Exclusive: Puma is no threat, Owu Sportswear chief executive says

Owu Sportswear is one sportswear manufacturing brand that has the Nigerian market covered with its unique vision within 9-years of its existence.

However, with the thoughts of the challenge posed by incoming global brands, such as Puma, one might be tempted to say that the company will be having its toughest moment in business.

In this exclusive interview with Tunji Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Owu Sportswear, he shared the vision and how the company plans to scale further, plus its expansion plans to other markets such as Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

Owu is one of the leading sportswear brand in Nigeria, how can you describe the journey so far?

I will describe the journey so far as not easy, but glory to God. We are where we are today. The journey 9 years ago; it’s been tough, but presently, I believe we are justified with the number of teams that we kit and our own little contribution. The only contributions we’ve been able to make in Nigerian sports are football, athletics, rugby, basketball, and few others. So I will say we’ve done a good job.

On the teams you kit, how will describe your relationship with Nigeria Professional Football League Clubs in terms of professionalism?

In terms of professionalism, it has been good because we’ve received quite a number of patronage from the Nigeria Professional Football League, that is the League Management Company (LMC). As you might be aware, we kitted the team that went to Spain last year that is, the NPFL All Star Team,  we also kitted the under 15 that got to the final of the La Liga Championship in South Africa this year, all courtesy of the LMC. There has been acceptance and we can say that the relationship has been actually good.

Would it be right to say that the industry is at an appreciable level with the incoming foreign brands?

If it’s not profitable or I think the right word is, it is a growing trend. Taking into consideration that if the likes of Puma could come into Nigeria and not also forgetting that Owu is not the only Sportswear brand in Nigeria, we also have Cone, which I can basically say that those are the two main brands in Nigeria Premier League, except for the foreign ones like Joma. and the new company PUMA that just came into the country to ABS Ilorin is actually one of our team that we are ‘kitting’ this season.

I wouldn’t want to say its not profitable, I will say it’s an improvement, because when we started up, it was a low-profit income basically shirts, shorts, etc. but when we started this relationship that we have with shooting star about 7-8 years ago to where we are today, I will say we’ve been fairly good.

You mentioned the likes of Puma and the other brand that have come from foreign climes, do you see the incoming of Puma as a threat to your market?

No! not in any way, and the reason for this is that we all know the Nigerian market, the market is big and wide enough. Where they are coming from, they have the likes of Nike and Addidas to compete with, and if they are coming into our own environment, if they can understand the terrain and can operate, then good enough.

Based on your experience, what do you think are the major challenges in the industry?

The major challenge is basically fabric. This is because there is no fabric plant in Nigeria right now. So, what we’ve done, we have made sure we bring in fabric but not finished products. We are made in Nigeria and our production is 100% made in Nigeria, so that’s exactly what we are doing and the major problem is still fabric. If we have companies in Nigeria that produce fabric, it would be easy for us. We go to China, Pakistan and the likes to import of fabrics, but we make sure we are employers of labour in Nigeria, and that is exactly what we are.

Your brand is known for branding jerseys, sportswear and other souvenirs, are you considering partnerships with other shoe makers in the future or you are looking at your own kind of shoe brand?

One thing I’ve learnt about these industries is that the likes of Nike and Adidas still do collaborations; so if collaboration comes, why not? If the opportunity comes that we have to buy a franchise or affiliate with a franchise that produces footwear, definitely, we would do it. If we also have the financial withal by which we can have our own brand. But when we talk of footwear a lot of technology goes into it. It’s not something that we can actually say we want to produce in Nigeria.  We won’t want to go there and come to dump anything in Nigeria. So for now, I think it will be better to affiliate or relate with other brands. I think it’s better that way.

Sooner or later, Owu might be opened to some huge partnership when it comes to sports marketing.

The word huge makes it looks like we are building mountains in the sky. Anywhere we start from, we will take it a step at a time and when that time comes everyone will get to know about it.

Owu sportswear brand is widely known in Nigeria no doubt, are you considering expansion to other markets in Africa or to other countries anytime soon?

Definitely, we are working on that. Owu sportswear is working on something in Kenya and Ghana, right now. When the partnership is finished, we’ve had a discussion with a club in Zambia. But you know Zambia is not a stone throw, it takes proper time and planning. We are basically working on factories, building relationships and some other important things. So, when we crossed that bridge, you guys will be the first to know.

For people who are looking into coming into this emerging market, or trending market like you put it, is it a profitable business for Owu sportswear and what is your cost headline?

You want to know if it’s profitable or not? If it is not profitable, we wouldn’t be in it for 9 years, and at the same time, I won’t say we are making all the profits. We’ve had a challenging situation whereby, we’ve practically had to beg people to buy our brands, even the sentiments of Nigerians with regards to MADE IN NIGERIA product, but along the line, I won’t say it has not paid off. I would say it’s paying off because people are beginning to appreciate what we do and we are also able to put food on the table of Nigerians who work for us and so definitely we are doing well and now we’ve got over 40 staff and you know the relationship of having that number and people working with them, and they appreciate what we are doing right now.

You mentioned the challenges of importation, have you raised your price at any time with your clients due to the recession and are thing getting easier?

That’s one of the key advantages of being a Nigerian brand, understanding the system and how it works. We have kept our products for so many years under NGN2000, and we’ve not allowed the temptation of recession. We know there is a recession, definitely, but we still maintain a reasonable standard when it comes to the production of replicas. We are making it available because if it’s not available, it would be pirated and people won’t buy. So what is the advantage of being a Sportswear brand if people don’t buy?

Without giving too much out, what is the biggest plan Owu sportswear is looking at executing in this market?

The biggest plan is the day we get the opportunity to kit the Super Eagles. I know sooner or later, they will look inwards because if you look at the street of Nigeria today, how many Super Eagles shirt do you see around? The few ones you see around are not made by Nigerian manufacturers. They are made by people who went to China to produce and came to Nigeria to sell, which means that the Nigeria Football Federation are not actually making profit. So when that day comes, I will actually say we’ve gotten there. Right now we’ve done the few National Teams,  We have done for the Olympic Team, NPFL All Stars; both the senior and the under 15, we’ve basically gotten into the National Team. When that day comes, we have actually kitted the Nigeria National Team, we would say we are getting closer.

Interesting, finally let us bring it back to the football clubs. Why do you think Nigeria football clubs have not been able to make profit on Jersey and kits and what is Owu sportswear doing anything to help?

Rome was not built in a day. The idea of replica jersey is actually new to Nigeria clubs, but they are actually beginning to appreciate it on the grounds that they can now see their fans wearing replica jerseys to games. The likes of MFM FC of Lagos, Kwara United and ABS of Ilorin, Wiki Tourist and many more. Don’t forget that most of our Nigerian clubs are government owned. It’s going to take time but when we get there, everyone will see. There will be a time when they will start to look at our profit margin, and determine, you can make X amount from merchandise, you can make X amount for a particular thing, etc.

Don’t forget that most of our Nigerian clubs are government owned. It’s going to take time but when we get there, everyone will see. There will be a time when they will start to look at our profit margin, and determine, you can make X amount from merchandise, you can make X amount for a particular thing, etc.


About Owu Sportswear

Owu, founded in 2007, and has led the apparel industry by producing first in class sportswear that connects with our cultural values as Africans. It’s legacy, based on ingenuity, vitality and authenticity, celebrates progressive and independent thinking. As a leading Nigerian brand, Owu Sportwear continues to inspire a renewed sense of individuality and freedom and belongingness in modern sportsmen and women across the country.

Owu has a rich history as the originator and innovator in the sportswear manufacturing industry in Nigeria. From creating the men’s sportswear that appeals to cultural sensibilities to, launching our unique 4G™ collection, which is our sportswear brand, dedicated to children.

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