Chidinma Mirianjess Chukwuemeka, co-founder The Footwear Academy is a seasoned entrepreneur with a speciality in Brand and Digital Marketing. She has a B. Sc in Zoology from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. She is passionate about helping brands and people succeed.
Her Marketing career began at ipNX Nigeria Ltd, a Telecommunication firm in Nigeria. In 2016, she moved to a Lagos based Tech firm specialized in Enterprise Mobility Softwares. She worked as the firm’s Inbound Business Development executive – actively coordinating the Digital Marketing campaigns of the company. She resigned the same year to run her own Digital Marketing firm.
Tech & The City, which was Long Serve Digital at the time of its inception in August 2016 is a Digital Marketing firm which trains, manages and executes digital campaigns for brands and clients. By January 2017, Chidinma took up a full-time role in TINK Africa, a Trends Intelligence and Consumer Insight Company as the firm’s Head of Operations & Business Development.
In July 2017, Chidinma & Her husband, Mr Bentley Chuwkuemeka officially launched The Footwear Academy, a footwear training and production school for individuals interested in the art of footwear production and sales. Their vision is to enable shoemakers in Africa starting with Nigeria produce exportable standard products.
Her Start-up The Footwear Academy has pitched and participated in various local and international startup competition. They are the recent winners of the Proudly Made in Aba Hackathon – winning a grand prize of $50,000 from Ford Foundation. They also took 2nd place in 2017 at the Open Mic Africa startup Pitch competition organized by Techpreneur Africa and MIT Legatum.
Chidinma is an Alumni of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI Regional Training Center) – Onsite Nigeria Cohort 4. She was awarded star of Business and Entrepreneurship for her cohort. In this interview we discussed her sojourn into marketing, then The Footwear Academy. Have fun…
CMC: I was quite intelligent in secondary so everyone kept suggesting to me to study Medicine or Pharmacy in the University. I was quite unsure of what I wanted to do. Eventually, I didn’t get medicine but Zoology from The University of Nigeria, Nsukka and I took up the admission with the hope of specialising and pursuing a career in Parasitology. Parasitology is the study of parasite – I found it interesting at that time. Fast forward to my first year in school, I took up a contract job to do Brand Activation for a brand and I found out that I was exceptional at selling and engaging people. Eventually, I took up more Marketing and Sales roles while in School and during NYSC and by the time I was done with NYSC – I already knew the career path that suited me.
Fun fact – I got a job just a month after NYSC to resume in the Marketing department of a telecom company as the company’s Brand Activation Specialist.
VUN: What inspired your interest in shoemaking?
CMC: My husband and co-founder, Mr Bentley Chukwuemeka inspired me into shoemaking. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. *laughs*. Eventually, I bought the vision, resigned from my work and joined him in building The Footwear Academy. Those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.
VUN: How do you make sure that the student of The Footwear Academy could turn shoe production into full-time businesses?
CMC: There’s really no way to do that. I think choosing to go into shoe production full time should be a personal decision as with any business or vocation. We, however, provide support to some of our Alumni and we are currently working on setting up further support systems that will enable them to be successful shoemakers.
VUN: How do you combine Tech and the city and TFA?
CMC: I have a great team. Every business needs a great team. I’m also very well planned. But honestly, sometimes I get really tired. I tend to give more attention to The Footwear Academy than Tech and The City though.
VUN: Nigeria and Africa doesn’t come to mind when talking about shoe production, in what specific ways do you want to place Nigeria and Africa on the roadmap of Footwear makers in the world using your brand?
CMC. Through capacity building. Africa/ Nigeria needs a formalised system of shoe learning and research. Many of the shoemakers in Africa still use archaic processes in shoemaking that hinder innovation, quality and speed. It is the mission of our Academy to introduce new processes to the shoemaking industry in Africa.
VUN: Regardless of the rise in feminism and gender equality movements, footwear production isn’t an industry that a lot of women are seen or even expected to be seen in, how come this is what you have decided to do?
CMC: I’m doing this because I simply want to do this. It has nothing to do with gender. Shoemaking is almost the same as garment making. Your gender doesn’t make you a good or bad shoemaking. Your skill and creativity determine your success.
VUN: What reactions did you get from family and friends when you told them you were going into footwear productions?
CMC: Now that I think about it I think we had a lot of emotional support. No one gave us money though. *laughs* But, thankfully they didn’t discourage us. Our first customers weren’t family and friends and that’s okay, a lot of them now buy only The Footwear Academy shoes.
VUN: What reactions do you get from people when you tell them that you are into footwear production and training?
CMC: I get a lot of wow. A lot of people assume it’s just sandal or slippers making though.
VUN: What role has YALI played in your life?
CMC: The Young African Leadership Initiative experience has been really life-changing. I now have a close network of West Africans I can genuinely call family. A lot of us have also been able to collaborate and form partnerships. I’ve also learnt a lot about Leadership, Accountability and Entrepreneurship. YALI helped us become aware of the opportunities in our problem. It gave us the passion to create change and be exceptional leaders in our communities.
VUN: A lot of female entrepreneurs identify as Feminist, do you?
CMC: I’ve never really thought of myself as a feminist but I am an advocate for gender equality, fairness and justice.
VUN: You plan to provide shoes to internally displaced children in Nigeria, what inspires that?
CMC: Everyone needs shoes. The government has a lot on their mind catering to the internally displaced, I don’t think anyone is giving a lot of thought to their shoe needs. A lot of the children run barefooted and get exposed to germs and diseases that can simply be prevented if they had shoes.
VUN: Don’t you think that the children could need other things aside from the ‘luxury’ of shoes?
CMC: Definitely – they need a lot of essential things. But shoes aren’t luxury. Shoes are essential for every season.
VUN: Why do you think Nigerians aren’t comfortable purchasing made in Nigeria products?
CMC: Because the Made-In-Nigeria brand is assumed to mean low quality and poor customer experience.
VUN: What do you think could be done to change the mindset that Nigeria products are inferior?
CMC: A lot of campaigns are already going into changing the mindset. Most importantly – Businesses in Nigeria should focus on delivering high-quality service and satisfying the customer every time.
VUN: In what ways have the mindset affected your business?
CMC: When we started, customers refused to make down payment or pay before delivery for their shoes. They wanted to be sure we could deliver on our brand promise.
VUN: How has technology affected your business?
CMC: 90% of our customers come from social media – all thanks to Technology. So my answer is that Technology has had a very positive impact on my business.
VUN: What have you learnt since you began that you wish you knew from the outset?
CMC: Manage your expectations. Do proper bookkeeping.
VUN: What advice would you give budding female entrepreneurs?
CMC: “You have the ability to be anything you want to be – your uniqueness isn’t a disability or flaw but an advantage. Aim and reach for the stars because the world will make room for that woman who knows where she is headed”.