By Christine Onwuachumba
Olubukola Asafa’s passion for creating a proudly ‘Made in Nigeria’ luxury accessory brand, led her into the manufacturing of handmade handbags, sandals, shoes and other leather goods with a culture of fine craftsmanship, design and innovation. Her brand OBA couture, also offers bespoke made to measure shoes and sandals that ensure it fits perfectly. Describing her label as a dynamic fashion, that is simple, unique, feisty and distinct. Saturday Sun sat with her at her work house in Lekki,Lagos.
Where did you study handbag and shoe making?
I am privileged to have taken courses in Florence, Italy and London, United Kingdom where I learnt the craft of shoe making and handbag making. I studied shoe making in Accademia- Riaci in Florence Italy, where I was taught by one of the best shoemakers in Florence. My first training of handbag making was online “howtomakeadesignerhandbag.com” I learnt from Richard Manigault and his wife Linda, and afterwards took the Advanced handbag making course in Prescott and Mackay, London, United Kingdom. In the near future, I will love to give back to my community and nation as a whole by offering my skills in shoemaking and handbag making to those who it will be of immense value to. I personally feel if we had a lot more people honed with these skills the rate of unemployment in our nation will reduce significantly and it will also help boost our economy.
What informed your decision to go into this?
At a point in my life, I was selling foreign branded hand bags, shoes, leather goods but I was importing them. One day, I thought to myself, why do the same thing everyone is doing? Why can’t we make quality leather goods in Nigeria, we have great leather so why can’t it be made here? So I did a lot of research, had samples made for me from all over the world including Aba. Fortunately for me, I was a recipient of the Youwin initiative under the Jonathan administration, a competition where people with the best business ideas won capital to start up their businesses, and that’s when I began this journey.
I obtained an MBA from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom but I’m proud to be an artisan. I know that my leather goods will someday, in the nearest future compete with global high end brands.
And how will you accomplish that feat?
Firstly, OBA uses luxury leather in manufacturing her products, examples of luxury leather skins are crocodile skin, snake skin, alligator skin, ostrich skin, lizard skin, etc.. We also use lamb skin and cowhide which is available in Nigeria in its raw form but gets exported and processed in tanneries abroad because unfortunately we do not have leather tanneries in Nigeria. So this leaves me with the more luxurious skins because they are not as tedious to process manually like the cowhide, goat skin, lamb skin etc.
This also gives me a competitive advantage because a crocodile skin handbag abroad will cost you anything from the range of $50,000 to $400,000, which is way higher than how much OBA crocodile skin handbags are sold for.
Secondly, I sell my products online from my website www.obacouture.com, so anyone from any part of the world can order and it will get delivered to them, we have a worldwide reach.
Apart from crocodile skin, are there no other quality leathers?
Of course we do, we have the ostrich skin, snake skin, goat skin, lamb skin, cow hide and alligator skin which is almost like the crocodile skin. These leathers are very good for handbags. I happen to like cow hide very much but sometimes the imported ones sold in Nigeria are not of top quality.
What is the difference between crocodile and alligator skin?
Crocodiles and Alligators belong to the same reptilian order and are of crocodilian species. They are quite alike, and also priced similarly and used interchangeably. The major difference between the two reptiles is that crocodiles have sensory pores on their skin that assist them to detect change in water pressure and locate and capture their prey, but Alligators don’t have these sensory pores on their skin. So you can detect a crocodile skin by the tiny dots you see on each oblong tile of the skin, this is often very difficult to see because they are so tiny.
How does one recognise a genuine crocodile skin bag?
When something is too perfect, you know that it is not real. Human beings are not perfect, even the animals too are not perfect so when it looks too perfect it may be fake. You can also tell by the price, if it’s too cheap, you know it’s not a real crocodile skin handbag.
Most importantly crocodile skin bags will never peel, it grows old with you if taken proper care of. Even if you keep it somewhere for a long time and it grows mould, once you clean up it is ready to serve you again.
What are the challenges of having a luxury brand?
One of them is when people price down my bags, it makes me sad but I politely tell them, “I’m sorry! It is actually a crocodile skin bag.”
Customers and prospective customers often compare our products with those from global luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Consequently, it awakens our consciousness to the level of quality we must produce in order to grab appreciable mind and market share, and this is visible in the improvement in quality with each product released into the market.
Another challenge is that crocodile skin is difficult to work with, it is not easy to process because we do not have processing machines so we do everything manually, it’s tough and that’s one of the reasons why it is so expensive.
Furthermore, the culture of excellence required to compete in the luxury brand segment is sadly not prevalent in our society and so I spend so much time and energy trying to ingrain this very important value in my craftsmen.
How does one take good care of quality leather bags?
Always keep your leather bags in the dust bags that come with them and store them in a wardrobe with cool temperature. Keep them clean, if you go out and you notice that you got dirt on your bag, clean it before you store them away .Clean your leather bags with a clean cloth, mild soap and water then let it dry. If your bag is made with soft leather like lamb skin, store things in the bag just to make it puffy, to keep it in shape. If you don’t do this, it could alter the shape of the bag. There are leather cleaners everywhere now, if you need to clean your bag with a leather cleaner you can do so, I always advise that you test with the small portion first.