Young people in Nigeria are constantly asserting their presence and desire for a life carved out for themselves; whether it is in Trade and Commerce, Media and Tech, Fashion and Entertainment, or with local/home grown production.Today’s interview spotlights one of such dexterous and resilient youth: Bunmi Ademokoya, a model, student and, more recently, an entrepreneur producing footwear in Lagos, Nigeria. She shares her journey so far in building Irin Ajo, her shoe line—from learning the craft to the struggles of raising funds.
From Modeling to Leather Works
With a thriving modeling career that had spanned 10 years and while studying to get her second degree in Law, Bunmi decided to venture into making shoes. We asked her, why business? “I woke up one day realising that the only title I had to my name was ‘model’. I didn’t like that and I needed more,” she says.“So, I took a break from modeling and finished my B.Sc.The next step was deciding on having a career aside from modeling. I wrote a list. ‘10 things I had hoped to do’ and from that, I finally decided on shoemaking.”
Bunmi speaks honestly about her entrepreneurship journey and how she has had to navigate starting a new venture and the peculiar arcs and bends small business owners face in Nigeria. She says: “I had to go learn shoe making, register and trademark my brand, get some supplies etc. All the money I had, I invested in the business.
I remember being dead broke and thinking to myself, what did I get myself into? I’ve come to realise that finding investors is hard. I told myself that that I never want to collect a loan because at this stage, if I attempted it, the interests would bury the business even before it takes off. So, I put everything I had into my business. Figured if I bet on myself, potential investors would see that I meant business and was willing to go all the way.”
It’s paying off. A year after starting her shoe line, her business is growing. We immediately fell in love with the name of her brand ‘Irin Ajo’, the Yoruba word for journey, so we asked how she arrived at such an apt name for a shoe line.
When Bunmi was looking for a name for her brand, she did a lot of soul searching, and asked for suggestions from friends and family, but none of it struck a chord. “I remember lying down on the bed and thinking about everything I had been through as a model, where I was now, and where I had hoped to be,” she says.“The name that popped into my head was my journey. I looked up the Yoruba word of journey and I liked it. From that moment, Irin Ajo was the only name that kept coming to me. It was unique; it explained my journey and ethnicity.”
On Planting Seeds for the Future
Bunmi, whose shoes are handmade, believes that customers will always come back if they are convinced of the quality of product they are getting. “My materials are sourced locally. I actually go to the market myself to ensure that the materials I use are of the highest quality,” she explains.“It’s not easy, especially with the current disarray in our economy. Materials have become more expensive. However, as the business scales up, we will continue with our consistency in producing quality products. People will pay for quality.”
It’s not surprising that Bunmi pays attention to the quality of what Irin Ajo produces; her plans for the brand are not short-term. “The plan is to cater for footwear, handbags, and luggage. She tells us: “I’m focused on footwear because I don’t want to rush into production and compromise quality.”
“In the nearest future, I hope to get the investments I need to make my dreams become reality’.
Bunmi Ademokoya wants to ensure that people can get quality products without needing to shop abroad. “One of the reasons people buy foreign goods is because of the quality, and of course brand name,” she says.“Therefore, if I can provide those needs, people will definitely buy Irin Ajo.”
We felt truly inspired by Bunmi’s focus and doggedness. So we asked her what inspires her to be that way. “My greatest inspiration is the better version of me. I see myself succeeding in whatever I put my mind to. So I do all I need to be that person that I see myself becoming,” she explains. “If I could speak to my younger self, I’d tell her to do more. Don’t restrict yourself to a particular job, language, career or idea. You can do whatever you set your mind to.”
Bunmi Ademokoya also had words for aspiring Nigerian entrepreneurs and it can be summed up as: Get ready! “Starting a business is never easy. It will be rough at first, but keep pushing,” she says.“So there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel once you’re determined. You’re unstoppable!” We do agree that the way to fail proof yourself against the odds of life is through preparation.
The model turned entrepreneur does not leave us without a few beauty secrets. On Protecting Her Skin and Personal Beauty Hacks, Bunmi Ademokoya says she hydrates a lot because of the harsh weather conditions and her constant exposure to it while sourcing for materials.So she offers some product recommendations as well.
“Coconut oil—I apply on my skin to give it the shine and glow it deserves.
GNC vitamin E face cream to moisturize my face.
“Mysha face mask which helps fight impurities on my face, while also giving me a supple facial look.”