…Meet CEO Thessy Footwears
By Mercy Hill
Good afternoon can we meet you?
I am Chinenye Theresa Anyanwu, the CEO of Thessy Footwears. I am a native of Ukpor in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State. I am a second-class upper graduate of Economics from Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.
I had both my primary and secondary school education in Lagos State, Nigeria. I moved to Lagos State at a very tender age with my parents where I attended Ramson Kuti Memorial Grammar School. I am a second child of a family of five
You are a shoemaker, what propelled you into that occupation?
I wanted to use my hands for something particularly good. In fact, I wanted to be busy and get things done. While writing my final year project back in school, I asked myself what would you be doing after school? That was when I thought of acquiring a skill.
Then, what skill thrills my passion? I love footwears, I love to wear good shoes. So, I went for what I loved, shoemaking! Most times when I buy shoes from the market, I end up buying what is available and not what I genuinely wanted. That is why at Thessy Footwears, we give you what you want because, what I loved and wanted was what motivated me into this line of business.
It took me a year and three months to learn shoemaking. And I started making shoes officially in 2015. So, Thessy Footwears has been on for five years and counting. The business has been awesome. You know when you have a desire and it is achieved, you have exceeding joy. When I started, one thing I had in mind was originality and then giving my clients satisfaction.
I am living my dream, giving customers what they want with good quality. I make male shoes with raw leather. The fact that I use these little hands of mine to make these shoes, is awesome to me. Sometimes, my male customers find it very difficult believing their sight when they see me constructing these shoes with mallet, hammer and other tools I use.
What was the experience like being in a male dominated field?
It was a very tough one. Most times people see shoemakers as people who have not gained any form of formal education. They believe that the business is for ”Abokis” and then a male dominated field. For a woman it takes patience, will and passion to carry on.
I would love to cite one experience of an encounter I had with a client some time ago: I was supposed to deliver a pair of shoes to him, but he came before I could even get dressed. So, I hurriedly put on my NYSC jacket and ran out to give him the shoes. He was astonished and asked if the jacket belonged to me. I answered yes! He never knew I was a graduate who loved and made a living from making shoes.
Probably he had seen me previously as a pity case or someone without any option, but he was proven wrong. Some even look down on me because I was a girl. They think that as a girl I will not be able to make strong fitting shoes, but after wearing my shoes, they come back for more.
One basic challenge I had was with a client who really talked down on me. He was like, why will your parents abandon you to suffer like this? Are you the one catering for them? If only you were a graduate, you won’t stoop this low. I said to him, sir, I am not suffering.In fact I am a graduate with a second class upper in Economics. I just love what I do. I continued, sir, I served in Gonagi and Enagi communities in Niger State in 2014, where I trained over fifty girls in shoemaking in different schools. Sir, please do not take to me like that because I love what I do. I felt bad, but I still pushed on.
I had another awful encounter with another client. These men can really be funny because they think as a shoemaker you have nothing to be proud of. They see you and want to bring you down with hateful and demeaning words to make you believe you cannot do it.
Why I want to tell this story is because three years later that same man came back to my new workshop to repair his shoes. He said “Madam good evening, a beg no vex .How much you go take repair this shoe for me?” (in pidgin).
That shoe was just two thousand Naira, I charged him five thousand Naira and then gave the shoes to my apprentice to handle. He was grateful for that.
Now, what was the story: September 15 some years back, he asked for an animal skin shoe. I sold the shoe for thirteen thousand naira. He then asked that I delivered it to his house. I told him I would be closing late from work and that I would bring it. When I got to his place, I was downstairs and then I called him on his phone to come pick the shoes. He said I had to come to his apartment upstairs.
When I refused, he said I should forget my money. I needed that money badly but when I remembered my integrity, I went back home with the shoes. He did not say anything till after a week when he came back to my small old workshop. He said many bad words to me. He said, “ I don’t wear local products like this. I wear foreign products imported for me.
You are making a pair of shoes of thirteen thousand Naira and you cannot come home to deliver it. Well, I am an eagle and I will never come down to eat grass, its good you know”, and then he threw the money at me.
Wow! I felt really belittled and devastated. I said Chinenye, are you the grass and this man the eagle? If I leave the workshop and appear in my outdoor outfit, this man would not be able to talk to me.
It was not enough to deter me. I moved on and after two years, he came back to my new workshop so big and comfortable with apprentices and paid workers. He was on the other side of the table then. I did not insult him; I only handed his work over to my apprentice and charged him more. He could not have taken it elsewhere because I was the only one who could solve that problem.
To be continued…