Meet the Founder of Yili Footwear | Exclusive Interview
Ginika Okafor, founded Yili Footwear, a proudly Quality Made in Nigeria brand in 2015. She is on a mission to create locally made trendy, fun and colourful footwear that is not only of top notch quality but also affordable. Inspired by colours, textures and nature. She creates comfortable, quirky footwear to make your feet stand in a crowd. Let’s meet her…
- Please introduce yourself and your background.
My name is Ginika Okafor, a Lawyer turned Footwearpreneur, an art lover and most times an introvert.
- Please tell us about your work. How did Yili Footwear start?
Yili Footwear was founded and developed with the intent to change the narrative of producing and purchasing quality leather footwear in Africa. My love for handcrafted footwear actualised after I received a pair of beaded leather sandals from a friend, which she purchased at an artisan market in Zambia. I was fixated with the quality, comfort and durability of the sandals. Six years later the Yili brand was born.
- How did you come about the name and what does it mean?
I had decided that I wanted the company name to be a reflection of my roots. During a brainstorming session with my sister, she brought up the name and it fit !
“Yili” is an Igbo word that means “to wear”. I wanted a brand name that was authentic, meaningful and a reflection of our colourful Nigerian Culture and I believe we hit the nail on the head.
- What is your niche and how did you know it was a market to get into?
For now our niche is Footwear (Flat casual sandals) I was aware that sandals are worn by a vast amount of people particularly in Nigeria, due to the climate. I also knew based on experience and research that there was a gap in the market for quality, handmade footwear and I decided to fill that gap.
- Where do you find the inspiration for your footwear?
I find that colours, different cultures and my travels around Africa, have influenced my designs greatly.
- What are the challenges you face in your business?
Some of the challenges we have faced so far include sourcing materials in large quantities and the lack of constant electricity and access to funding.
- Can you remember one of the first products you made? What makes it memorable?
It was a pair of two-band sandals that I made and finally renamed the
“Adamma” sandals (after our first customer). It was memorable because it was the first pair we made. It was extremely rewarding to see my idea finally come to life.
- Do you have any regrets venturing into this line of business?
Not at all! I enjoy making footwear, enjoy the sketching process and relish seeing my sketches come to life. It is such an amazing feeling.
- What is your most popular product?
- To what extent do you draw upon your Nigerian (African) heritage for your work?
Our Nigerian/African heritage significantly influence our designs for each new collection. Our inspiration stems from the magic of our surroundings. From the Danfo buses, to the busy street markets, to the Adire and Aso-okeprints and even the Lagos traffic. We find inspiration in the chaos that is Nigeria because it is colourful, busy and represents the core of who we are.
- What are your goals for the future, both work wise and life?
We aim to diversify to other aspects of fashion, expand our production space to create more jobs and hopefully have Yili in every part of Africa.
- What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an adrenaline Junkie.
- What profession would you be in if you weren’t into fashion?
I’d probably be after a career at the United Nations
- If you could give one piece of advice to youths who want to start their own company, what would it be?
Start where you are. Don’t wait for everything to fall into place before starting out. Just Start, everything else will align itself. (I’m still learning this lesson.)
And finally, please share images of some of your work and tell us a little about each product.
The Max – named after my sister Amaka. The Max is that can be worn for all event. Like the inspiration “Amaka” the Max is fun, colourful, comfortable and versatile.
The Braybray- named after one of my best friends Sekemi, the bray is colourful, stylish, fun and yet classy.
The Zini – named after my sister Ezinne. The Zini is your classic Androgynous sandals, a cross between Femininity and Masculinity. The Zini is perfect for days when one feels like dressing in a semi-formal way.
I am sure you enjoyed reading her interview and gained one or two vital things.
Thank you Ginika for sharing with us.
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