Since launching her brand and line ‘Slippers by Kene’ in 2011, MA Fashion Entrepreneurship and Innovation alumna Kene Rapu has become the number one footwear brand in Nigeria, champion of locally-sourced materials and investor back into her home country. We talk to her after being named in Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30.
The young entrepreneur has seen her business go from strength to strength since its launch, Kene was also selected by the Tony Elumelu Foundation as one of 1,000 African entrepreneurs whose idea could change Africa in 2016. The following year she was listed as one of 100 Most Influential Women in Nigeria by Leading Ladies Africa.
As an emerging market, Nigeria is still a notoriously difficult place to find your feet as a business, especially being a woman, Kene explains. We find out more about her brand, the challenges of running a business and launching a factory in Nigeria.
Hi Kene, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into fashion entrepreneurship?
The commencement of my journey as a fashion entrepreneur in 2011 was unplanned. It was not an active decision but rather quite providential. At age 21, as a tall lady constantly in search of comfortable, stylish footwear, moving back home after 9 years abroad, I realised that there was a major gap in the Nigerian market, and thus decided to seize the opportunity. I have a Masters Degree in Fashion Entrepreneurship from the London College of Fashion, UK and an LLB law degree from the University of Bristol, UK.
Can you tell us about ‘Kene Rapu’ and how the brand was born… Did you see a gap in the market for something new in Nigeria?
Kene Rapu is the No1. Nigerian footwear brand, championing local production. We produce durable, comfortable and stylish footwear, proudly made in Nigeria. I wear a UK 8, and I am 6ft tall. Generally, Nigerian women and men are taller and have larger feet than the average westerner. Usually its the most unattractive footwear that is found on the larger sized shoe racks in stores. A problem a lot of shoppers deal with. ‘Kene Rapu’ was born out of a need to fill a gap for durable, trendy and comfortable footwear, produced in a wide range of sizes with special consideration for individuals with larger sized feet. Seven years later, we have grown from a business which began at home on my dining table to a factory which employs people, trains cobblers, exports globally and promotes the local industry.
Congratulations on making it onto Forbes 30 under 30, you also boast about being listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Nigeria and being selected by Tony Elumelu Foundation. How does it feel being one of the most celebrated young female entrepreneurs of Nigeria?
Thank you. The journey so far makes me more excited for the road ahead. I’m passionate about what I do, and It is humbling and encouraging to know that something I started 7 years ago, as a clueless fresh graduate, has morphed into a business that is recognised globally.
You recently said running a business is hard work, even more so in Nigeria. What obstacles have you experienced and how have you overcome them?
Although a nation of vast opportunity, Nigeria remains a tough place to do business. As an emerging economy, we face issues that many business owners in more developed economies may not. The odds are against us, with more businesses expected to fail in the harsh climate than to succeed. Lack of adequate power supply is a major challenge, not only does it slow down productivity, running generators can be very expensive. Production has in the past been a challenge, from consistency to lack of material availability, to inadequate manpower. Despite the odds, we newly launched our own factory last year. This allows greater room for quality control and more efficient production.
You’re a big advocate of promoting growth within Nigeria. What would you like to achieve with ‘Kene Rapu’?
At a point in time Nigeria’s manufacturing sector was growing, however, the growth was stalled with the availability of cheaper import substitutes. More recently with the prohibitive exchange rate of the Naira/Dollar, Nigerians are more interested in buying local. We aim to show that our products are at par in quality, with international competition, if not better. We invest great skill and attention to detail in our products and we are excited to be a footwear brand putting Nigeria on the global map.