How NBDA successfully integrated into streetwear culture in Nigeria

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“There is a market for sneakers in Nigeria but what we have discovered is that people still have a preference for foreign brands.”

Sneakers have become a highly lucrative cultural juggernaut. In 2020, the global sneaker market was valued at $79 billion with predictions to reach a further peak of $260 billion by 2026. This large shift is due to the changing perceptions of sneakers in the world today. They are no longer exclusively manufactured and purchased for their durability on various sports pitches but have become cultural staples in the fashion and sports industries today. Case in point: Lil Nas X’s satan shoes which retailed for $1,018.

In Nigeria, however, assimilation into our culture has been a slow build. While there’s undoubtedly a market for the product here, it seems that many consumers within the country prefer to purchase sneakers from trusted international brands. A 2018 report reveals that Nigeria’s sneaker importation revenue was valued at $100 million in 2018, confirming the attitudes towards local brands selling the same products. In the instances where home-grown shoes are purchased, consumers end up buying counterfeit because of their eye-catching prices, a move that’s resulted in the rapid growth and expansion of the Aba (second hand) market.

NBDA, a home-grown footwear brand wants to create change in the existing cultural landscape. Founded back in 2013 by founder, Ben, a sneakerhead based in Lagos, Nigeria, the brand has taken the country’s alternative scene by storm with its collection of monochrome sneakers and slides. He tells me, “I looked at Nigeria and its creative scene and I found that everyone was focusing on clothing brands and people weren’t really catering to the needs of the diverse market.” Now, the brand’s shoes are donned by everyone from your favourite alien musician, Wavy the Creator to DRB member, BOJ, MAVIN singer/rapper Rema, photographer TSE and many more within the creative community.

“There is a market for sneakers in Nigeria but what we have discovered is that people still have a preference for foreign brands.”

Although the brand was formed nearly 8 years ago, NBDA didn’t quite take off till a few years later when its founder – who prefers to be out of the limelight – moved back to the country and began to lay the groundwork for NBDA. After encouragement from friends who had seen the sneaker prototypes he had made, the brand’s CEO decided to take things a step further by teasing the potential product on social media. “It gained a bit of interest online from people curious about the brand and that’s when I decided to make the first official pair,” he tells me. “They were pair of red high-top sneakers with zips at the back and black soles and it had stingray leather. It was made in China so the quality wasn’t great but it was a start for us.”

To own a footwear brand in Nigeria is incredibly difficult. In 2019, the textile, apparel, and footwear industry-a subsector of Nigeria’s manufacturing sector had a negative GDP performance, according a report by Stears Business. There aren’t many factories to seamlessly manufacture shoes within the country—particularly, not the shoes Ben and his team were looking to make. He tells me that the brand was initially self-funded (and largely still is) and as a result, he bore the brunt of the manufacturing and production costs.

With no home base to create prototypes, NBDA wholly outsources its manufacturing and production process, a feat that mars many fashion and design businesses within the country. Ben tells me that the team currently manufactures their different products in 11 different factories across 4 different continents: “Sometimes, the constant back and forth with the designs and edits and then sending stuff to Portugal or China or Vietnam and it coming back and then having to like send it back and work constantly on the product can elongate the process for months or years.” Each pair of NBDA slides or sneakers requires an in-depth design process where it is sketched, made into a prototype, transformed into a 3-D sculpture before arriving at the final product after many corrections and additions have been made.

The realities of manufacturing outside the country are even steeper when you take into account the falling Naira rate. Ben tells me that NBDA currently has to compete with an ever-falling currency and the need to retain their product prices from their community of shoppers. “We’re spending 12000$ to fix soles currently. A few years ago, that amount would have probably been N4.8 million but today, it’s probably more than N7.2 so you have that pressure of your costs constantly going up but then, you have to keep the prices the same and there are customers who even want the prices to come down.” Alongside this, NBDA also has to deal with the additional costs that come with shipping and importation into the country. With all the back and forths that come with shoe production, Ben tells me that this is another difficult area to navigate as a designer in Nigeria. Ultimately, the goal would be to create a manufacturing base within the country in the next few years.

“The goal is to manufacture NBDA product here in Nigeria in about two to three years. As long as we have the right volume then we’ll be able to do it because volume drives manufacturing.”

Despite all these factors at play, business is going well for the brand and they have found a way to remain afloat due to backing from the alternative industry and collaborations with key players in the budding streetwear scene. Ben tells me that the power of community is a driving factor at the heart of the NBDA brand. “Most times, we see that there is a long chain of friends buying our products. At first, customers will come with many questions about their first purchase but after their first pair, it’s almost guaranteed that they come back from more after seeing the quality of our products.”

Community is truly at the heart of everything that the brand stands for. So much so that the brand’s title, the abbreviation NBDA has come to mean anything the wearer wants it to be. “We want to be community-based and we want people to build that NBDA community and form whatever it means to them. We want people to give it its own meaning. I’ve heard very interesting variations. My best would be Nobody Dies Alone because it reminds me of Pharrel and N.E.R.D’s ‘Noone Ever Really Dies’ and I used to be a huge fan growing up.”

Alongside this, NBDA also champions collaboration. Over the years, they have collaborated on exclusive collections and releases with a number of home-grown brands such as Severe Nature, Shade of Grey and PIECES, a few streetwear brands that have become cult figures in Nigerian streetwear. By collaborating with these brands, NBDA has been able to build consumer trust with many within the creative community who already look to these brands as trusted home-grown labels with reliable quality.

Over the past few years, NBDA pivoted into manufacturing slides, a staple in many wardrobes across the country. Due to the hot climate, many consumers would rather purchase comfortable open-toe shoes with easy circulation for walking longer distances rather than covered footwear such as trainers. Ben tells me that creating the slides was actually a by chance. “We started off with the sneakers and then dipped into Chelsea boots for a bit then came right back to sneakers. But with the slides, they were literally a mistake,” he shares. “We just accidentally posted it online and the feedback was crazy. We were really shocked. The sneakers do well but the slides do a whole lot better. We probably do like 5 to 6 times more slides than we’d sell sneakers.”

Although this has been their sole focus for much of the past year. Ben informs me that the brand will be realigning its focus on its love for sneakers this coming summer. There are currently a number of collections in the works, although he’s keeping those quite close to his chest – exclusives are typically shared on the brand’s design page – however, he tells me NBDA is now looking to collaborate with influencers and people within the creative community that help drive the culture. Currently in the works is a stellar collaboration with Iretidayo Zacchaeus, the founder of Street Souk, a streetwear festival held annually in Lagos.

As for what to expect, well you’ll just have to wait patiently and see, however, Ben does share that “Ireti has a huge impact in the streetwear community in Nigeria and we’ve let her add her own touch and her own details to the collaboration.”

[Featured image credits: Wole Babalola/NBDA/Pieces]


Tami is the Community Editor.


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