Our lady boss today, Kene Rapu, is a young woman determined to play a part in the growth of the Nigerian fashion industry. Her great love for fashion inspired her to begin the eponymous footwear brand, Kene Rapu which has grown into a recognizable brand since it was launched five years ago. Kene Rapu shares the secrets of her success and where she sees her brand in five years.
1) Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?
My name is Kene Rapu, the Founder and CEO of the eponymous footwear brand, Kene Rapu, founded in October 2011. I’m the second of three children, a fully qualified lawyer, with an LLB Law degree from the University of Bristol, UK, a Masters Degree in Fashion Entrepreneurship, from the London College of Fashion, UK and was called to the Nigerian Bar in November 2013. I hold a certificate in Sandal Making, also from London College of fashion, Cordwainer’s college, and I am currently enrolled on the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program 2016.
I have always had a fervent passion for fashion and the growth of the Nigerian fashion industry. My love for fashion, eye for detail and creative nature inspired me to start the company. Kene Rapu was launched in 2011 as an initiative to promote the development of the local (Nigerian) industry, by using locally sourced materials and workmanship, to provide bespoke handcrafted slippers and sandals.
2) What is it like being a female entrepreneur, and why did you chose this path?
My journey into entrepreneurship commenced at the age of 21 during my time at the Nigerian Law School, right after I graduated from university. Although my law degree was valuable in providing me with a broad based foundation and heightening my sense of analysis and research, I have always been passionate about the arts and the creative industry. After graduating from university I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do, so I focused on law school, and then you can say entrepreneurship found me.
3) What new innovation have you introduced to your business?
Our mission is to promote the local industry by ensuring that our products are durable, comfortable and made to international standards, while we continue to collaborate, find new ways to market, stay on trend and promote ourselves as a stylish local brand, appealing to our target customers.
4) What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
There has been a growing acceptance of Made in Nigeria products. Today, local brands are just as competitive as international ones in the Nigerian market. We have found and are grateful that Nigerians are keen to support their own. Additionally, there has been resurgence in the love for afro-centric clothing and accessories. This backdrop has provided increased opportunities for the emergence of Nigerian brands such as ours. Furthermore, we have been fortunate to have grown very organically and so not make a lot of mistakes business owners might make. Lastly, we aim to ensure that all our customers are 100% happy with their slippers. By constantly putting our customers and their needs first we have been able to build a strong customer base.
5) Are there any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face generally?
Honestly, I don’t see myself as a “female entrepreneur”. I see myself as an “entrepreneur”, and the challenges I face as such, are no different I believe to what others in the industry face. Production has been a challenge, from lack of power which leads to considerable delays, to consistency, lack of material availability, and inadequate man power. However, we are a testament that challenges make you stronger. We are a constant work in progress. If you look at a pair of our slippers made in 2011 and a pair made today you will see a visible difference. We aim to keep improving and are thankful for a great customer base who constantly encourage us to keep striving to be better.
6) What values and principles have helped you so far?
Thinking big, but starting small and staying lean and understanding the importance of delayed gratification.
7) Why did you decide to go into this particular line of business?
My business started out of passion, and as we went along we found ourselves filling a gap and solving a problem. I wear an EU size 41/ UK 8, and I am 6ft tall. Generally, Nigerian women and men are taller and have larger feet than the average westerner. Usually it’s the most unattractive footwear that is found on the larger sized shoe racks in stores. A problem a lot of shoppers deal with. Thus, Kene Rapu found a gap to fill. We aim to produce trendy, durable and comfortable footwear in a wide range of sizes with special consideration to this sizing problem.
8) What keeps you going when the odds are against you?
Understanding that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Hard work pays, difficulties don’t last, and as you overcome you become stronger. Without a test, there can’t be a testimony.
9) What’s your five-year plan for your business?
In five years we hope to have built a factory and developed an assembly line of shoe-makers. In this way, we would be positioning ourselves as an integral part of the value chain in the Nigerian fashion industry. We are here to stay.
10) What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to do to be successful in this path?
Do your market research. Find out who else is in the field you want to go into. Find a unique selling point; find something that makes your brand different from everyone else in the industry you want to go into. Know your customer, define him or her, have a clear vision of where you want your brand to go; stay focused and remember why you started.