What in the world could have driven a trained microbiologist to become a shoemaker, especially in a country where white-collar jobs are well-sought after? Babajide Ipaye, founder of Keexs designs, today makes some of the coolest Africa-themed casual footwear in the market, after receiving expert training from the renowned SLEM Institute in Netherland. Jide as he is fondly called, shares his inspiration and vision for entrepreneurship with Footprint to Africa.
By Elakeche Abutu
What is your take on the rate of youth unemployment viz-a-viz self-employment opportunities in Nigeria?
The rate of unemployment is a global challenge – According to the 2017 report put together by the International Labour Organisation ILO, the global unemployment rate is expected to rise from 5.7 to 5.8 per cent in 2017 and will continue to increase through 2018, as the pace of labour force growth outstrips job creation.
In Nigeria, youth unemployment stands at about between 13.9 to 25 per cent and this can be attributed to additional factors such as inadequate skills, technical know-how and the economic situation of the nation. The quest for self employment also termed entrepreneurship has become the next best thing to happen to Nigerians especially amongst the millenials. The push for entrepreneurs has opened new frontiers in the economy and according to industry experts, with appropriate structures and processes imbibed by small businesses now, there is hope to reduce the unemployment rate by significant margins since every business that scales has the opportunity to employ at least 3-4 persons.
A lot of young people complain about access to start-up capital, can you share how you overcame this hurdle?
The real barrier to set up any business as I have learnt through the various businesses I have set up is not capital. Rather it is the ability to try to bootstrap, show early stage market opportunity or proving viability of the business idea. Most investors are extremely wary of putting their money into startup because an average of 9 out of 10 businesses usually fails within the first year. It is therefore the responsibility of the founder or idea owner to commit enough time to adequate market research and starting as lean as possible. For me, accessing start up capital was first from my personal savings followed by family and friends then crowdfunding. Asides crowdfunding, I have also applied for business plan competitions and grants that also demanded a level of business readiness.
Have you started producing Keexs sneakers in-country or you still outsource production?
The Keexs sneaker production is currently outsourced and plans are running concurrently towards establishing a factory in Nigeria.
Most local manufacturers don’t like to promote their brands as made-in-Africa, do you think markets reject local products because they are locally made or because of quality issues?
I do not quite agree with that logic because I can say for a fact that the country has begun to embrace locally made goods. The new entrants in manufacturing are ensuring that standards, quality and finishing are not compromised. In the last five years, local manufacturers have doubled even though it comes with a number of challenges that affects the cost of production. We remain hopeful that all stakeholders join forces to create a holistic process to affect the value chain of production.
Majority of your backers on Kickstarter came from outside the continent, what do you think influenced this trend?
The concept of crowdfunding is new to a lot or Nigerian and Africans as a whole and since this trend is already commonplace in Europe and the Americas, it was only natural to get the majority of backers from outside the continent.
You practically shared your innovations and strategic growth plan online, are you not bothered that someone else might copy them and execute before you are ready?
Ideas are a dime a dozen – The difference between Great ideas and Great businesses is execution. It is one thing to copy an idea; it is another thing to see it through. The Keexs Brand is also about sharing our story so that others are inspired to recreate and challenge the status quo.
How did you cope with initial challenges and setbacks if any?
I remember vividly when the vision to start Keexs hit me and I had to sell the idea to friends, family and investors just after my holiday in Paris with the family and then studying footwear design in Netherlands. It entailed crowdfunding to push the initial batch of production, oh my! It was daunting since we had gone public with our initiative but I knew quitting was not an alternative. With the funds sourced and savings, the first batch of production was shipped followed by persuading shop owners to have our pairs on their shelves. This was received with mixed feelings but my team trudged on by marketing the brand at fairs, official launches and events. Lessons are still being learnt as the brand gets bigger.
You are a trained microbiologist, an ICT expert and a shoe manufacturer – what would you venture into next?
Yes, I am all you have mentioned but the one that drives me at the moment is Keexs as I live, breathe and sleep Keexs. This is close to my heart because it is fulfilling the ability of the business to play a part by giving back to the community through social responsible projects. All experiences garnered through my work life still plays its part in my day to day life.
KEEXS is the first Innovative and Social Oriented Footwear Brand in Africa with a mission to Pioneer innovation in footwear, bring exciting designs to life and empower communities through social oriented projects.
The KEEXS footwear brand is an African inspired range of casual footwear that brings out the Cool in any man or lady. It is also for people who are expressive and unapologetic for style choices.
Quote from Founder
“We the citizens need to take more individual and collective initiatives towards correcting some of our social issues (Economy & society) rather than sitting around complaining and waiting for our leaders to solve everything”– Jide Ipaye, 2015.
Wearing KEEXS will make you feel good in 3 ways:
1. Our designs will make you cool and stand out from the crowd.
2. You are contributing towards poverty alleviation.
3. Each product has a story that will inspire you