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Nigeria designers ready to take on foreign markets

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Some creative and savvy Nigerians that are into a small-scale production of well-designed shoes, bags, belts and other fashion accessories for the home and West African markets are pushing the frontier and taking their business to the next level.

Aside from flooding the domestic market with an array of products, which come in diverse sizes, designs and prices, the idea now is to also explore European and American markets.

To achieve this, the strategy adopted is to export the products made mainly from African textiles and flora and fauna motifs to their Nigerian clients and other Africans, who are based in Europe and America.

And because some Europeans love African textiles and designs, these producers are daily conquering new grounds and gaining new customers, including non-Africans abroad. Through this venture, they are smiling to the bank, raking in hard currencies and also providing jobs for others. And they are daily coming up with more captivating designs.

Emenike Nwosu, an Aba-based shoe and bag designer, said the shoe industry has gone beyond what it used to be in the 80s and 90s, as local manufacturers have not only improved on their expertise, but have also expanded their markets, thereby attracting traders from different parts of the West African sub-region, especially to Aba Market, where they buy in large quantities to retail in their countries.

He explained that all this has kept them busy, as well as enabled them to hone their skills and remain in business. So, the Nigerian designers’ prowess has so grown that they are now able to design a large variety of shoes, bags, belts and other accessories to complement customers’ attires or for an event. And aside from producing for the general market, customised designs attracts extra charges, which range from N15, 000 to N30,000.

He said: “We use fabrics ranging from leather to ankara, george, lace or any other that a customer requests to make him/her be the cynosure of all eyes at any event.”

On how he gets the inspiration for his attractive designs, he explained that despite relying on individual customers to furnish him with what they want, he also uses foreign fashion magazines, which usually exhibit fantastic designs that meet any client’s taste and desire. He added that ideas got from such catalogues help him to come up with the designs for customised shoes and bags.

“We also improvise by using local fabrics and designs to customers’ specifications, which often result in beautiful and unique designs. It all boils down to one’s creativity, especially when it concerns ladies’ shoes and school scandals,” he said.

Commenting on the sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy, Nwosu said the activities of local shoes and bags designers have a relatively high impact, owing to the fact that the increase in the demand of their products and services in turn enlarges demand for such allied products as leather, adire, ankara, ink and embroidery materials. This brings about benefits to all along the chain.

He disclosed that he has six permanent workers and also engages the services of auxiliary hands, when the workload is much, especially during festive periods or whenever there is a contract and he has to meet up with a deadline.

“I pay my workers between N60, 000 and N80, 000 after paying my rents and settling sundry bills. So, you can imagine the contribution all of us in the industry are making to the nation’s economy and labour market,” he noted.

Corroborating Nwosu’s claims, Tee Williams of Tee Shoe Footwear, said the business is good despite the many challenges they face.

He said: “Some Nigerians abroad send specific bag and shoe designs, including earrings to local designers. We produce these and then send them back to the customers. They do this because they know that Nigerian designers know how to combine colours, produce to specification and come up with wonderful designs. Above all, it is still cheap, when compared to prices in Europe or the United States.”

He listed some of the challenges in the business to include irregular electricity supply and lack of adequate funding, which would further open up the sector. He noted that if all these were handled appropriately, it would help to reduce the unemployment rate, as well as bring in the much-needed foreign exchange to the country.

“Another major challenge is the importation of fairly used shoes, which is draining the nation’s hard-earned foreign exchange. Such shoes and bags, especially from Dubai are cheaper, which is why Nigerians are attracted to them. But in the real sense, they are of low quality and within a period of six months would start peeling or cracking,” he said.

“Dubai products come cheap and have reduced our sales because many Nigerians cannot differentiate between good leather and low quality leather. Dubai shoes and bags are mostly made of synthetic leather, which is the reason they are always gleaming, but within a short time, they begin to peel. This is not so with Nigerian leather or any other leather we use. These last longer than synthetic leather and if well treated, are better in the long term.”

On where designers get their leather and other by-products, Kingsley Emeri of Eme Shoes and Bags, Lagos, explained that Nigeria has one of the best quality leather, though it still has to be treated, so that designers may not need to put in much effort at making it shine.

He said they source leather from Kano, as well as Germany, China and Italy.

Explaining how his products are transported across the border, Emeri said some traders who sell outside the country, and in the West African sub-region, including Cameroun, often place orders, which usually keep him engaged throughout the year.

“They come every two weeks or sometimes a month to pick their orders and return to their countries. One of the advantages of selling to people outside the country is that these buyers are specific, and their demands are most times different from our local ones,” he said.


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