Adebayo Apapa is creative and daring. He left a well paid job to follow his passion – making shoes. The 25-year-old graduate of Economics from Babcock University is also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management and Planning.
He has a certificate in Electronic Data Management, but he had made shoes for the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, among many eminent personalities in the country. In this interview with RONKE KEHINDE, he talks about his passion, how he made his first shoe for himself when he had none, and how Banks as well as poor power supply are turning dreams into nightmares for young entrepreneurs.
WHY are you into shoe-making?
I am more inclined to the vocational side of life. I love bringing out new imaginations, new ideas and something that can leave an indelible memory in the minds of people. I am a people’s person. I love making everyone comfortable and happy. I had actually worked in a couple of places while I was doing my business part- time. I recently resigned from the job I was doing because I saw my passion more in making shoes. I realized that if I give it my full attention, I will break grounds.
What motivated you to start making shoes?
I started way back in my university days. I had flair for making shoes and then I decided to make one for myself. When I wore it in school, everyone admired it and said it was really nice and creative. Immediately, a number of people asked me to make shoes for them. So, that was how I started.
Interestingly, I personally did not have a pair of shoes at that time and I wanted to make one that would suit my personality. Also, I was not looking for a regular, ready-made pair of shoes; so, I approached a shoe-maker and shared my idea with him. So, he put me through and the end product was very wonderful. I started getting orders from that moment and that was how the business started to the glory of God.
How long have you been making shoes and what’s the meaning of your label, BelRaf?
I have been making shoes for about six years now. BelRaf is the combination of my father’s name, Belawu, and my mother’s name, Rafiat.
Who are your role models, locally and internationally?
I don’t have any international role model. The people I admire locally are Ouch, T.T Dalk and a couple of them. I look at their works and I admire them.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
My dream is that everyone should be desirous of having BelRaf-made shoes, just as everyone likes to have international designer wears. My prices are affordable. Once you think of getting a pair of shoes for any occasion or for your day-to-day activities, then, you should think of BelRaf.
Who are your target audience?
I target everybody. I make shoes for children, teenagers, adults, both male and female. I just did the back- to- school shoes for children and university students. I make female and male sandals, slippers and shoes. Apart from this, I make Ankara shoes and purses; I also belts and fashion shoes for fashion shows.
What kind of materials do you use?
I use Suede, leather, local Ankara fabric, hides and skin; in fact, I use a lot of materials. I try to make something out of nothing. I could carve out a pair of shoes from paper.
How durable are your designs?
The life span of any pair of shoes is dependent on the person wearing it. If you wear a BelRaf shoe everyday, you can use it for a couple of years. It could last you more than six years. I think that is why customers are inclined to me. I got a call from a banker in Abuja sometimes in August and he told me he had been wearing my shoes since January 2011. So, he asked me to make another two pairs of shoes for him. I felt great by his comment.
Have you been involved in any fashion show?
Yes, I have partaken in a couple of shows like the Swave Fashion Show, Babcock University’s Students Fashion Show and Art in 3D at Lacapine Tropicana. I am still looking forward to partaking in London Fashion Show and so many other international fashion shows.
Apart from shoes, what else do you do?
I also do clothing attire, mostly African attires with African materials and belts.
Could you mention some of your clients?
I have made shoes for the Oba of Lagos, HRM Oba Rilwan Akinolu, and his children; The Onikoyi of Ikoyi and a couple of big wigs in the PDP. I have made shoes for a couple of top officials of Guiness Plc during its 50th anniversary. I really take everyone as notable because I am not in the habit of discriminating and segregating, as long as you can afford my shoes.
What are your challenging moments?
The unstable power supply has its way of delaying production. Another challenge is lack of available funds to expand because banks don’t want to offer loan facility to budding entrepreneurs.