Chidinma Emodi Chukwuemeka is the Co-founder of The Footwear Academy; a footwear hub that enables young people to produce export-standard footwear products through training, access to quality and affordable raw materials, and job-matching opportunities.
How She Started
Surprisingly, Chidinma’s background is not in shoemaking or fashion.
She has a degree in Zoology from the University of Nigeria. So afterward, she did her one-year NYSC in Akwa Ibom in 2013 and immediately after, got a job in a telecommunications firm, where she worked in the Marketing department. So she started out in marketing and brand building career in the telecommunications industry.
After 2 years, she moved up to a tech company as a digital marketing officer and moved to a research company as head of operations and business development, so she was more into marketing, business development, and branding than shoemaking.
She got introduced to shoemaking by her husband; he wanted to start out a shoe company because he had an interest in it. She had a good interest in marketing, so they put their heads together and started out The Footwear Academy. They started out in July 2017.
Obstacles and Challenges Faced
The apprentice system was a problem because when they started, they thought it would be easy to get some of the existing shoemakers that had spent years in the industry to come in and teach the younger generations, but that didn’t happen, because a lot of the existing shoemakers were really bad shoemakers.
That was a challenge because they started out thinking their business model will be to get trainers, experienced shoemakers to come and train younger people, but that didn’t work out because getting the older generation to come and train was an issue.
They couldn’t understand the dream or vision that they had for the business and that was also an issue, so Chidinma and her husband (Co-founder) had to take it upon ourselves to travel to Italy to learn shoemaking so they could start training people themselves.
Funding was once an issue but they won a couple of grants and that helped as well and then they won the Proudly Made in Aba Hackathon, where they were given $50,000 to develop the footwear industry in Aba, so they moved from Lagos to Aba in 2018 but moved fully in 2019.
Moving from Lagos to Abia state was also another big challenge because, in Lagos, there were people with disposable income that could afford the training at N65,000, but when they moved to Aba, they had to reduce the training cost to N35,000.
They weren’t getting any student for almost a year. But, it was an opportunity to reach out to the government and organizations like the PIND Foundation which they are currently working with to empower those who have an interest in shoemaking but can’t afford the training fee. That’s what is currently happening right now.
Her Word of Advice to New and Aspiring Entrepreneurs
If you are going to build something that is going to last, you have to build slowly, and deeply.
Think about a tree, you have to plant it, water it, keep showing it love, keep being consistent, so you have to know that a tree won’t just spring out in 2 or 3 days or 1 year, some trees will take time to build and spread out its roots underneath the soil, and then start growing, and this is the same for businesses.
A lot of young people are not interested in actually building businesses that are long-lasting; they are not really solving problems anymore.
A lot of people are not thinking about the most basic problems in Nigeria, they are not thinking about solving the things that really exist for the people around them. Young people should look within and think about local problems that they could solve within their capacity, and then grow from there.
You can connect with Chidinma on Linkedin.
Learn more about The Footwear Academy on their website.