Innovation and Design: Nigerian Shoemaker tells Her Story
I started my business with about 7000 Naira and with the support of my former colleagues at Nokia Nigeria. They supported me by purchasing my products. Their support means so much to me, it kept me going through tough times, I am forever grateful to them.
How did you come up with the name of your business?
The short version of the story is that I conducted a survey at my former workplace (Nokia Nigeria) and someone suggested that I use my name. The long version is that in 2005, my company name was, ‘Idees Creations,’ then in 2008, I changed it to ‘Plush Accessories.’ The name changed several times because I never really felt connected to those names. I felt they were plain, too simply, and dormant just like the business was for several years until 2012 when I decided to revive it.
At my former place of work, I conducted a survey to see if my male colleagues would wear a shoe brand named ‘Plush.’ They all said NO! Why? Because they felt the name was ‘too girly.’ After the survey, I began to research appropriate names for my company until a colleague suggested that I use my own name. I said, “No way.” However, I decided to give it a try and came up with several versions of my name until I came up with ‘Idong Harrie’ and the name just felt right. Many people call me that now, I think I have done a wonderful job with my brand. People even think that ‘Harrie’ is my last name.
What inspired you to start this business?
My inspiration so far has been GOD! Who else? I believe God gave me the idea.
The idea to make my own shoes began in 2005. Someone gave my mother beaded slippers as a gift and something within me said, “Idong, you can make this slippers too!” Feeling very inspired, I went to Tejuosho market (which no longer exists), bought the materials, and to my surprise everything that I needed became available. I came home, researched how the upper part of the beaded slippers was made and copied it. Since then, I joined the footwear industry and started my business. Secondly, my customers! My first customers were my former colleagues at Nokia Nigeria. They supported me immensely by buying my products. Their support, kept me motivated. Everything about starting my business was born from their support and words of advice. I consider my colleagues at Nokia Nigeria my family.
Who is your target market?
Anyone who loves beautiful slippers.
How have you financed the idea?
In 2008, I started this business with the 7000 Naira my father gave me as pocket money. I used the funds to buy leather. I also received extensive support from my older brother who helped me to purchase a sewing machine. Over time, I have invested any money made back into the business. I put in about 70 percent of my salary from my job at Nokia into growing it. I also have wonderful friends who have loaned me money. Recently, I won competitive grants from companies such as Etisalat and Shell and the available funds has had an incredible impact on my business.
What is your competitive edge?
When I started my business, I could not identify my competitive edge and I suffered greatly for this. My product was lost in the marketplace and I had not yet learned the business side of my idea. I felt lost in the crowd. But now, I can identify my competitive edge. (1) we are affordable, (2) the customer experience, (3) we only use genuine leather materials, (4) our designs are unique, and (5) have you seen the way we package our slippers? Having gone through business school, I realize that these factors are my competitive edge and I work hard to retain them.
What is the long-term for your business?
My long-term plan is to be the preferred indigenous footwear and accessory making company in Nigeria with branches nationwide and throughout Africa. I want to have stores in high traffic malls around Nigeria and my dream is that my footwear brand will be among the top 3 in Nigeria owned by a Nigerian.
What challenges do you face?
I face several challenges. Asides the lack of basic amenities and infrastructural challenges that are needed to enhance productivity in a business, I need to develop my marketing strategy, brand awareness/recognition and increase production capacity.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
- Be resilient, it is not easy to run a business in Nigeria – keep pushing, things will shape up in time.
- Have a good and supportive network,
- Improve and develop yourself,
- Have discipline especially in the area of your personal and business finances.
What key things do startup entrepreneurs need to know?
- Do not be afraid to share your ideas with people.
- Take advice, however, be very selective of the kinds of people you take them from and share them with.
- Get a mentor, someone you would be accountable to and who would put you in check.
- Always invest back into the business. Don’t spend your hard work on frivolous items.
- Research, expand your mind, and seek more knowledge.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Sometimes, money is not the major reason. My advice is to start small with what you have and then reinvest the money back into the business. With steady cash flow, the business will grow.
How many jobs have you created so far?
9 jobs (4 full-time positions, 5 Interns)
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
Technology is responsible for the growth of my business. I have an e-commerce website where customers can view products and make payments online. We send conformation emails, receipts, invoices, and pictures to our customers using a software platform. This makes it easy, cost-effective, and orderly. In addition, social media has been influential and impactful to our bottom line. Through various social media platforms, customers get to learn about our products and what we do.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
First, let us start by enlightening the minds of the people and letting them know that they can become part of the innovation ecosystem. Secondly, giving people the confidence and helping them to understand and appreciate the ideas that come out of their minds. Lastly, creating an environment whereby these ideas can be harnessed. It could be in terms of space, ambiance, tools, or resources. It is powerful and great to see what companies like Idea Hub and the Co-Creation hub are doing in Nigeria but unfortunately, available hubs are restricted to the ICT industry. Such spaces for other industries could be established too.
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