Mese Bankole is a start-up entrepreneur, a shoemaker and a man with many skills. He makes both male and female shoes, bags, belts and also bakes. He’s graduate of Mass Communication from the Ondo state-owned Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko. This creative craftsman shared his background, his experience and expertise with our correspondence, Olumide Owaduge. Excerpts…
Who is Mese Bankole?
My name is Mese Bankole. I am a native of Akure, Ondo State. I attended Educational Centre Primary School, in Akure after which I proceeded to Oyemekun Grammar School, Akure and from there proceeded to Adekunkle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, where I had a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication. After graduation, I served between 2012-2013, at Nniata, in Anambra West Local Government, Anambra State.
In the beginning… Why I chose shoemaking
I personally love creativity. When I was in secondary school, I used to draw very well because I love drawing. At a time I took interest in artistic works like drawing, and so I went to my mum that I wanted to learn drawing and I located Billy Rose, who was and still an artist who specializes in still-life drawing, sculptural works, water fountain, among others, but I pulled out due to some challenges. While looking for admission instead of just staying at home, I dabbled into confectionaries like decorations, catering and so on, which I learnt for like a year or two. Later on, I thought of learning some other things and developed an interest in leather works like shoemaking, bags and belts, but my focus was on shoemaking. So I went to a man who is like a brother to me, but he refused and said most people are not serious, according to him; most people would register and wont finish the training. I convinced him that I am interested in learning the craft and I was determined. He, therefore, requested that I bring a guarantor. I went to my parents to serve as my guarantor but they refused that I cant become a shoemaker. That was in 2007. So I went back to the man that my parents refused and he said theres nothing he could do about it since my parents refused and I couldnt provide any other guarantor. So I went back to my mum convinced her and she followed me to the man. The man was surprised at my determination. My first three weeks I was used as an errand boy and I went to the man and told him my mission was to learn the craft and not to be used as an errand boy and so he took his time to teach me how to build footwear using the manual sewing machine. He also taught me how to make slippers popularly called palm sandals and the first slippers I made was in 2007 and I sold it for N1,500 while others were selling theirs for N700. Then I used leather because I wanted to do something unique and of good quality that supersedes that of others. I came up with the idea of using only leather to craft shoes, palms and sandals. In that 2007 I entered the university though registration did not start till 2008. When I finally left for school, I tried to manage the two together. I focus on academics during academic session and resume my shoemaking work whenever the school is on a break that was how I was able to manage the two together.
How I expanded into shoe building
I believe anyone who calls themselves shoemakers but only makes sandals are not good enough. That was why after I graduated from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko and awaiting mobilization, I went to my boss to teach me shoemaking as I was only making palm sandals and slippers before I finished from the university. So he told me to look for Jeans material which I would use for practical, after I got it, he showed me how to do it just once. And from that day on I knew how to make shoes. The first shoe I made was sold it to my in-law. When I showed the shoe to my boss, he was surprised and asked if I made it myself or if I worked alongside someone else, he was impressed when I told I made it all by myself, even though he only taught me just once.
He was surprised at my determination. Then, my boss does not make shoes, he only make sandals and palm slippers. I was the one that resuscitated the shoe market in his shop, so people started coming when they saw the types of shoes we were making. People will be like, we want to make shoes and I will tell them Im not the owner of the shop that I only do the finishing, whereas I was the one that makes the shoes from the beginning to the end though I do tell them my boss did it. Later when I got to National Service, my mind was not in the service, my mind was on how to make money because I was posted to a rural area in the East with no light, no good road and no good water.
So I later thought to myself that after my service year I can’t return to my boss and if there is no prospect of getting a job, I need to plan ahead. So I got tools like generator, filing machine and sewing machine in one month through my savings in shoemaking and NYSC alawee (allowance) because I didnt spend much during my Service Year as everything was affordable base on the fact that I served in a rural area. Whenever the school where I teach go on break, I come to Akure to hustle and my customers kept patronizing me even university students, so I became more interested in the job.
How I finally set up the business
I did shoemaking job for one year and a half after which I left it and I was looking for a job to take care of my parent in order to give them a better life, during those periods I applied for an internship program under the state Ministry of Finance, that is, the Wealth Creation Agency, WECA, Ondo state, I was there for one year and left shoemaking completely. When the Job expired, I applied for one hospitality job, at an eatery in Akure, where I worked as their chief baker for one year and eight months. Later I thought within me that my salary is too small compared to the kind of labour I put into the Job, so I left. I bought a container and set up my own business – BankyD Leather Works. Although there are challenges, I know I will soon get to my desired place.
My target market is for everybody, depending on the quality and the designs they want and for now, I deal with youth and adults from size 37-46, I don’t have small sizes for people from the ages of 1-15.
How lucrative is shoemaking?
Yes, the business is lucrative. Any business you can save from and get good patronage and people recommend your job to others, such business is said to be lucrative. The only thing is to package the business well.
My monthly take-home
It all depends on how well you package your products and your target market. You can make up to N40,000-N50,000 in a month.
What I do aside shoemaking
Before I started shoe making I was into confectionaries. I can cook and bake stuffs like cake, burns, plantain chips, spring roll, egg roll, meat pie, samosa, barbecue etc. I also do decorations and plan events.
I am also planning to set up a vocational institute where people can acquire skills because Nigeria is going to a point where white collar jobs will be so scarce like never before.
Challenges of the business as a young entrepreneur
Financial back up has been the major challenge. As you would agree with me, every business needs money to run. Because when you have a vision but you lack the finance, there no way you will bring the vision to reality. For instance, I need a machine called post-bed leather machine used in sowing bags and another machine used in cresting logo on leather and Im still trusting God for the fund to get these equipment.
What government should do to encourage young entrepreneurs
First, the government can organize skilled facilitators, someone like me now to train people who are interested in this line of work. Again, in Akure for instance, we don’t have a market for our business. I mean if you want to get some materials you would have to travel to Lagos. So government can create a market for that. Just like they have the automat for car dealers, they can create a leather market, because nearness to market helps business a lot.
Any plan for white collar Jobs?
I might take it depending on the working condition. If I have enough money to package my business and go into mass production, I won’t bother about it.
What young graduates could do to help themselves
If the government does not make plans for you, you must make plans for yourself. If the government is not making you useful, be useful for yourself. Look around you, there are opportunities like people’s needs, people’s necessity and tap into those necessities. Like me, I am looking for a way of packaging my business, whereby I will have a shoe clinic where people repair their shoes. And another session for bags, belts and a shoe showroom. If you are an undergraduate you can look around you for something to learn. When you are on break or you are home awaiting your NYSC mobilization, learn something pending the time, because it is good to invest on oneself in terms of acquiring skills and knowledge. No one can take that way from you.