Seyi Agboola is the young man behind the rising footwear line, Itele Footwear and in this interview, he narrates how the dream began at just age 10.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Agboola Seyi, founder and creative head of itele footwear. A shoemaker and fashion entrepreneur of which I have bagged multiple awards. I founded itele footwear in 2009, so as to meet ample demands for classic handmade shoes in Nigeria. Itele specializes in premium footwear for those who appreciate modern and functional apparel. I have being running this business for 11 years now and my team and I, looking at the future, are working tirelessly to put our organization on global scene.
How did you discover your passion for shoemaking?
It started while I was young age 9/10 thereabouts. l’m quite a creative person so I played around old footwear in the house, recreating them and making new design out of them. Then I started making new ones from scratch when I was secondary school for myself, my brother and my friends. When we got demands from more friends then I realized this could be the shot to make money and indeed it was.
What challenges did you face?
Basically they are external factors which we had no control over, and they are challenges every entrepreneur in Nigeria is still facing. The poor state of infrastructure, someone living in the developed countries of Europe or America might be surprised, but the lack of good infrastructural facilities is a serious problem affecting the development of businesses in Nigeria. The state of infrastructure in Nigeria is just destitute. The unstable power supply forces you to spend more than necessary on generators and fuel. We hardly get up to 3hrs of electricity in a day. We could go weeks without electricity sometimes. The insufficient supply of electricity has negatively affected many businesses. Unstable Nigerian economy and politics is another serious challenge for entrepreneurs. It is without doubt that all the socio-economic problems and political instability don’t help in the successful development of businesses.
What, in your opinion, do shoes signify for a fashionable person?
Although shoes aren’t usually the first thing that others judge about you, it is at the top of the list of things that can reveal much about who you are. In my opinion shoes are the crown to any outfit you put on, no matter how well dressed you are if your shoe is not fitting the outfit or maybe it’s not looking good enough, instantly you outfit will loose the respect it could have had and obviously it will be all on you. So for any fashionable individual, shoes signify status, Class and in a way command respect. Shoes signify strength, Christian Louboutin once said Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally. When you wear a right pair of shoe, you get the good feeling, being in charge of your own life. We all know the story of Cinderella how a pair of shoe can change your life and that is true.
You also make other fashion accessories?
Yes, we realized there is a lot to do with leather in the fashion industry do we decided to diversify into other leather products such as belts, wallets and bags and the way people accepted those products is so amazing and for that’s we are grateful. Later in the future there are still some other products we will introduce but one step at a time.
Do you think Nigerian fashion can debut on world scene?
Yes, I believe strongly if we do what’s needed to be done. Within a decade, Nigeria’s fashion industry has grown in size and sophistication, attracting global attention. Despite the fact that we growing, the Africa’s share in the global fashion industry is less than 1% . This tells us that there is a lot of work to do to debut the world scene otherwise we will just remain inspiration to international brands and they create what we should be creating.
Many entertainment celebrities have rocked your designs. What has the feedback been like?
Very encouraging and it makes us want to do more. Sometimes their facial expressions give me joy because we beat their expectations for a typical Naija brand. Quite a large number of them don’t have trust in made-in-Nigeria products especially in the fashion space. But we fashion entrepreneurs are changing the narrative now.
Where do you think you can take your locally made shoes to on the African/world stage?
First there is no limit to where we can take this to, As much as we have our eyes on global scene, we should also be aware that there will always be room for improvement. We will go as far as time and space permit.
You are presently based in Ibadan, what are your plans for expansion?
Number on our list for expansion is to increase production capacity once that is done we start having more walk-in stores in urban areas across the nation. Then we move to Opening international stores
How can investors/government help to promote entrepreneurs?
The government should put proper infrastructure in place. Stable electricity supply, Good roads, and business-friendly policies. This country is blessed with vibrant entrepreneurs that can really boost our economy in a short space of time if all these are in place. Investors should go beyond expectations of profits and shares only, they should be part of their investments seeing to it that the entrepreneurs also become successful by giving them adequate support.
What other avenues do you think youths can explore in entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
Entrepreneurship is really about solving problems and monetizing the solution. The good thing is Nigeria is full of problems and it’s an opportunity, avenues that youth can explore are numerous. I.T sector, Agriculture, real estate and many more.
What would you have been if not a fashion entrepreneur?
I will probably be an artist, I have done music before and I did well, shoemaking should have been the side-hustle but eventually turned me to a fashion entrepreneur.
What other projects are you involved in?
I have another fashion brand apart from itele footwear that specializes in real gemstones bracelets and I also do branding consultation for SMEs.