Certain things in life seemingly remain unexplainable, and the same can be said about this young man’s journey.
Our journey started when we crossed paths sometime in 2021 at a house party in Asokoro. During the clean up the next morning, we (about 6 guys and 2 ladies) all gisted and got to know a little bit more about each other. We would later meet at Gwarimpa, which is when the real story begins.
This industrious young man had a goal and was set on achieving it. He made shoes for a living and was (still is) a master of his craft. If Inseekan wasn’t making deliveries, getting his supplies, or making shoes, he was talking about new designs or fitting you into a combination of clothing you never realised you had in your wardrobe. Then lightning struck twice!
First, the market where his workshop was located caught fire, but that only seemed to be a stumble on his journey, not a fall. He kept on his grind and faith in God and was well on his way towards his goal. Enter second lightning. When I tell you this guy’s stories are crazy, you gotta trust me. The day he fell off the first-storey balcony and landed on his face was like something out of a movie scene.
He later got up, brushed himself off and climbed back the stairs to the apartment we stayed in to cool off from the crowd and paparazzi outside. I’m honestly still shocked about how that happened and what happened, but I can only say Jesus Power.
His story isn’t mine to tell, and I’ll allow you to enjoy this exchange with the fashion icon and businessman, Nsikan of the House of Inseekan.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Let’s talk about your background
Firstly, I want to pray that this interview goes well. And that the readers (listeners, watchers) are inspired to keep up with the things they love to do as creatives, upcoming creatives, and even existing creatives, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
My name is Nsikan Victor Mkpong, and yes, I am from Akwa-Ibom State, lol. What did you hear about us? I’m a believer in the Power of Jesus and a graduate of International Relations & Diplomacy from Afe Babalola (University). My business is House of Inseekan. We are a fashion entity that specialises in leather production (at the time of this interview), including footwear. We also produce accessories like belts, wallets, and bags, but our primary product is footwear.
What sparked your interest in Shoemaking?
The possibility of actually designing a shoe and bringing it to life sparked my interest in shoemaking. Since Secondary school, I have been wearing my designs. Honestly, I will say because – I grew up in a couple of places (Abuja, Kaduna, and Uyo)– my secondary school was in Abuja but I lived in Akwa Ibom. In Akwa Ibom, if you think of something or an idea, you can find a way to make it work. You can always find a tailor or an artisan who will bring it to life.
I had these designs, and by the time I graduated from secondary school – those events like prom, Thanksgiving, etc., I sent my designs to my mom, and I told her, “Na wetin me I wan wear be this o! Let’s make it happen!” That was when I got introduced to my mentor and Aniferaz, who is an international, world-class fashion designer.
At the time, Aniferaz first introduced me to all the instruments I would use to bring my designs to life, all the way down to my shoes. When he did that, I’m like “Wow! Somebody can do this. Then I can do better.” That sparked the thing.
The shoes came out nice, the designs were lovely and people loved them. Then I’m like “Hmm. If I put my name on this thing, then it will be madder”, right? That was when it became a business.
I was excited about the possibility of people being able to stand out in my name; I already did stand out and (I mean) I’m already the owner of my name. I was like “You know what? I’m gonna make you shine,” and after shinning, you will say “Na Inseekan Run am.”
That was the spark.
Are you self-taught or did you study Shoemaking?
I did not study shoemaking, you rude people! [chuckles]But thank You! for you to ask me that, it means our work is so good that you think I actually went to the tertiary institution to study shoemaking.
Also, I’m not self-taught, I’m learning (because learning never stops) from professionals and seasoned craftsmen in the game, every day. Even today, when I show up in the factory, I’ll learn in order to make the last thing I did better.
At what point did you start the Inseekan brand?
Let’s stick with the secondary school period when I brought some designs to life.
In University, I also used to sell fashion pieces. All these things made people know me, the name and brand. They came to me for styling, fashion advice, and fashion pieces; if they needed anything to make them look sharp, and stand out, they knew the name.
Fast forward to Covid year . The year I said “Omo! Nah this thing I wan dey do o!” all the way to now that you’ve seen us, recognised us and called us for an interview.
What were the tough decisions you had to make when you started out?
First things first, the tough decision will be doing entrepreneurship after your parents pay school fees and invest money in you, because you go face them. And that is tough if your parents are not on board. Sometimes even if they are onboard, mehn they’re human beings. They are hustling for the money they are giving you. So, If they are giving you money or they are not able to give any, they will start stressing and be like, “Okay, the little they manage to put in your hand, wetin you dey use am do.”
You will buy material that you will later throw away and say “because you are learning shoe-work.” “Shoe-work, where?” With one cobbler down the road or one shop in one market that is not a fancy mall.
You know all these types of hassles [kisses teeth]. That was quite tough. Also, in the beginning, showing up every day was quite a tough decision. When you realise that omo, I have to show up for myself and pour myself into this thing, or I need to feed this thing–because na wetin you feed go grow.
What do you believe are the essential elements needed to be successful as a Fashion Designer?
First off, a fashion designer is a creative, so my essential ingredient will be believing in yourself. If you can believe in yourself, believe in your sauce, omo you have a headstart.
Also, you need to realise a prophet is not praised at home, so you need to be your own praiser for a long time and you can only be that if you believe in yourself. If not, you will just join a congregation of mediocre and inconsistent creatives.
What type(s)of footwear would you say (for you) is easy to make?
Easy may not be the word, but for the sake of this interview, let’s go with that.
It is very expected for someone to think, I’d say slippers, but I think half-shoes are quite easy to make. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a lot, so I’m like “yeah it’s easier.” I will pick half-shoe first and maybe slippers next. This also depends on the design I’m making. Basically, anything that doesn’t entail too much hand-stitching or foldings. For example, we have these Half-shoes called Rovas Mule. They are easy like slides.
How would you define your idea of fashion?
I’ll define my idea of fashion as Personal & Comfortable. If I’m in it, then it means I love it and feel good in it.
Do you think the ever-increasing amount of overseas brands coming to our shores is a threat to local designers?
No. Honestly, no! [chuckles]
Yo! If you knew the number of overseas designers that are made in Nigeria, like legit o, you’ll be shocked. Let’s even say they’re not made in Nigeria (100%), but Yo, 80%, 70% (some brands 100%) are being made with Nigerian materials, Artisans, everything.
So I don’t think they are a threat.
Not asking you to brag (Well, you’ve earned it). What was the largest single order (monetary and quantity) you’ve received?
Honestly, the most significant single order is still on the way. But so far, we wanna give a shoutout to fashion designers, our friends, family, strangers and folks we don’t even know that reached out to us for wedding gigs.
Those wedding gigs are amazing. Some come with extras “Oh let’s do for the Groom and the Groomsmen. While we’re doing that, let’s do something for the ladies too”, oooh. Those are lovely orders and they come once.
School shoe orders come at once, not for one student or classroom. Even if it’s a classroom, classes these days have 20 students, while the entire JSS1 might have 5 classes. The largest is still in the works, and God is bringing it to us soonest. That’s when we will now brag, “OPP if I talk, people go wan be shoemakers tomorrow” [chuckles].
What is your favourite part of the design process?
My favourite part of the design process is unique to the product/design I’m making.
For shoemaking, it has to be when we are lasting–that’s my favourite part. (Because) I promise you it doesn’t make sense until we last it, do you get it? Even you making the shoe, as you’re putting those pieces together, if you lose focus, [kisses teeth]you will know that that’s not your favourite part.
In general, I would say cutting the pattern out is my favourite part. When you cut the pattern and get it, that’s about 60% work done as well as assurance that your shoe will look the way you put it on paper.
Looking back at how far you’ve come, how would you quantify the growth?
Omoo! The growth is unquantifiable! We are growing by Jesus’ power and I mean that in any way you want to think about it. Yo, it is so supernatural.
From that Covid year until now, I want you to know that we have suffered a fire accident where our entire product space was razed to the ground. Bruv, I don’t know how to explain it, but I will explain it like this. The generator burn sotey the only thing left was the iron handle. That was literally like in 2021.
From then till now, what we have accomplished, where we are, and what we’ve been able to do now is tremendous. By the time this interview is out, we will be in our own physical workshop space equipped with resources needed for full production. Ask me when you post to confirm. Haha.
It’s a Jesus thing and they no dey measure Jesus’ Power.
Do you have a favourite Inseekan design out there, or it’s yet to come?
Right now, my favourite Inseekan design out there has to be the Zunzi Pair. The Zunzi Pair is this midway pleated slipper. It’s my favourite design because it was made for babes and it was well received in the market.
The first pair was for my sister when she visited the country, I was like “You have to go back with my stuff.” So I made a pair for her and she loved it–and I, most importantly, loved it.
When we were done, I was like “This pair of slippers, we will do 50 in less than a month.” Literally made it shortly after the fire in April 2021, and by May/June we were getting so many orders. That’s all I will say about that. We passed the 50 orders a month, though.
It’s been a favourite design for me, and a best-seller for the market. You should check it out.
Do you plan on taking Trainees anytime soon?
Oh My God! Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! Straight answer. Make we no even talk too much.
We worked on something last year that didn’t quite work out as I envisioned, so we go again this year. We go again until we get it done, optimise it, and we can have a system where we put out trainees from Inseekan to get jobs at Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, because of the skill they learned from the House of Inseekan.
Lastly, what gems do you have for readers still on the fence about a shoemaking career?
First off, you need not look at it as a shoemaking career. Find something else to describe it to yourself, for yourself, so that whenever you say shoemaker and somebody try to make you feel like an ordinary shoemaker, you already have the conviction that you are not ordinary.
Find something else to say that you are or say is your why or your reason. Because people have dirty mouth and when they open their detti [emphasis]mouth to say “Ahan! So na ordinary shoemaker you dey do” Ehen, you go know say nah that guy problem, not yours.