Osayomon, CEO of Musings on Paper had a super engaging chat with Kene Rapu, CEO of Footwear brand, Kene Rapu. ‘Kene Rapu’ was founded with the aim of promoting the development of the local (Nigerian) industry, by using locally sourced materials and workmanship, to provide bespoke handcrafted slippers and sandals. Today, ‘Kene Rapu’ is the No.1 Nigerian footwear brand, championing local production.
Kene is an amazing Young Woman who has been able to revive and scale local footwear production, whilst meeting the needs of young Nigerians looking for trendy, practical and quality footwear. Her efforts have been recognised globally, as seen in her feature on CNN African voices, and more recently, being listed as one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 CEOs. One thing that was taken away from this interview was Kene’s work Ethic and Discipline. Read more to see what we are talking about!!
O: Thank you for granting us this interview. A great place to start would be to talk about how you got to the stage where you wanted to start a footwear brand, instead of following the Law career path which you were already on.
KR: I didn’t set out to be a footwear entrepreneur. I was interested in studying law at university, however as time went on, i found out i was not passionate about it. I think passion is a fundamental ingredient for success. I finished my degree and went on to do law school; and it was during this time I decided to pivot and change direction. Although i did not anticipate a career in fashion, it was always an industry i was very interested in. I started doing internships during my school holidays from the age of 13, and had been opportune to work in various sectors of the fashion industry. I interned with stylists, fashion designers, at a fashion magazine, modelled and worked on the Lagos Fashion & Design Week team since inception. Before I launched KR however I didn’t know what area exactly in the industry i was most interested in; i would say i fell into footwear. I realised that there was a gap in the market for functional, stylish slippers with an African edge, that were readily available to purchase in Nigeria, and thus my brand was launched. I had the privilege of access to family and friends in business, who i quickly held on to as my mentors, and sought advise from on basic business and branding principles. As demand grew for my product, i decided to take the risk after law school, and focus my energies on exploring further into how i could build a profitable and sustainable business. After a year of self-discovery, market research and laying the foundations of what would today be ‘Kene Rapu’, i decided it was also important to have a formal education in my area of interest; i applied to do a masters degree in Fashion Entrepreneurship at the London College of Fashion, UK.
O: You made a statement about transforming ideas from hobbies into real businesses. People struggle with this transition. I look at your brand now and it has evidently taken a lot of discipline and more, for it to have evolved in the Kene Rapu that we know now, I think it's important to talk about this process.
KR: Success in entrepreneurship i believe requires great sacrifice and seeing the long term vision. I could barely pay myself a salary for several years, whereas if I worked in a law firm, I would have been earning from the beginning. Understanding the concept of delayed gratification is important. Confidence is also important. People will ask you about your choices, and may try to advise you otherwise. You need to be confident in your decision, so that you are not easily swayed. You also have to be very determined and hardworking. It’s easy to get carried away thinking life should be all fun and games in your 20’s, but I think this is the best time to put the work in; when you’re young you don’t have as much responsibility. Mentorship is also key: learning from those who have gone ahead of you. You will make your own mistakes, but there are many you can avoid by learning from someone else's. Lastly, faith. Without faith, when challenging times come you may not be able to weather the storm. With faith you have a quiet confidence knowing that everything is going to be alright.
O: All the things you mentioned are especially relevant, as there is this new entrepreneurship wave, with more young people wanting to build businesses. Most times entrepreneurship is viewed as an easier route, would you agree that entrepreneurship gives you a more convenient day-to-day lifestyle?
KR: As an entrepreneur you are working on your own time, which is fantastic, however you need to be disciplined enough to put structure into your day. As your business grows and you employ staff, you need to be able set a standard at work; so even if you are working on your own time in the early days of your business, discipline and structure is important for the long term.
Just as not everyone is cut out to do a 9-5, I don’t think everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. There is a lot of mental pressure involved in entrepreneurship, as you have the task of running an entire company, the demands of which grow as your business grows. Some people are made for it and others are not. It is important not to feel pressured to be anything you are not, trends come and go; being an entrepreneur may be fashionable today and not tomorrow. I think we all have to be very honest with ourselves, and do what makes us happy, what will make us feel most financially liberated, be it 9-5 or entrepreneurship; and what would ultimately lead to personal fulfilment.
O: I know you took party in the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program, and a lot of organisations including ours, hold programs geared towards personal and professional development. Again, we find that more young people are more willing to invest in themselves. how important is personal and professional development?
KR: I believe constantly educating oneself is important, especially if the goal is to be a master in your craft. This can be through formal education or self taught through books, podcasts, seminars, workshops, or through mentors. I recently signed up for a workshop and someone asked why i decided to participate in it, as I probably knew more than the person teaching it. I find that you can learn from anyone, so it is important to be open minded; it may just be one thing you go away with, but that one thing may be something that would transfer your business.
O: Before we sign off, we have one business question - what advice will you give to someone building a strategy to acquire their 1st 100 customers or users?
KR: In retail I think your customers are key. In Nigeria, with a fashion industry in its infancy, word of mouth is still very key. People want to buy because they have heard good things about your brand and product from someone they know. If you can fully satisfy your first set of customers, they are going to keep coming back, they are going to tell other people about your product or service. People sell your brand. People also like to see a genuine story; be as genuine as possible in your marketing, let people feel connected to your brand.