Ginika Okafor: I wanted to create colourful products that are uplifting in every way

ginika okafor
Being an entrepreneur is no child’s play in Lagos - Ginika Okafor, founder Yili Footwear Click To Tweet

Ginika Okafor is a lawyer, art lover and a Motherland Mogul showing that young Nigerians can wear #MadeinNigeria with pride. In between trying new foods, visiting new countries and experiencing their culture, Ginika designs and creates footwear. Her brand Yili is fun, colourful and Nigerian-made.

Ginika is secretly an adrenalin junkie, so you may catch her either bungee jumping or sky diving (but just make sure her dad doesn’t read this). Here she shares with us the challenges of sourcing local materials in Nigeria and sums up what it means to be an entrepreneur in Lagos in three words.

Why did you decide to start Yili?

I love colours. I like to be surrounded by bursts of colours and as a result I infuse a lot of colours in my everyday outfits and surroundings. With this in mind, I started Yili because I wanted Nigerian-made and sourced footwear, which infuses bursts of colours in its aesthetics.

Furthermore, I notice colours have positive effects on moods and I wanted to create colourful products that are uplifting in every way. This is why you find most of Yili slippers are combinations of different bright colours.

Also, there is an option for customers to choose the particular materials and colours that will go with our existing designs. This makes each footwear more personal, unique and more meaningful to each customer.

How have you (or do you) overcome challenges that your business faces?

One of the many obstacles I faced so far is the sourcing for materials locally. We get our leather from the local markets, and what is available this week may be sold out the next. I overcome this struggle by widening my local contacts.

This means I travel across Nigeria in search of good local manufacturers selling quality materials. This also affords me the opportunity to see different parts of country and to better understand the culture and everyday living experience of many Nigerians.

Also, due to the exchange rate crisis, the prices of a lot of our raw materials have increased in price thereby forcing us to increase our prices. In this forex instance, I can’t really do much but hope the price of forex comes down. All in all, I have learnt to continue to push through in spite of various obstacles. #andyetshepersisted.

Sourcing for local materials have taken Ginika Okafor to very interesting parts of Nigeria Click To Tweet

Can you share the process of sourcing for materials as a 100% made in Nigeria brand?

Our products contain different materials from leather to adire to calico etc. What many people don’t know is different parts of the country specialise in different goods/material. Take

ake adire for instance. The best adires are found in Abeokuta. So, when I’m buying my adire I don’t buy it Lagos; I travel to Abeokuta, speak with different families and vendors that have produced adire for decades. I learn from them on what is new, how they come up with new designs and so on.

This applies to all the materials we use. Sourcing for local materials have taken me to very, very interesting parts of Nigeria and I hope to tell the different but amazing stories in a memoir one day.

Where do you see Yili in the next two years?

Expanding. This expansion includes opening a local manufacturing plant, having our own standalone stores in in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano as well as in three African countries.

We would like to partner with various independent retailers to stock our products. However, we want to ensure that whichever store we stock in must understand the ethos and vision of the brand. Also, we want customers to be able to order Yilifootwear from our website and have it delivered anywhere in the world.

What do you think is necessary to take Yili to the next level?

We need funding. Expanding the business requires a lot of money we don’t have now even though we are open to investors. Also, we believe having a e-commerce website will not only give the brand the visibility it need but it will improve accessibility too.

We are currently working on our website, once that is up and running anyone can order Yilifootwear and we be shipped worldwide, thereby expanding the brand presence globally.

What’s your favourite Yili footwear design?

The Max slippers because I named it after my eldest sister who has been a huge support and inspiration in my life. #loveyouMaks

What three words describe being a young female entrepreneur in Lagos today?

Being an entrepreneur is no child’s play in Lagos. It is a wilderness out here and every day is the survival of the fittest.

That said, being an entrepreneur (especially a female entrepreneur) can be described thusly

  • Perseverance
  • Hardworking
  • Hopeful

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Xiomara Rosa-Tedla: There are benefits to starting a business with family

Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth

Many people ask how and why my father and I started our business. And to be honest, it was by accident.

About two years ago, my father returned home from a trip visiting family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After picking him up from the airport and unloading luggage, he handed me a gifta custom, handmade leather messenger bag. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth Immediately, I fell in love with my new gift and sported it everywhere. From work to dinner to weekend trips, I toted my new bag all around the world. And soon after, friends, family members, and strangers started asking, Where did you get your bag? I love it! Can your dad get me one as well?” For months the questions and requests kept coming. Even my father told me he had been getting the same questions, and suggested, Hey, I think we have a business here. Lets start a leather bag business!Shortly after, the birth of UnoEth began.

Starting a business from scratch is a fun creative process, where brainstorming sessions let your mind run free with ideas and opportunities for your business to grow exponentially. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethBut as with any business, the road to success is never a straight line up. There are dips, curves and encounters with the unknown. In addition, it can be a lot of work. On the bright side, there are benefits to running a business with family.

A family member as a business partner can be extremely beneficialespecially my dad. Having an equal partner with a long history (my whole life) and blood ties helps solidify communication, trust, and dedication to succeed. Neither partner wants to let the other down. From day one of creating our new business, I felt unbelievably confident in our new venture because my dad and I shared the same vision and passion for our budding brand.Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.42.31 PM

In addition to trust, communication, and dedication, working with family also means splitting responsibilities. As we both grow our business around our full-time jobs, we wish there was more time in the day to juggle responsibilities. We split outstanding tasks, which alleviates the stress and workload on both of us.

Communication is key to maintaining strong relationships with each other, our vendors, shipping counterparts, business partnerships and most importantly, our customers. In the development of UnoEth, weve learned to communicate promptly to avoid creating a bottleneck in our business. Thanks to apps like Viber, were able to communicate easily internationally via wifi and all stay on the same pagejust in different time zones.Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethIts incredibly important to maintain a positive, can-do attitude with a goal always in sight. As mentioned before, the road to success is never a straight line. Every business experiences road blocks and obstacles, which can deter most individuals from starting a business in the first place.

But with an optimistic, focused, and goal-oriented outlook, one can overcome the temporary downfalls, cross the finish line and push on to the next stage. At the end of day, one must ask, How bad do I really want to be successful?And then simply just go for it!

What are your thoughts on starting a business with a family member? Enjoyed Xiomara’s story ? Share the UnoEth story with your network.

Abai Schulze: Your initial purpose has to be strong

Abai Shulze - ZAAF Collection

Abai Schulze moved to to Addis Ababa in 2013 to start ZAAF – a company that specializes in handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories produced by Ethiopian artisans. The Ethiopian-American entrepreneur has been able to combine her background in economic development and love for fine arts and creativity into a successful brand. Through ZAAF, she seeks to create unique products, open up avenues of opportunity for talented local artisans, and promote brand Ethiopia.

Schulze graduated from George Washington University where she majored in Economics and minored in Fine Arts. At the core of her entrepreneurial journey, which she terms as an exciting adventure, is to be able to impact people on an individual level. She spoke to me about how she has been able to grow and market her brand.

Taking advantage of learning opportunities

Schulze, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by an American family at age 11, remained connected to her culture. She travelled to Ethiopia during her summer breaks to do volunteer work. It was during one of these trips that she interned with USAID where she worked with artisans and designers, and helped them to create websites to market their products internationally.

This enabled her to see how businesses work in Ethiopia. Frequently visiting the country also gave her the opportunity to witness its economic transformation firsthand and ignited the desire to return in her.

Her senior thesis analyzed Ethiopia’s potential for exporting textile. “I wanted to go into that field but it didn’t make sense because the initial capital is huge and you have to have actual hands on experience,” Schulze said.

She later found out that Ethiopia has the finest leather in the world which it exports to European countries to be used as raw material by famous brands.

“I wanted to tap into that,” she said. “Why not make it at home, by our own people, add value to it, export it, and market and rebrand Ethiopia?” “That was my initial take on it,” she added.

245f7c_84bce64e62b54c219c0d9393cc7e3b33Schulze’s plan was to get some work experience in the US and go to business school before starting her own company. After graduation she interned at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and later worked at Ashoka. It was while there that she met many entrepreneurs who inspired her to start her own company.

“I changed the timeline and decided to jump in,” she said. “I told myself, ‘If it fails, I am still young, I can start over.’” She then made the physical move to Ethiopia. “You can’t do this type of business from a distance,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind and focus on ZAAF.”

Branding and marketing ZAAF

In trying to figure out how to brand and market ZAAF, Schulze kept in mind the different connotations that come with products made in Africa. “A lot of it has that NGO feeling,” she said. “The language used is often, ‘It is made by poor people. Buy it otherwise they won’t have a job.”

She wanted to reject this guilt-driven purchase angle. “I wanted to show that we are talented, we just need to invest in our own people and we can produce something beautiful,” said Schulze. “You are buying the product because you like the product, not because you are feeling guilty.”

“Otherwise you are not going to have loyal customers who come back,” she added. “If they feel like they have done their good deed of the day, then they will move on to the next company.”


Schulze and her team were careful and deliberate about the language that they used in branding the company. Its products are made by talented Ethiopian artisans who went to school to sharpen their craft.

“They are not people who you just tell to piece two items together,” she said. Working with skilled artisans also ensures that the products are high quality. “We are trying to compete with international brands,” she said. “We want people to buy based on that.” The language they use to talk about the brand reflects all this.

“Our products stand out,” said Schulze. “When we produce them, we really want our customers to feel a sense of where the products are made.” ZAAF integrates ageless geometric patterns created on traditional looms with leather.

“Talented weavers meticulously count knots to produce patterns of fantastic combination of color and style,” she said. The unique aspects of the handbags and accessories has attracted media attention. “That organic attraction has helped us grow,” she added.

Abai Schulze - ZAAF CollectionCustomer engagement is critical to the brand. They engage with customers primarily through social media. They are committed to providing excellent customer service. “If a customer is not happy with a product then we will redo it,” Schulze said. They also work to ensure that products are delivered in a timely fashion.

Another way that Schulze keeps her customers happy is by investing in her team. She creates incentives for them based on their desires and needs. “That way they are loyal and create high quality products,” she said. “When you have a high turnover of employees, you can’t be consistent and your customers won’t be happy.”

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:

Your initial purpose has to be strong. You have to be passionate about what you are creating because you will face a lot of challenges over time. This passion will help you find a way to solve them. Surround yourself with people who challenge you because sometimes you will be in your own bubble and you won’t know how far you are going.