When it comes to starting a business in Nigeria, and indeed anywhere in the world, finding a unique niche and owning it is a huge boost. Kene Rapu talks to Connect Nigeria about her unique world of slippers and her journey from a legal career to fashion entrepreneurship.
CN: Tell us a bit about your professional background
KR: I am currently studying towards a master’s degree in Fashion Entrepreneurship at the London College of Fashion, United Kingdom. I hold an LLB Law degree from the University of Bristol, UK, and was called to the Nigerian Bar in November 2013. Prior to that, I spent my secondary school years at the Cheltenham Ladies College, UK. In addition to my academic background, I have always had a passion for fashion and the growth of the Nigerian fashion industry. I started my business, Kene Rapu Enterprise, when I moved back to Nigeria, straight out of university in 2011. However I started partaking in internship programmes from the age of 13, and I have gained experience working in various fields. From interning in law firms both in Nigeria and abroad, such as Dewey & Le Beouf and Adepetun, Caxton Martins, Agbor & Segun, to working with renowned fashion designers such as Tiffany Amber; working on the production team for Lagos Fashion and Design Week, to interning with fashion production companies abroad such as My Beautiful City.
CN: What is the story behind Slippers By Kene? Why footwear?
KR: Being a tall person, I’m always on the lookout for nice, affordable, good-quality flats. Slippers by Kene started from me designing a pair of slippers for myself. I wanted something interesting that wasn’t in the stores, and that was incorporated with the popular African fabric–Ankara. I had them made, wore them out and everyone loved them. Family and friends placed orders, the word spread, and two years later we are where we are now.
CN: How did you raise capital to start your business?
KR: The business has grown organically so far. Capital has been raised from the first pair of slippers sold, to the last pair sold till date.
CN: What are the challenges of doing business online?
‘Fast shopping’, provided by e-commerce, offers customers speed in placing orders for what they want online. However this also creates a need for fast responses by the online retailers as well. So in order to succeed in doing business online, one must have the capacity to take on orders and respond to customers online efficiently.
CN: What are the advantages of doing business online?
KR: e-commerce is definitely the future of retail in Nigeria. I see Jumia and Konga as trailblazers who have introduced many Nigerians to the culture of shopping online. Having an online presence is great because you are able to reach people all over the country who may not otherwise know about your brand or the services offered.
CN: How are technologies owned and deployed by banks useful to you?
KR: The GTBank market hub is a useful tool for SMEs to discover and connect with other individuals and businesses.
CN: How often do you update your website, and how quickly do you remove items that are not available?
KR: The www.kenerapu.com website is updated whenever new designs need to be put up, or a new promo or sale is announced, or if something needs to be edited. In terms of unavailable items, we do not sell ready-made slippers directly on the website, so that isn’t necessary. The website is operated in such a way that you place an order for what you want- using the pictures of the different styles to guide you; you then fill in a form, stating your size, and any preferences you have for your slippers; such as what colour of Ankara fabric you want used, if you want diamante stones attached to your slippers and so on. Your slippers are then hand-crafted, customised, and delivered to you within two weeks. For ready-made slippers, our customers are able to purchase online from our store on Konga: http://kene-rapu.konga.com where we stock a variety of styles and sizes for both men and women.
CN: How else can people buy your products apart from shopping online?
KR: We do not have a physical store at the moment. However, we should open a Kene Rapu atelier in the near future.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
KR: Following my passion, which is fashion.
CN: What motivates you?
I think I am more motivated by reading about successful entrepreneurs, especially young ones, who are blazing trails and making their marks in their respective industries.
CN: What do you enjoy most about your business?
KR: The Kene Rapu brand is like a child to me. I love every minute spent working on the brand, and seeing it grow and flourish.
CN: What are your favourite quotes?
KR: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”- Ecclesiastes 9:11
CN: What is your long-term vision for Slippers By Kene?
KR: My ambition is to build a strong global brand of fashionable footwear and fashion accessories which can play a role in facilitating the economic development of an emerging nation such as Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
I intend for Slippers by Kene and the Kene Rapu brand to become a household name, both locally and internationally. To start off with, every female and male in Nigeria should own a pair of Slippers by Kene.