Chioma Madueke is living her dreams as a shoe maker. She’s the CEO of MADU, a growing footwear brand for men. She said that being an entrepreneur in Nigeria demands courage. Madueke who studied Accounting at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, told Inspire that making shoes is her life and can’t wish for any other skill.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
One thing that inspired me is humans. I took my first step into entrepreneurship without even knowing it. It was in my first year in the university, I wanted to open an account with a bank. The only reason I wanted that particular bank was because of the customer care service, which was excellent.
The excellence got me into seeking for a way to raise the necessary fund for the opening of the account. Of course, I was barely surviving from the little my parents could provide at that time, and saving from it was like a death sentence.
One day, in my second year, a friend of mine got an idea but wanted someone to fuel it. I am a good motivator and so, I encouraged her and we partnered to work on her idea. It was a seasonal one but I made cool cash by providing solutions and making life easy for other humans, which was what the idea was about.
I learnt quite a lot from that singular experience and my life has never been the same since then. I have given up comfort and convenience so many times to be a solution giver to the world and to myself from my tiny space.
Humans played a huge role and still play a great role in my journey as an entrepreneur. I see humans and all I think about is making life easy for them.
How did you come about your brand name?
Last year, I started my journey as a shoemaker because I was passionate about humans and all I represent. I represent passion, confidence, class, self-love, innovations, hard work, and living dreams. I thought of a befitting name for my shoe brand, that embodies all I represent and my final analysis led to the name Madu Labels.
The word Madu means making a difference in you. Madu in Igbo means person or human. At the heart of my company are humans. So for every shoe I make, I am making people truly humans. Robots don’t live their dreams, humans do. Robots don’t have confidence in their abilities but humans do. I am making people complete in class, confidence, poise, with good shoes. I am making people love themselves. I am making them wear their true selves. Many people lose their humanity as they go through life, career, and business. What my company set out to do is to help people find and enjoy their true self through shoes.
When you wear our shoes, I want you to feel happy and complete. I want you to walk with your head high. The name Madu is memorable, short, urban and African.
What challenges did you face when you started your business?
First, I had to defeat my mind, which kept reminding me about societal opinions about what my business was about. I had a challenge of raising adequate capital for a good training institution but I was able to pull through with the much I could raise at that time. The society is yet to accept the fact that quality has nothing to do with gender. I have heard demeaning comments about how my gender is the reason some won’t patronize or associate with my brand but so far, with the buy Nigeria and grow Nigeria trend, I am hopeful. There is also a challenge of establishing a good training centre and a good functioning workshop with all the necessary equipment that will enable us meet the growing needs of the people.
Do you feel weird making men’s shoes?
No. I am always indescribably joyful. I can’t wish for any other skill. It’s life for me. This is why I can never understand the demeaning words and stares of people. If only they understand that making men’s shoes has become my life, they will echo my passion loudly like they were paid to do so.
As an entrepreneur, what are some of the lessons you learnt on this journey?
I have learnt to be courageous. Being an entrepreneur especially in a country like ours demands a whole lot of courage. It takes courage not to dust your certificate in search of a job that you are sure of earning from every month. It takes courage to wake up to keep pushing even when there is no reason to. I have learnt how to truly love. I have learnt more about humanity and embraced humanity with all its flaws and strength because of my journey.
I have learnt the power of synergy. No man is an island they say and I have experienced that countless times. I used to be a kid who lived in her own world but now, it’s different. I love that I meet different kinds of people and learn from them. It’s an exciting experience. I have learnt that growth is life. To live, you have to choose to grow.
Would you call yourself a successful shoemaker?
Yes, and with every strength in my veins. I might not be there yet but I am sure on track of being one. I believe strongly in me, my passion and the process.
When you tell people you make shoes, what is usually their first reaction?
They go like what? I can imagine the faces of a lot of people especially when I say I studied Accounting but now a shoemaker. I hear something like ‘Why?’ with a very sad expression. I have learnt to live with it because the truth is that I can’t explain it all to everyone.
How do you market your shoes?
I maximize my offline and online presence. Social media has been a very helpful tool for advertising my shoes and for now, I do the marketing myself.
What keeps you going whenever you feel like giving up?
The same people who inspired me to start my business keep me moving whenever I want to give up. Each time I remember that there are still teenagers and youths who sleep under Oshodi bridge daily in search of answers to unknown questions, I kick my butt and keep moving. I want to take young ones off the street and help them walk the path of self-discovery and actualization.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Before I say anything, I would rather ask ‘Why do you aspire to be an entrepreneur?’ Whatever be the legit reason, keep at it. Believe in you and never stop pushing. The reality is that the journey of entrepreneurship isn’t a creamy one neither is it promising as imagined but one thing that will help you walk it is your passion. Be your daily motivation because there will be times you won’t be lucky to get enough support and motivation from people you look up to and at such times, you can only continue if you choose not to give up.
Surround yourself with eagles not chickens and be sure you aren’t a chicken. Be friends with people of like-minds and who will give you the inspiration and support you need when your strength seems to fail. Never forget the power of synergy.