I can’t believe that it’s our first birthday already. What started as an idea in Johannesburg, South Africa back in 2012 is now a growing business with real customers and stakeholders. The biggest lesson we’ve learned in our first year was that customers love our ankara prints. This must sound completely obvious to you but it wasn’t so obvious to us. I recall being that naive New Yorker, who had only spent 2 weeks in Lagos when developing the business plan, who assumed that Nigerian women wouldn’t want to wear ankara footwear. I mean ankara is everywhere. Wouldn’t they want more Western footwear? Well my theory was totally debunked when we sold 90% of our First Kiss ankara design in our first 3 months in business. So as you walk with me through one of our many trips to Lagos Island’s, Balogun Market, I hope you will feel the bold, colorful inspiration behind our footwear designs.
Two of the busiest streets in the central business district of Lagos are part of the multiblock attraction known as Balogun Market. We typically drive to Lagos Island and park by the renowned CMS Bookshop House. We then flag down a KeKe, a bright yellow tri-cycle used as a common form of taxi transportation. The Keke system was developed in 2002 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s poverty alleviation plan. It has become a source of employment for many Nigerian youth with some marking as much as N7000 per day (that’s for the few who have made the N400,000 investment in purchasing their own). According to the World Bank, a middle class income in Nigeria is $2000 USD per year. Keke owners make 5 times that amount. Unfortunately the majority of drivers are not owners and only take home $1200 USD per year. I guess that’s why we are ok with the drivers trying to charge us a higher fare because of our American accents.
The traffic in the Central Business District is insane, which makes the Keke the best option, due to it’s compact size, it can wiz through Lagos traffic and narrow streets in no time. When we get to the part of the market that sells ankara, we are immediately ambushed by vendors selling everything from slabs of beef to sunglasses and bridal bouquets. We go stall to stall on a mission to find the fabric we intend to use to make our Miss Independent shoe. The Miss Independent is an ankara and patent leather remake of the red Kach Me If You Can flat designed by Kanayo Ebi for our inaugural collection. We even brought along the sample shoe to help the vendors help us. Right away you show enough vendors and they will tell you what your fabric is called in the market. Ours is called “Kola Nut - Lime”. Now we sound more professional walking through the market shouting “Kola Nut-Lime” while pointing to our shoe sample. The more ambitious sellers will tell you “I don’t have but I will check some other places…..Aunty/Uncle wait here”. She comes back with the fabric but with the dark/neon green with brown and black background. We need the lime green with white and black background so we move on to the next vendor.
After almost 2 hours scouring the market and everyone trying to sell us a different color Kola Nut fabric we conclude that sadly the specific color of fabric we need is out of season. We’ve learned that if we see a fabric we like we must buy it right away. There’s no guarantee that we’ll find it when we’re ready for production. Our Design Director is currently exploring additional fabric suppliers. Team Thando’s won’t give up hope on finding the “Kola-Nut- Lime”. We originally purchased enough fabric for a sample order. Looks like we’ll have to get creative...