“Follow your dreams with courage, imagination and the ability to attract and work with the best minds.”
Niyi Omodara, a young entrepreneur and member of the YALI Network, is the founder, designer and principal craftsman of Extra Valuable Apparel (EVA), a footwear company in Akure, Nigeria. He is a self-taught craftsman who started making slippers for his family in the early 1990s. Omodara is now producing “bespoke” shoes, customized for a client and made to order. His vision for EVA is to “manufacture world-class leather products through superior designs and quality materials.”
Could you describe your business to the YALI Network?
Omodara: EVA shoes are distinct because they are comfy, trendy and neater than all other Nigerian handmade shoes. I both design and create shoes for individual customers. Our products are sold largely by word-of-mouth, one customer to the next, through social media and wherever I can find customers. Each month we produce in the range of 35-50 pairs of customized shoes. That comes to about 450-480 pairs per year.
How many people do you employ?
Omodara: Presently, I have two staff members and two trainees. One person assists me in shoe production alongside the trainees, while the second staff person works mainly on the branding, marketing and delivery of orders to our customers.
We are working hard to get more motivated [employees] in the production section. Finding skilled and dedicated workers is hard, but we are optimistic.
What are your goals for this business?
Omodara: I’m constantly updating my business plan, but these are my overall goals:
To become Nigeria’s hallmark for locally made products, especially in the leather manufacturing industry. I hope EVA can achieve this with an individualistic approach to customer satisfaction and service and by using the highest-quality materials.
To be a global player in shoe manufacturing from Africa by the year 2035. To achieve that, it becomes more obvious by the day that we will have to partner with international shoe-manufacturing factories to scale up production significantly. At that level, my role will largely be design, quality assurance, general supervision and marketing.
To continuously attract, train and retain the best minds and hands in order to fulfill the earlier mentioned goals.
What advice do you give to others hoping to start a small business?
Omodara: Follow your dreams with courage, imagination and the ability to attract and work with the best minds. Focus intently on your goals. Loyalty, commitment and passion for the job are critical virtues, technical skills apart.
Are there any special obstacles for entrepreneurs and small-business persons in Nigeria?
Omodara: Yes, there are plenty of them:
1) The lack of a consistent, reliable energy supply is a big one in Nigeria. I generate my own power to run the factory half of the time. That required an initial investment of almost $1,000, and about $100 per month to maintain gasoline and service.
2) Access to investment capital is difficult when interest rates on bank loans run up to double figures. I started in 2011 with about $105 in capital that I drew from savings.
3) Numbers of skilled workers are insufficient due to a general preference among young people for white-collar jobs rather than positions requiring skilled labour. The lack of skilled workers becomes a barrier to increased production for EVA.
Please briefly describe EVA’s supply chain. Are raw materials locally sourced or imported?
Omodara: We buy all our raw materials in Nigeria. On the sales end, customers buy directly from us. We have contacted some of the biggest online stores in Nigeria to discuss making EVA products available, but no reply yet.
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