Solving the Problem of Youth Unemployment in the South East

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Solving the Problem of Youth Unemployment in the South East

Aba is famed as a city with the largest cluster of footwear manufacturers in the continent. Their products have earned them fame hence the appelation Aba made. But their products due to lack of latest skills and technologies in designing and production of shoes has made their products not to compete with global brands. Bentley Chukwuemeka, a Lagos based footwear enthusiast and founder of the Fotwear Academy, an institution which trains people on how to design and manufacture footwear in line with global best practices and trends wants to change the narrative of the Aba footwear ecosystem.

Why and when did you venture into the footwear industry?
We started 8 months ago from our living room. We simply wanted to reduce shoe importation and unemployment through shoe making training. We wanted to make shoe making the new cool.
How long have you been in this business and what are the rewards?
We started 8 months ago. Well, winning the Proudly Made in Aba hackathon is a great reward.
We are also very fulfilled when we see our shoes on the foot of our customers and our students disrupting in their space.
 You are based in Lagos and won the Aba Hackathon. How do you plan to help the Aba footwear ecosystem benefit from your services to make their products world class?
Yes, we are based in Lagos but we will be setting up a branch in Aba. The aim to enable shoe makers in Nigeria starting with Aba to produce exportable standard products. We plan to do this through Footwear trainings that will introduce new approaches to she making and as well a footwear support hub.
How can the Aba footwear industry be globally competitive and churn out products that Nigerians and the rest of the globe will buy?
One of the issues the Aba footwear industry has is capacity building and infrastructure. The Abia state government and a couple of local and international organizations like Ford Foundation, TBWA Concept are already helping out with infrastructure, funding, Marketing etc. There are better days ahead.
We are also setting up a 3D shoe customization website and collaborating with some eCommerce store to give these shoe makers in Aba access to a wilder market.
How can the Aba footwear industry solve the problem of youth unemployment in the South East?
Aba currently has over 75,000 shoe makers but the apprenticeship system simply isn’t working. By introducing shoe making in a formalised and fast paced environment, a lot of youths will be attracted towards the shoe making vocation. Emowering the youth reduces unemployment.
What advice do you have for would be entrepreneurs from the East that want to start successful footwear businesses?
If you are passionate enough, just start. Keep building, keep learning.

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Nnamdi Odumody is the Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships at Wiretooth Technologies, an organization which believes in using technology to ensure digital transformation across different verticals. He is a Strategist and passionate about the Socio Economic Transformation of Igboland.