We all claim to have a shoe addiction. That we have a fierce fidelity to certain brands and are prepared to lay down months’ worth of savings to get your hands on a pair. But how many of you can say your shoes motivated you to walk again? Nigerian designer, Shola Yusuf, was in a near fatal accident in 2009 while en route to a party in New York City. Despite a broken femur, the first thing she asked the emergency medical personnel was the whereabouts of her shoes that were flung lobbed off during the accident. You see, these were her first pair of Christian Louboutin’s. And they were enough motivation not just to make it through six months of therapy post-accident but to also pursue her passion.Born and raised in Nigeria, Shola made her way to the United States in 1989 to attend pharmacy school. It was humble beginnings for this designer, having to work as a security guard as she made her way through the College of Pharmacy at LIU. Nevertheless she graduated in 1995 and moved to Florida where she opened her first pharmacy in 2003. She now owns four in Tampa Bay. Yet there were signs all along that she would eventually branch into shoe design.
For starters, she was exposed to different patterns, textures and colours at a young age in her mother’s luxury fabric shop. There, she enjoyed playing with different combinations that helped to shape her love for fashion and overall style. Travelling about 20 times a year to design and shopping destinations –from West Africa and Italy to Hong Kong and London – exposed her to substantial fashion acumen from some of the best retailers and designers in the world. Between the influence from her mother and her travels, it explains how Shola owns over 400 pairs. She admits that some have never hit the ground; mostly staying put in their boxes.
So she embarked on designing shoes for the smart and savvy shopper. She may source her leather from Italy, and fabrics from a multitude of destinations but she also draws inspiration from her home country. As she indicates on her website, “I always apply my West African design and fashion sensibility. I am very proud of my roots. My people are colourful, my designs are colourful.” Which is quite evident from the vibrant metallic Italian leather shoes in the “San Marino Collection”.
In addition, every single pair is inspired by one of Shola’s friends and fashion associates. For example, the Kike (pronounced “keek-eh”) shoes from her first collection are low-heeled coral shoes named after her sister-in law’s nickname. Short for “Kikelomo,” it means pampered child and it’s used to reflects the sensibility and style of the design. While Sandra from the “San Marino Collection” was eponymously named after her friend who she considers supportive, driven and confident. All attributes she wanted the shoe to portray.
It’s evident that Shola doesn’t shy away from hard work. Despite owning and running the four pharmacies, she’s heavily involved in the shoe-creation process. From working with a team to sketch her ideas and utilizing this to create a prototype at the shoe factory, to selecting the materials and finally approving the prototype that will be the basis for the full production. Shola explains it can take up to six months but she’s not complaining. The result is an elegant, handmade product with vivid shades and quality materials. It’s a unique approach that combines a simplistic perspective with the softness of leather and a knack for trendy design. Shola designs has found its footing in the USA and is hoping to be readily available in Africa as well in the near future.
Shola’s may be a quirky origin story, but it doesn’t change the fact that she acted on her inspiration with an entrepreneurial head on her shoulders. Finding the symbiosis between passion and business can help steer any business to the next level. Shola can also be a muse to designers that don’t necessarily want to go all in; only focusing on fashion. With detailed planning and a little help (she runs the pharmacies with her brother), it’s possible to pursue your fervours.