She emerges from the huge steel gates that lead into an upper middle-class estate. I am standing by a hotel just at the junction of the estate, waiting. The sun burns mercilessly leaving me drenched in my own sweat. My feet ache from walking and standing still. The car screeches to a halt right beside me; the side glass is wound down. “Santi!” the lady driving hollers. I look into the car as the dust began to settle – there are two ladies in the front seat and four boxes in the backseat. I share a seat with the boxes. The ladies chat all the way to the house – an interesting piece of architecture with fading paints. We stride through the rusty gate, past the generator into the main house. “Welcome to my house,” she says with a welcoming smile. I look all around the neatly arranged room – pictures hang on the wall and figurines carved in shapes of dogs and landmark places around the world flash into my eyes. She adjusts her nerdy glasses – a Ray Bans and settles into the seat right next to me; all that separates us is the armrest. A glass of water is set before me to quench my thirst and to fix my thoughts that had begun to fall apart after my long walk in the Sunday afternoon sun.
Fair skinned, tall, black eyes and clad in a sleeveless gown, Funmi is dashing. She whips her hair and pulls a few strands from obstructing her views. Her hair falls neatly over her shoulders right onto her back. I took a gulp from my cup and began.
“Where does the story begin?” I ask. Funmi blinks and toys with loose strands of hair that had, once again, fallen over her face. “Errrmm, it all started out as “FootFirst”. FootFirst began three years ago. I had a desire that I could not let go – I had a desire to make shoes. At first, it was with the intention to make shoes for myself and maybe, a few friends. That was it.” I smile because I have come to understand that great things often start small. That is how it always begins – a small idea to be run on a small scale.
“But how did you acquire the skill?” I enquire.
Funmi chuckles. “I learned from a roadside cobbler.”
I remove my pair of spectacles and rub my nose hard. I look at the girl and wonder how much pride she had to swallow to learn from a roadside cobbler. It was an uncomfortable thought to put up with.
“And how much of your ego came in the way?”
“None at all,” she quickly replied. “In fact, it was the other way round.”
Having learned the basics of shoemaking from the roadside cobbler, she proceeded to Lagos to learn the structural dynamics and designs of shoes. On the road of inconvenience and great sacrifice, Funmi gathered her skills and soon after began to make shoes.
Silent about her background, Funmi grew up partly in Ibadan and partly in Ilorin. Currently a 300 level student of law at the University of Ibadan, Funmi is her own CEO and she runs the Midiva fashion line.
“As a kid, I had always been adventurous, industrious and independent. I remember always wanting to do things on my own, with my hands,” she says. “Once, in Ilorin while everyone was away at their businesses, I fetched the sealing machine and began to put water in transparent nylons. After, I walked into the factory opposite our house with a bowl of sealed nylons of water settled on my head.”
I burst into a volley of uncontrollable laughter.
“A diva like you!!!” I scream. “Why would you even do that to yourself?!” Funmi laughs for some seconds and replies:
“I was young and all that I cared about was making something…earning something, no matter how little. In fact, Santi, I put a little sign-board outside that read –“buy cold pure water here””
I nod. I begin to wonder why she would want to earn money when she always gets everything she wants?
“My mum, being a clothier, inspired the business side of me. I’d sit and watch as her customers came by to buy things. I watched and helped them with their choices but most importantly, I learned to love entrepreneurship.”
I remove my glasses and dab my face all over with my handkerchief. I am in love with her story.
“In 2009, I was all by myself and I had nothing to occupy me; loneliness drove me into bead making. Once I learned how to make beads, I went to the market and purchased the needful materials. That period, I made so much money from beads. Though it was a nice experience for me, it was not fulfilling. I believed that I could be more than just a bead-maker.”
I take a gulp from my cup of water, and scribble a few things down.
“I dumped bead-making and, once again, I found myself idle and restless. So, I decided to try make-ups. I went on to YouTube where I watched videos and learned how to do professional makeup services. Somewhere along the line, I was a sub-dealer in cars. In the midst of all these things, I sold clothes for my mother too.”
I interrupt with a cough, then a question – “You did all of that?!”
Funmi smiles and adjusts her Ray Bans.
“There was this time that I worked as an usher with Ifective Touch. I was always on my feet all day as we ushered guests at events and at the end of the day, we were paid #2,500.”
We smile at each other, our gazes collide. We understand what we are – restless spirits in pursuit of purpose. We are both people driven by passion.
“So how did First Foot transform into MiDiva?” I ask.
“MiDiva was born when I won the YOUWIN grant. It was through the grant that I was able to formally establish my company. With the grant, I have been able to expand my services from making shoes to also include making bags.”
“And so how has is the experience – running a company?”
“It’s been an interesting journey. It was initially very challenging at first given that I am female and I am young. It was quite challenging having to get competent hands to work in the shoe factory. It was another level challenge altogether, dealing with employees that are old enough to be one’s uncle or even father.” Funmi furrows forehead and drops her gaze. “One good thing I have learned over the course of starting out Midiva is to be submissive and also to seek to add value to my employees. I learned that being bossy all the time and arrogant will get the company nowhere.”
“So what inspires your designs?
Quickly, Funmi answers. “Shapes, dresses and patterns.” I adjust my glasses and begin to write again. “Colours also influence my designs.” Quickly, she fetches a pair of shoes whose design was influenced by the lapel of a jacket. As she explains further, she mentions about a certain pair of shoes she made for Sound Sultan, the popular Nigerian musician. She makes no big deal of it, neither do I.
“When was your biggest moment?”
“Errmmm,” she begins, confused. I have had many big moments I don’t know which outweighs the other”. At last she mentions two: “one was when I attended the Made In Nigeria exhibition and I had governors and serving ministers come over to my stand and actually showed interest in Midiva shoes.” She smiles brightly and mentions another big moment – “I was at a youth event in Abuja, in the same room with President Goodluck Jonathan. It was such a great honour to have shared moments with the President.”
As for marketing, word-of-mouth has done the job for Midiva Fashion. “Social media has been a very useful platform to market our shoes and bags. However in the coming year, , Midiva Fashions will be exploring more ways of pushing its brand and its products for potential customers.”
Our talk takes us away from MiDiva to life. We talk about being grateful when we find ourselves caught in between what we ask for and what life gives us, and slowly, the meeting comes to an end. January 9, Midiva showcased her first collection of shoes and the model that rocked them was Sound Sultan. The story of MiDiva is a story of hustle and an unending desire to thrive. What is that idea that you keep toying with in your head? Stop toying with it. Do something today.