Mona Matthews was birthed when Monalisa Abimbola Azeh noticed a gap in the footwear industry, as she could not find shoes that were comfortable and stylish. This led her to start creating shoes for her personal use, and eventually she was led to start a business in designing and producing footwear.
Monalisa used to be an active sportswoman, playing hockey and representing her institutions in various competitions. She also has a love for filming and movie production. Find out more about the amazing founder of Mona Matthews in this exclusive interview.
- Please introduce yourself and your background.
My name is Monalisa Abimbola Azeh. I come from a family of 6, 4 children two parents. I studied law at the University of Lagos and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985.
- Tell us about your work. How did Mona Matthews start?
I found it hard to get good looking comfortable shoes and I felt there had to be a solution. As I worked to solve my own shoe issues I created designs in footwear for myself and wore them and people liked them. I got to a stage where I wanted to do something different from what I had been doing until then. I prayed and was led to start the business of designing and producing great quality handmade leather shoes in Nigeria. This was in 2001 December. So Mona Matthews was born in January 2002.
- How did you come about the name and what does it mean?
As I said, my first name is Monalisa so the Mona is from there. My Father passed on in February 2002 and I really wanted a significant way to remember him. His first name was Matthew. Hence Mona Matthews
- What is your niche and how did you know it was a market to get into?
My first niche was big sizes because of my personal experiences. And I soon realized many people had the same problem. But we have evolved into a Family one stop shop for footwear solutions. So we make low heeled dressy shoes and bag sets for older women. Solid leather school shoes for secondary school students. Good quality leather shoes and slippers for men. The idea being that we make those shoes people usually have difficulty in finding.
- Where do you find the inspiration for your products?
Mostly from my client’s needs. If I keep hearing identical or similar requests for particular kinds of footwear, I create a design to meet that demand. We also keep our eyes on trends so we remain relevant. Furthermore, we have come to realize that there are different kinds of feet so our collection always has something suitable for each type.
- Can you remember one of the first products you made? What makes it memorable?
Well I remember the first pair of slippers I made on request when I had finally decided to launch out as a footwear designer. It was a snake skin mule with 3.5inch heels. Colors were green cream and blue. It was very stylish at the time.
- What are the challenges you face in your business?
We have managed to contain or evolve from the first set of constraints we had at the beginning by being innovative and adapting what we had. So our focus now is increasing our market share. We truly desire to be a household brand and we are working our way into the consciousness of our target market with every pair of shoes we make. I am not saying we don’t have challenges, I am saying we have and will always use them as our springboards to get to our next level.
- Do you have any regrets venturing into this line of business?
- What is your most popular product?
We have 3. Our male loafers, our sneakers and our wooden clogs.
- To what extent do you draw upon your Nigerian (African) heritage for your work?
I actually design shoes to fit every day of my target market’s lifestyle. I deliberately create for Nigerians because we are very stylish and we love to dress up. And when I begin to design, it’s our unique Nigerian features and styling and we of life that I draw on to inspire me during this process.
- What are your goals for the future, both work wise and life?
As I said earlier, Mona Matthews will become a household brand. So well known, that people will begin to recognize and spot our shoes wherever they see them. My personal life goal is to always be in the center of God’s will for my life doing exactly what he would have me do.
- What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I was a Sports woman most of my school days. I played hockey in secondary school, A. levels and University. I also represented my schools in most competitions when I was there.
- What profession would you be in if you weren’t in the Leather Accessories Industry?
Film, as a Director/Producer.
- If you could give one piece of advice to youths who want to start their own business, what would it be?
Find a job at whatever level you can first in the kind of industry you want to play in so you can learn the rudiments of that business from the inside. Then get a business education. Finally know God, serve and obey him.