There is a growing interest right now in AfroLuxe, bespoke finely crafted luxury items all proudly designed and created here in Africa. Oba Couture, the brand created by Nigerian entrepreneur Olubukola Asafa, is a new name in the world of luxury leather accessory brands emerging from the African continent, to add to the list of those brands currently winning legions of fans around the world with their high-end, luxury products.
LoA found out more about Olubukola Asafa’s passion for creating a proudly ‘Made in Nigeria’ luxury accessory brand, and about her vision for the future.
What does your company do?
OBA is a Nigerian luxury brand that manufactures handmade handbags, sandals, shoes and other leather goods with a culture of fine craftsmanship, design and innovation. OBA also offers bespoke made to measure shoes and sandals. Our made to measure shoes and sandals ensure they are specifically made to fit perfectly. The label offers dynamic fashion that is simple, unique, feisty and distinct.
"I didn’t want my products made in China, I wanted them made here in Nigeria. I had become passionate about having my products ‘Made in Nigeria’, and I felt that I had to make my own brand of leather goods and change this inferior perception of ‘Made in Nigeria’ products. I wanted to be able to boast about wearing a ‘Made in Nigeria’ shoe or carry a handbag ‘Made in Nigeria’."
What inspired you to start your company?
I have always had a flare for business, but while studying for and after I obtained my MBA degree, I knew I wanted to start a business of my own right away, so I started buying and selling shoes and handbags of different brands. After a short while I knew I wanted something more, selling these sorts of products is something a lot of people do but I wanted to stand out and be different. So I began to ask myself a lot of questions like, ‘why do I keep buying shoes and handbags abroad?’ ‘Why can’t I sell my own brand of shoes and handbags?’ ‘Why can’t I make shoes and handbags in Nigeria?’ ‘How come I cannot buy, let alone wear a ‘Made in Nigeria’ shoe or carry a ‘Made In Nigeria’ handbag?’ At that time, there was even a ban on the importation of leather goods like shoes and handbags in commercial quantities, so I was even more discouraged about the sustainability of the business, because if I want to make it big I should be able to buy my goods in commercial quantities. So I started to do research on ‘Made in Nigeria’ shoes and handbags, and I found a couple of people in Aba and Lagos, who made product samples for me but they were so badly done I was very disappointed at the extremely low quality. After that I was on a mission to find the best way to make quality shoes and handbags in Nigeria, yet stillall to no avail. I kept looking and doing my research until eventually, I had no choice but to seek to have them made in China. I had some samples done and my first ever branded OBA shoes were made in Ankara fabric and leather - they looked great and everyone loved them, people were excited, I was excited too but not for long because it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want my products made in China, I wanted them made here in Nigeria. I had become passionate about having my products ‘Made in Nigeria’, and I felt that I had to make my own brand of leather goods and change this inferior perception of ‘Made in Nigeria’ products. I wanted to be able to boast about wearing a ‘Made in Nigeria’ shoe or carry a handbag ‘Made in Nigeria’ - it could never have happened before, but now I wear and carry them every day. And I am glad I never gave up - now I am fulfilling my dream and living my passion.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
First of all, OBA handmade leather goods are of very high quality - they are made with genuine leather, original skins like snake, crocodile, ostrich etc. and precious metal hardware. We pay very close attention to detail. Secondly, I run a foundation called the Heritage Children Foundation Africa which caters to disadvantaged, poor and neglected children in poor communities. We run feeding campaigns on a regular basis in different communities and are hoping to do even more in the years to come. One thousand naira from every handbag sold goes to the Heritage Children Foundation Africa. Thirdly, I am privileged to have taken courses in Florence, Italy and London, where I learnt the craft of shoe making and handbag making which gives me a competitive advantage because I have learnt from the best.
"OBA handmade leather goods are of very high quality - they are made with genuine leather, original skins like snake, crocodile, ostrich etc. and precious metal hardware. We pay very close attention to detail."
Tell us a little about your team
OBA is made up of a small team which comprises mainly of very hardworking craftsmen and a very competent assistant. We make a great team because we share ideas and strategize always; we also brainstorm and come up with the best workable design for OBA products. They are an amazing team because they do make my job a lot easier.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My entrepreneurial journey has been full of ups and downs, the highs and the lows, juggling being in business whilst also being a wife and mother of three children - but my vision of taking ‘Made in Nigeria’ leather goods to a new level has always propelled me in the right direction. In 2011, as I prepared to learn more about the business I was about to venture into, I took an online course in handbag making and thereafter travelled to London in the UK to take a course in handbag making. There, I learnt the craft, from developing ideas to creating patterns, to cutting and sewing. In 2012, I was one of the 1200 YouWin (Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria) awardees who received a grant from the Federal Government of Nigeria through a business plan competition, and the funds I received through this platform helped my business take off in a tremendous way and enabled me acquire the tools and skills I required. In 2013, I travelled to Florence in Italy to take a course in shoe making, where I was privileged to be taught by the finest master cobbler in the country. Today, my vision of taking ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods onto the international scene and ensuring they can compete favorably with their global counterparts, is what drives me to attain more - this is the significant impact I wish to make for the benefit of my nation, Nigeria. I come from an entrepreneurial background because my mum was an entrepreneur for the most part of my growing up and has always been. She owned a shop in the popular Payless 3 shopping mall on Adeola Odeku street, Victoria Island, Lagos, where she sold male and female underwear.
"I am privileged to have taken courses in Florence, Italy and London, where I learnt the craft of shoe making and handbag making which gives me a competitive advantage because I have learnt from the best."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
OBA donates one thousand naira to the Heritage Children Foundation Africa from every handbag sold. In the future, OBA hopes to have positively impacted the lives of more children through this approach by feeding more children on a daily basis and also to donate billions of school bags to children in need. OBA also hopes to have made an impact in Nigeria by breaking the stigma of ‘Made in Nigeria’ products as not being up to international standard, because OBA will certainly be on a par with world renowned international brands like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and the likes. OBA will continue to pride itself in the craftsmanship of its products and in its African roots. We will also strive to provide outstanding experiences to our customers who are becoming more global and digital, by delivering world class e-commerce and mobile application services, where customers can easily shop and gain a more authentic experience of the brand. We hope to open our flagship store in a highbrow location in Lagos and be even more committed to being productive and responsible in everything we do, attracting and retaining the best talent to deliver on our vision and mission, and as a team, to maintain focus on OBA’s long-term goals.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I am very satisfied because I am making a significant impact in my nation, in the lives of my customers, and in the lives of the country’s poor neglected children. I am an entrepreneur not only for the profit but for what I can give back, leaving behind a lasting legacy. Finally, I love what I do, it gives me great joy to wake up in the morning and do what I do. As a wife and mother of three, I love the fact that I can still be involved in my children’s daily life, I have the flexibility to schedule clients and members of staff around my children’s school times. I am very passionate about everything I do, from feeding the less privileged children to building a global brand.
"Today, my vision of taking ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods onto the international scene and ensuring they can compete favorably with their global counterparts, is what drives me to attain more - this is the significant impact I wish to make for the benefit of my nation, Nigeria."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Make sure whatever venture you are looking to startup is a passion for you - also make sure you are not just doing it for the profit you will make alone, but that it is much deeper than that, for example bridging a gap in the society. Also make sure that you have a sense of purpose, and your business should ultimately align with that purpose - only then can you truly live your dream.
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Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love those women entrepreneurs in Africa who understand the power of thinking big, and Olubukola Asafa is certainly one of those women. She is building a genuinely luxury brand, one that is proudly Nigerian and which celebrates the true art of local craftsmanship, raising the profile and quality of ‘Made In Nigeria’ products on the global stage. Not only that, she understands the importance of successful entrepreneurs in Africa making a wider contribution to the socio-economic development and upliftment of those who are less fortunate, demonstrating that companies can make a profit and give back to make a difference. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa