Charles Ikenna Okafor, the CEO of Charles Lifestyle is a 400 level Estate Management student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is an only son of his parents. Charles Lifestyle presently makes shoes but aims to expand into making bags and other leather accessories.
Charles nicknamed Shredder had wanted to be a rapper before he started his brand, Charles Lifestyle after his decision to embark into shoe production. He is very much involved in the movement to promote the Ubuntu ideology, donating 150 exercise books for the Street2School Project Campaign. The Ubuntu ideology aims to promote Love for the community. In this exclusive interview, he talked about the inspiration behind Charles Lifestyle, the challenges he faces and his plans for expansion. Do enjoy!!!
“Actually, I don’t do the job with less quality leather. I rather delay the job or reject it; stating to the client when the materials will be available.”
Charles: The need to produce, and to delve into something that has to bring out diverse creativity. And also the passion to create, to be able to start things from scratch and make them whole is massive, very massive!
VUN: Why did you settle for the name Charles Lifestyle, you could have used your nickname Shredder?
Charles: I had to think, actually, Charles as a brand will not only be about shoes, it will consist of bags, leather accessories, baby shoes etc. So, I thought of a name to collectively call what I intend to offer, lifestyle was the perfect name. So I chose my name of course which is Charles and what I offer, which is a lifestyle.
VUN: Talking about something that brings out diverse creativity. There are a lot of art forms you could consider, why settle for Shoemaking?
Charles: Actually, the thought of shoemaking sounded odd to some ears as they thought it entails roadside cobbling, so this ideology is what I want to erase. By so doing, I settled for shoemaking to bring out the best with utmost care and devotion.
VUN: Do I assume your parents are included in some “ears”?
Charles: No, they are the ones that welcomed the idea and encouraged me to put great effort to bring out the best. These are people that do not really know what shoemaking entails, maybe it’s because the name is not as tush as other areas of specialisation. So when shoemaking is mentioned, people write it off as something that is not worth doing. So, that is what I mean by some “ears”.
VUN: I was hoping you would be more specific and mention your relationship with the people you described as some “ears”.
Charles: Mainly friends that are not so close to me and schoolmates.
VUN: How come you didn’t let those opinions deter you?
Charles: Immediately I thought of shoemaking, my whole self clicked. It was like I was called to it. Shoemaking sounded great and nourishing to me and no other options mattered.
VUN: But, you are studying Estate Management. Didn’t you consider that they both have no connections?
Charles: Yes I know it does not have any connections. But, this is what I have made up my mind to do, and my conscious self is massively satisfied. The mismatch was never a problem.
VUN: How did you acquire Shoemaking skills?
VUN: What processes are involved in making just a pair of shoes?
Charles: It involves many processes according to different partisans. But basically, I can tell you it involves creating a pattern from a shoe last; transmitting them to a paper pattern which will be used to mark it off, on a piece of leather. You cut them, and join the parts with a sewing machine. Then, you last it to give it the perfect shape and add a sole. These are the basics. However, each of them has its steps and procedures.
VUN: How do you combine Shoemaking and school?
VUN: How many prototypes do you sketch before you settle for a design?
Charles: It depends on how satisfied you are with what you have seen.
VUN: What would you say makes your designs distinct?
Charles: Made with utmost care and devotion. And very detailed.
VUN: How do you market your products?
Charles: Through social media, Facebook ad target especially.
VUN: It has been working?
Charles: Yes, very well.
VUN: How does your average day go?
VUN: Asides from school which gets in the way. What other challenges do you have in running your brand?
Charles: Adequate capital to expand it. To expand it to what I have in mind, it requires funds.
VUN: What exactly do you have in mind?
VUN: How do you plan to handle the challenge of funds?
Charles: I don’t really know, I have thought of taking a loan from the bank but I don’t know if it will be possible. WelI, I just hope to be doing what I am doing and hope for the best.
VUN: Any other challenges?
Charles: Another is the availability of good and diverse leather materials and soles. Sometimes we experience scarcity and it affects our output as shoemakers.
VUN: Let’s talk about Nigerians’ mentality of the made in Nigeria brands. How does this affect you?
Charles: Yes, sometimes this creates a big problem in the sense that they seem to devalue the products, and hence underprice them. Even before they get to know what you have to offer. Made In Nigeria to them connotes poor quality, but I intend to change that ideology.
VUN: You mentioned that sometimes you experience scarcity. When the right leather isn’t available, there could be the temptation of settling for a leather of less quality.
VUN: You recently donated to Ubuntu. What inspired that?
Charles: Actually I am one of the members of the organisation, so we have a dream of sending 100 children back to school. The donation was a support to the dream and Ubuntu is an ideology.
VUN: What advice would you give other budding shoemakers?