Lagos isn’t short of unique and stylish brands trying to make a stamp in the African Fashion industry but for Ginika Okafor, the founder of Yili footwear, bright colours, contrasting textures and utilising African artisans propelled her on a journey from her legal career to entrepreneurship.

In a quick chat with The Style HQ, Ginika breaks down what the deal is with her footwear brand, shares her highlights and experiences from starting up a business from scratch and shows us why a pair of Yili’s need to be on our feet this summer.

Tell us, what is Yili Footwear?

Yili Footwear is an affordable footwear brand inspired by colors, textures, culture, and travels. All the styles have a personal inspiration and story behind it.

How did the brand come about?

My sister came up with the brand name. We are Ibos, we speak Ibo a lot and we wanted a brand represents our culture. So she came up with Yili, which means, “to wear” in Ibo. Wearing requires action but also how different experiences wear on us physically, intellectually, and spiritually. So we wanted to a brand name that encompasses the multidimensional aspect of living.

What is it like launching a product/brand in the Nigerian footwear industry?

Although it’s been exciting, It’s been rather challenging as well. Trying to get people to embrace colors and prints has been really interesting in the sense people are drawn to particular colour aesthetic. So nudging people to embrace different and very vibrant colours in footwear – both outer cover of the footwear and insoles has been challenging. Also, all our footwear is hand made and sourced locally. And people get quite surprised when we tell them that especially, as our products are very affordable. Trying to change the perception that you don’t have to break the bank to buy quality products has been the real challenge surprisingly, considering the fact that affordability should be an advantage generally speaking.

To be honest, we have been advised on several occasions to increase our prices, as people are more likely to snub the product if it’s affordable.

What was your greatest challenge? And how did you overcome it. 

Sourcing for materials. We get our leather from the local markets, and what is available this week maybe sold out the next. Also due to the exchange rate crises a lot of our raw materials have increased in price thereby forcing us to increase our prices.

What do you think makes YILI different from other African footwear brands?

The mixtures of colors and textures, as well as the involvement of our customers in the making of each piece differentiates us form other brand, the customers make a purchase, we send them a form to fill what specifically they want, which material, which colours etc. Of course, they have the option of choosing from our already made colour combination but most time, they enjoy the personal experience of mixing and matching their preferred colours, textures and styles to fit their taste.

What’s your favourite product and why?

I love the Max slippers, named after my big sister who is very close and dear to me. The Max slippers encompass some of her qualities – unique, chic, and in her own lane. What is not to love?

What have been the best sellers?

The Zinney’s, the Ibukuns and the Max slippers.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start his or her own business? 

Just do it, don’t over analyse or over think it. Find a gap in your chosen market/sector and fill it with your own twist. Also, never cut corners.

What’s next for Yili?

Expanding.

We want to hopefully stock Yílí in stores nationwide; and we want it to become more accessible. We want to ensure that whichever store we stock in must represent the ethos and vision of the brand.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt on your journey?

Patience, self-discipline, self-motivation and perseverance. You have to be extremely disciplined to run a business. You need to be patient to watch it grow and blossom. You have to persevere even when thing are not going as planned. You need to be self-motivated especially when unforeseen circumstances crop up. I’m currently juggling my full time job whilst running Yili by the side. Most times, I get back from my 9-5 exhausted but I still need to attend to Yili. In times when exhaustion wants to make me quit, I have to cheer myself up and keep going.

Finally, support systems are great and vital! From my parents, to my siblings and friends have been really encouraging especially in the early months of Yili when self-doubt nearly knocked me out. Specifically, my big sister, Max helps tremendously running of the company from coming up with collection ideas, to dealing with customer inquires and running our social media pages. My sisters have been immensely supportive and played (and continues to play) vital roles in how far I have come.

In three words Yili is?

Fun, Colourful and Affordable