‘As a female entrepreneur, it is important to surround yourself with the right company’
Kene Rapu is the founder and owner of the footwear brand, Kene Rapu in Lagos. Trained as a Lawyer, she left the law to follow her passion, describing it as something she ‘stumbled into’. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about her journey, her struggle as a woman in business and her plans for the future.
Tell us about yourself and your professional background I’m the founder/CEO of the eponymous footwear brand Kene Rapu. I have a law degree from the University of Bristol, UK; and a Masters in Fashion Entrepreneurship from the London College of Fashion, UK. I went into entrepreneurship upon graduation from Law School, and the rest as they say is history. Six years down the line, I can boldly say Kene Rapu is the No.1 Nigerian footwear brand, championing local production of durable, comfortable and stylish footwear for men and women.
When did you make the decision to venture into this field?
I started this journey in 2011. It did not start as an active decision; but something I stumbled into, when I discovered that there was a gap in the market for this and thus decided to seize the opportunity.
How did you raise capital to start out?
I did not raise capital to start. A myth about business is that you need capital to start, and this myth holds many potential entrepreneurs from taking the step of faith. I outsourced production for the first five years of running my business. This means, I had independent craftsmen I worked closely with, who with their own infrastructure, produced the slippers to my standards and specifications, and were paid per slipper, a cost that was covered in the retail price of the slippers. With little or no business overheads, outsourced production and a reasonable profit margin, we were able to bootstrap our way through the first few years, and save up capital. I worked from home for the first couple of years, doing everything and anything required to get my business off the ground. I remember desperately needing a website and my only option was to build one myself. I did some research and found that Google at the time had free seminars to teach entrepreneurs how to build websites. I went to City Hall, a clueless young lady, sat there for hours, and after that, took about two months to complete my first website. It was very basic, but did the job. When you do not have capital, you get creative. You use the tools around you and make them work to your advantage. My business has grown organically, and for me that is a testament, that willpower and hard work can get you far, until you absolutely need funds. Since launching in 2011, I got my first injection of funds in 2015 to set up a small store, and after that in 2017, six years later, to set up my factory. I have gotten seed funding from the private sector, for example from the Tony Elumelu Foundation. I was one of the 1000 African Entrepreneurs chosen in 2016, whose idea could “Change Africa”. I have also been able to raise some funds from the first port of call- family and friends.
What is the worst moment you have faced business-wise, what are the challenges you face and how are you overcoming them?
I have had many “worst” moments, but I thank God, none has been able to keep me down. Any businessperson can tell you that running a business is hard work. The odds are against us; more businesses are expected to fail than they are to succeed. Furthermore, running a business in Nigeria is particularly tough. From zero power supply, to dearth in skilled manpower, lack of consistency in production, to the costs and scarcity of materials, the list is endless. Moreover, as a female in business, sometimes there are unnecessary issues you have to deal with, that should not be the case. During my hunt for a property for my factory, I met a man who made it clear that he would never rent his property out to women. Nonetheless, challenges make you stronger, and when you jump past hurdles, it is a testament that indeed you are a survivor.
What has been the highlight for you so far?
I get the most joy when people come up to me and tell me how inspired they are by how far we have come, how many Kene Rapu slippers they own, how much they love our products and appreciate the quality; and how they cannot believe they are made in Nigeria. This gladdens my heart, because it shows us that the skill and attention to detail put into our production, and the decision to re-pioneer local manufacturing is worthwhile and appreciated. The support has been immense over the years, and I thank everyone who has given us a chance to prove that made in Nigeria does work.
What makes you different from other local footwear brands?
We are different because we are who we are. It’s like saying what makes you different from the person next to you. Your journey, your story, your experiences make you different, and that is your super power.
What do you like most about being a business owner?
Being able to impact the lives of other people, as an employer of labour is gratifying. I have a great staff at the moment and I am thankful to God for them. Also, being able to do things on my own timing definitely has its benefits.
Would you say you have achieved your set out goals businesswise?
I heard a wise and inspiring woman speak recently, and she mentioned how ladies especially, find it hard to celebrate their achievements, but instead are always on to the next thing. Having been that person, I’m now learning to celebrate milestones, both small and big, and realise that progress is being made. So I would say yes, setting up my factory this year, was definitely a goal smashed, and I am thankful.
In your opinion, do you think enough women are going down the entrepreneurial path and how easy is it for women to start up a business?
Yes, I know a good number of ladies involved in business, more now than when I started, and it is inspiring. It is certainly not easy for women in start-up businesses, but I believe surrounding yourself with the right company is helpful. I have female friends in business, and we spend time discussing how to resolve our common challenges. Having strong ladies in your corner certainly makes the journey easier.
In your opinion, do you think the present clime and policies is conducive for SMEs and start-ups?
I think there is an increasing support for SME’s from both the private and public sector, as of recent, however, there is still a lot left to be desired.
Who do you look up to and what keeps you going?
I don’t run my business with the mindset that it’s my business; I run it as a custodian of something handed to me by God. I put everything, every decision in His hands, and when you leave things in Gods hands, you see His hand in everything. I also have a strong support system, my parents are my biggest support and role models, without them pushing my siblings and I to be more, to do more, to walk in purpose and fulfill our destinies, we would not be were we are today. I also have a lot of support from extended family members, mentors and inspiring friends.
What would you tell anyone that intends going down this path?
Go for it. The road is not easy, in fact it is extremely difficult, but it is certainly gratifying when you begin to break through. It is humbling to know that something I started six years ago, as a clueless fresh graduate, has morphed into a business that employs people, exports to other nations and plays a role in promoting the local industry.
Where do you see yourself personally and professionally in the next couple years?
In the next few years, in my professional capacity, it would be running a business, which operates on a global scale. In my personal capacity, a woman walking in God’s purpose in every sphere of her personal life.
QUOTE: I outsourced production for the first five years of running my business. I had independent craftsmen I worked closely with, who with their own infrastructure, produced the slippers to my standards and specifications, and were paid per slipper, a cost that was covered in the retail price of the slippers