For the first time in the history of the Olympics, an African sports apparel company fully kitted a country at the biggest sports competition in the world. AFA Sports on July 14, announced that it had partnered with the Ministry of Sports to kit the Nigerian contingent to the Tokyo Olympics.
In lieu of this, it revealed a lineup of kits, shorts, sneakers, jackets and shorts made with a combination of unique fabrics, modern techniques, and distinctive designs.
For a company that was established in 2017, its ascent to the top has been remarkable, as it continues to deliver on its promise of nurturing a healthy and comfortable lifestyle through unique sporting and athleisure products.
In an interview with Nairametrics, the CEO of AFA Sports, Ugo Udueze spoke on the strides the company is making as well as a number of other issues.
How does it feel to be a local athleisure brand successfully kitting Nigerian athletes at the Olympics?
I think, for me, the most important thing is that we finally get a chance to showcase ourselves to the world and I think seeing our brand on the international stage validates all the hard work and trust we have had in the system. And we’re extremely grateful and proud to see an African brand representing an African country on the world stage, which in the world today, is not normal.
And I think for us, it serves as an inspiration that this can be done here. You know, it serves as an inspiration that we can see on the world stage that we Nigerians are capable of achieving greater and beyond.
Can you share the journey that led to the creation of AFA Sports?
The journey has been very difficult in terms of understanding, coming into a business, an industry that is still in its infancy, and trying to understand the values and proposition. The way people look at it, from not understanding what you’re doing initially to where it is now. I think the journey has been remarkable and finding the right opportunities and timing time. We are very passionate about what we’re doing and we believe it translates to a whole lot.
What is the backstory behind the manufacturing of these kits for the Olympic athletes?
What I can tell you is people do not understand. We understand that this is not something that we actually pursued or something we thought was possible in any way. I think what people do not know is that the Ministry of Sports did a lot of due diligence, canvassed the whole of Nigeria, looking for local manufacturers from Aba to Lagos.
They came to our office and interviewed us; the minister himself came, spent three hours himself here, looked through all our processes, understood our fabrics. He sent his people to follow up and make sure of everything we did and inspected our factories. And we stood out amongst everybody else they met within Nigeria.
So this was not an initiative we even thought about. Until that, I had met the minister once when I congratulated him when he got to this position. I don’t have a personal relationship with him and I’ve never met him after that. He did his due diligence. So I commend the minister himself and the ministry for going above and beyond to make sure that it was a local brand that kitted Nigeria. That has never been done before.
What was it like, from an operational standpoint?
From an operational standpoint, we had about a couple of days to come up with a design and come up with the kind of fabrics that we needed to achieve our goal. We had to check the environment and the climate in Japan during the time of the event. We had to make calls to people that are physically in Japan to describe to us what the environment will look like.
We would have gone there ourselves, if not for the Covid restrictions, although we made calls to people in Japan to understand the weather, because looking at the weather and climate online can be different from the way it feels on the body.
That helped us develop the fabrics that we wanted. Most of the fabrics we created were done locally. For the tracksuits, they were imported because we had to develop the fabrics because of the colours from scratch from overseas. So, the fabrics, apart from the tracksuits, we developed organically ourselves. But we didn’t have the capacity to source the fabrics. Everything else we did was mostly done here in Nigeria.
Are the reports true that athletes did not get enough kits?
Well, I’m not the one to talk about what people see online. I actually saw those videos myself and people sent them to me. Our job is to provide what was asked of us to the Ministry of Sports. And, we did our best to fulfil everything and to make sure that everybody is taken care of. You also have to understand the impact of Covid restrictions and a lot of other factors.
I was watching an event and some guy wearing Nike, and his clothes ripped. A lot of things happen in events like these. Nobody really knows the true story behind what the guy was doing. Everybody gets worked up on news and situations like that come out. It comes out a tad unfortunate, but I can assure you, we did our best to give our best to our country.
AFA was predominantly a basketball sportswear brand and now it’s pivoted to other areas. Why was there a different trajectory or what influenced that?
Our trajectory has been very strategic from the beginning. Basketball was something we were very familiar with and was the lowest hanging fruit at the time, enabling us to build our opportunities and our ability to adapt. Under Armour started out with underwear for football players. Nike started with running. Everybody has their starting point and you grow from there. You don’t start a business or something new like this and you’re doing everything at the same time. So, as we grow, we’re very strategic in our offerings, which is going to grow to other sports, to kits, soccer and other sports that are available out there.
For the past year, we’ve been developing our soccer equipment and products. We have been very deliberate in having our niche, opportunities and our advantages of coming from an African market. And we’re excited about this opportunity. We would be unveiling it very soon.
What is the next phase for other sports? What are the areas that you want to improve to make the brand more globally recognized?
We haven’t even tapped into 10 percent of our opportunities, and I think for us, it’s also capitalizing on our distribution and supply chains, and hopefully our expansions across Africa. We’re going to be very aggressive starting from later this year to position ourselves from next year to be the top athletic brand in the whole of Africa.
So we are working diligently on raising capital and capitalizing on every opportunity not just for AFA Sports but with our number one goal of creating an industry, and the ability to add something that didn’t exist before in the Nigerian economy and providing tangibles.
For us, this is not just a one-off like a sponsorship deal or paying money to someone for something. We actually want to create value in the environment that might not be quantifiable immediately in dollars and cash, but in the long term, create sustainable and economic value in Nigeria.
What is the management’s stance or future plans for sales and marketing?
Everything! it’s still baby steps now but you know everything takes time and opportunity. For us, it’s like trying to play basketball and start shooting three-pointers from the first day. We are very methodical in our growth and we’re very methodical in our offerings. We’re also very methodical in our expansion plans. You know, we are quietly growing our supply chain and our distribution opportunities. And I think, in the end, everything has to consolidate at one point to be able to make that major push.
What are your plans to get more funds? How are you scouting for investors and what is the next step?
For us, funding is not the hardest thing to do. I think before you get funding, you have to make sure you have all the abilities to deliver. You know, for us, that’s the most important thing, the ability to deliver on your promises and your processes. We’re working diligently to make sure we have structures in place, that our foundation is solid before we can take steps to the next level.
I think the opportunity we’ve created is very obvious already. But to solidify and embrace what we’re trying to do, we have to make sure we have actually dug deep enough into the soil so that we are able to carry any kind of responsibility that comes our way.
Are we looking to see more collaborations with entertainers or are there products being created for this type of people?
Collaboration, for us, is a fantastic opportunity, not just for us, but for our partners. Collaboration, for us, also helps show that there’s an opportunity for us to grow as a company. Our next step of collaboration is to grow worldwide, but most importantly, the opportunity to show togetherness and grow. Doing things that we need to do collectively is the iron force behind all of our collaborations.
How have you supported your athletes in the past and what plans do you have to do this continually after the Olympics?
We definitely would work with some of the athletes that have made us proud. We definitely work with a lot of athletes. That’s one of the opportunities for us to build a local brand. And we’ll make sure we have a symbiotic opportunity for us and our athletes. We’ll keep doing everything we can to continue those collaborations.