In a world where men have almost dominated the various businesses around, it is sometimes interesting finding some women try to compete or shoe that what the men are doing that looks difficult, they as women can also dabble into it and make heads way.
Nigeria for example, there are some women who are now mechanics, Barber, unisex fashion designers, technicians and lots of other men oriented ventures and they have been doing fine.
Recently, Nigeriafilms.com met with a pretty University graduate lady, Michelle Ekure, all thanks to comedian, Ali Baba, who unveiled her to the world on the amount of time she commits into a man’s oriented business of shoe making and looking at her styles of shoes, one is left to wonder why such a brilliant graduate of International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of Benin, will dump her certificate for such job.
Read excerpts below;
Can you let us into your world and background?
My name is Michelle Ekure, I’m from Delta state, Eku to be precise and the last of Eight children. I read International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of Benin.
With your B.SC, what prompted into going to shoe making when there are other nice jobs out there for a pretty lady like you?
I scouted for jobs and I did that for a year or so. After the graduation, I was busy looking for the United Nations job and foreign affairs, Embassy and British counsel but, you know promises here and there and there was a time I checked my sent mails and I saw that I have sent like 65 messages to different organizations in Nigeria and none of them has called me for interview, so there I had to pray and ask God to direct me and tell me what to do because I was so confused almost frustrated. I love shoes but I never knew that I was going to be a shoe maker though because all my mind was that I’m going to be a diplomat and this career woman, an office lady but not what I’m doing right now.
So after searching and no job, how did shoe making then came into play?
I prayed about it and the inspiration actually came from God and the direction. Before then, I was working somewhere in Lagos and that was what brought me to Lagos but the person I was working for as a marketer was not paying regularly and the debts was too much and the pay was really annoying because it was very little and he was owing me for like three months so I decided to just relax because the job wasn’t fun for me and I wasn’t getting paid at the right time. So, there is this company in Lagos, they make shoes and sandals so I will buy from them and sell but one day I asked them if they could make for me with my own label and they said yes, they do it, so they started and produced my first set of shoes. So while I was selling that, a friend of mine told me that am I wasting money because they were really billing me high and my friend had to introduce me to someone that makes shoes and after the introduction, I just watched the guy at his workshop making the shoes and I was so fascinated and excited the way he was cutting and lacing the shoes it was just so interesting so I asked him if he could teach me, he said no that the work is not for Ajebutter (people born with silver spoon) and I told him that I want to learn and I will pay but he said no that it is not about the money that I will not be able to do it but I told him to try me but he insisted on not teaching but after begging, he accepted and was giving me the difficult part of shoe making so that I will run away but the more he gives me those jobs, the more I do it well and he was just amazed that and that was when he accepted to really teach me and that was how I started.
Now making your own shoes, how has the patronage been like knowing that some Nigerians don’t like made in Nigeria products like shoes?
Well, sometimes it’s not easy because you have a lot of talking to do and most people because of our big brothers, Aba people, the impression they’ve given to Nigerians so people just think and feel that anything that has to do with made in Nigeria is inferior but the truth is that same Aba, we have good and fantastic shoe makers and for you to sell your shoes to people, you have to impress them with your work especially the finishing. For mine, I look at Italian shoes. I want to know why Italian shoes are that expensive and their tricks, so because of that drive, it will make you to do your work more but the truth is trying to convince Nigerians to buy their own product is difficult. We have to change our mindset to enable our work come out excellent and I have been doing this job for five years.
What inspires your style of shoes?
I look at magazines a lot and I love guys that have good dress sense. I look at guys a lot and if you are a fashionista, you will kill me because I look at what you wear, I look at those celebrities outside Nigeria what they wear and I watch shoe makers outside Nigeria, their style , it’s fascinating to see how people could come out with great designs. Styles can come from anywhere, sometimes I can just be looking at your bag and something can just come into my head. I can look at someone’s face and one design will just pop up from the shape of your head.
Enjoying the dividend of being a CEO, how does your lover cope, is he proud of your job?
Well, I’m not really in a relationship but funny enough, I don’t really get that attitude from guys that I ‘m a shoe maker no. I have always met guys that are so impressed in me making shoes. They can kill anything just to have me by their side. It’s something that is just intriguing and always amazed seeing me making shoes and I major in male shoes.
Have you ever made shoe for your guy as a birthday gift?
Like I said I’m not in a relationship, so whosoever likes me should know that I make more money from the person. Of course you have to buy my shoes now, are they the ones that started the business with me? Even when I started making shoes, the interesting part of it is that my mum she was even buying it. She will pay me to make shoe for her how much more a stranger becoming my friend, you have to pay first, you have to be loyal first then we will consider should I make shoe for this person but there are naturally some people that I just make shoe for if I know there is something in it for me like my friend, Ali Baba, because I know there is a blessing attach to it.
Government have been shouting and advising Nigerians to buy made in Nigeria products, do you think that these products can compete with the once imported considering the quality of material used?
Yes it can. The truth is the challenges we are facing today is importation. The government stopped a lot of importation and there is no replacement for it so I believe that if you are telling me not pass this certain road, you should create an alternative for me. A lot of our equipment they bring it from other countries as we don’t produce those things yet they are stopping the importation of those things that will make our work easier. Like leather, last year we complained that the price was high but this year it is now tripled so it is even hard for us to sell. When you tell someone that a pair of shoe is N20-30 thousand, they will scream and say why should I buy Nigerian shoe for N20 thousand. I can boldly say that my shoes can compete with lots of foreign shoes. I know about great shoe makers in Nigeria and I have lots of friends that their shoes can compete with other countries. I hardly do repairs of shoes because you are buying a foreign shoe for N40-50 thousand and the sole of the shoe you want to change it and they will tell you please be careful I don’t want anything to happen to the leather, it’s very expensive, I will now tell them why don’t you take this shoe to the manufacturer ‘so I am good at repairing foreign shoes and I’m not good for you to wear my own shoes’ because it can be annoying sometimes. I wear foreign shoes sometimes, I can easily destroy a foreign shoe but if I give you my shoes for you to destroy to pull the sole from the leather, I can bet you, you will stay there for like five hours and you will get tired of it because our gum is different from their kind of gum because of their climate.
If you get an office job today worth between N100-N200 thousand per month maybe in an Oil company, will you leave your shoe business for such job?
I will never work for such amount when I know I can make such amount within a week. But if I’m offered like a million Naira, then I might want to consider such offer.