She Leads Africa

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Chidinma Emodi Chukwuemeka is a seasoned entrepreneur with a specialty in Brand and Digital Marketing. In July 2017, Chidinma and her husband, Mr. Bentley Chuwkuemeka officially launched The Footwear Academy. 

 The Footwear Academy is 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. She is self-driven and very passionate about helping brands and people succeed.

[bctt tweet=”You have the ability to be anything you want to be ” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”]

From a degree in zoology to marketing and sales and now to footwear production. Tell us how your journey into footwear production began.

That’s an interesting question because I don’t think I ever thought about being in the shoemaking industry or fashion business. Marketing and sales, however, has always come easily to me.

Way back in the University as a Zoology student, I would take up brand activation jobs just because I loved the drill of convincing people about the brand I was representing at that time.

Fast forward to the year 2016 – my Husband, also a business partner would always talk about starting a footwear training school and production unit. We were dating at that time and he would talk a lot about it.

He went to learn, kept perfecting on his skills and eventually taught me. I eventually had to resign from my job to join him as co-founder/CMO of The Footwear Academy in 2017 when we started and it has been an exciting experience.

Do you come across any form of gender biases when you make male footwears?

Yes, definitely. Most gender biases I have experienced come from uneducated people and fellow shoemakers who find it annoying that a woman is competing with them.
I have also experienced it in hiring and managing older shoemakers. It helps that my business partner is a man and after a while, they come around to accepting your invaluable role as a woman in the industry

What inspiring message can millennial women take from your journey?

My message to millennial women is this – “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”

[bctt tweet=”The world will make room for that woman who knows where she is headed.” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”]

What strategy do you think young women who enter for pitch competition should adopt?

I’ve had the privilege of winning some pith competitions.:
  • 1st Prize Winner – Proudly Made in Aba Hackathon (won $50,000)
  • 2nd Prize Winner – Open Mic Africa 2017 (won $500)
  • Top 9 finalist Techpoint build 2018
  • Award – YALI Star Of Business & Entrepreneurship 2018 (Onsite Nigeria Cohort 4)
 Whenever I compete at pitch events, most times against men – I try not to think about my gender. I see it as an advantage though. I concentrate on being the best and wowing the judges. People should also pitch their business proposition from the ‘why’ perspective, not the ‘what’.

What lessons have you learned since starting the footwear academy?

I could write a book about the lessons I have learned from The Footwear Academy. But here are 10 lessons I’ve learned over the last couple of months.
  • You need a great team.
  • Always go back to your business plan or business model canvas.
  • Be patient with yourself and manage your expectations.
  • Get a mentor. Surround yourself with people who push you to be your best.
  • Never give up – starting and running a business is hard work. There are bad days but don’t drown in it. Keep pushing.
  • Never compromise on standards and integrity.
  • Satisfy your customers every time.
  • Learn, Unlearn, Relearn.
  • Build a strong network.
  • Believe in yourself even when no one else does. Be your own cheerleader.

You attended the Barack Obama Young Africa Leader program. What were your takeaways?

  • Entrepreneurs are going to change the world. Build a business that is sustainable and impactful.
  • Leadership is a responsibility – don’t wait till you’re called to a position of leadership, start leading and advocating within your community.
  • Teamwork is important – everyone has something unique to offer.

What changes about young women will you like to see across the African continent?

I’d love to see more African women be more confident in taking up leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities and doing a great job at it.

What advice will you give to a young woman transitioning from the corporate world to building an enterprise like you did?

I’ll advise you to save a lot of money for rainy days. Businesses are rarely profitable between year 1- 3. Do a lot of research and start small. Stay focused and consistent, Eventually, the world will listen.

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