Columnists

Andrew Chihungu thinks outside the shoebox

CHIHUNGU stitches a shoe.

Sunday Profile:
YANDE SYAMPEYO, Lusaka
ANDREW Chihungu wants young people to invest in time to research and discover their talents to enable them earn a

livelihood.
He says it is wishful thinking for youths to lay back and rely on Government to take care of their day to day life requirements when they should be thinking ‘outside the box’ for survival.
“If Government does not take care of your needs, what happens? Of course government has a responsibility to create an environment in which young people should thrive but it is cardinal for youths to invest their time in production. If one has no formal employment, let them use their talents to survive,” he says.
Andrew, who was born in the 1980’s, is a designer of handmade shoes despite having dropped out of college due to financial challenges.
Born in a family of five and raised by a single mother, Andrew’s childhood was a ‘cocktail’ of challenges and more so when his mother, the breadwinner, passed on.
Educated at Lusaka and Katete Boys Secondary School, Andrew completed his secondary school at Kabulonga Boys Secondary and later got employed at Mulungushi Textiles in Kabwe, as a screen printer.
He worked for the company for a year and the motivation with the motive to raise money to sponsor his tertiary education.
“Basically, I know all the processes that are undertaken in the making of a chitenge material. From the weaving to the printing and packaging among others,” he says.
Andrew enrolled in college for accountancy but halfway fell short of resources and had to drop out.
Faced with this predicament, he got part time works in various companies to sustain his livelihood and it was his cousin who worked for Keembe Tannery who introduced him to an entrepreneur who made shoes.
“My cousin Kazhila, who is now late, worked for Keembe Tannery as a sales executive. They sold leather to small scale businesses. She introduced me to a man who used to make slippers.
“The entrepreneur had a small workshop in Lusaka where they made slippers. So the plan was for me to get trained and later get employed but along the way, things did not work out as planned because the man relocated to another town,” he recalls.
However, Andrew was not discouraged by the turn of events as he had acquired the skill of making shoes. He resolved to make use of it.
At first, he made slippers and like most beginners, they did not meet the expectation of his clients but he continued to improve the product.
“People were complaining the slippers were ‘burning’ their feet but gradually, I improved upon the product,” he recalls.
Luck was on Andrew’s side as another cousin (Musole and her husband) came to his aid and procured an industrial stitching machine for his business.
Married with three children, Andrew later diversified from making slippers to handbags and belts because it was apparently less profitable to sell the sandals during the rainy and winter season.
Andrew resolved to register Chihungu Enterprises with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) and later approached the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) for membership.
The company, whose workshop is situated in Kabangwe area of Chibombo district, currently employs three people.
“The reason I chose to set up the workshop in Kabangwe is because I discovered there are a lot of young people and women who literally do nothing. I feel they need assistance in terms of skills to sustain their livelihood,” he says.
Andrew says he developed a working relationship with ZDA through which he has been invited to various business development seminars and exhibitions.
“The first time I approached ZDA, they were planning for a meeting on value addition in the leather sector from the farmer to manufacturers of finished products. A certain lady invited me to attend the meeting.
“Besides that, they requested me to come up with a business plan and I was required to pay a certain amount to become a member,” he says.
The designer, who had the privilege to attend workshops in Kenya and Japan, has grasped the art of making shoes that can sell both local and internationally.
He reveals that shoes in Zambian are on high demand than most people perceive.
“I have come to realise that shoes are on high demand in the country than any other product. I also make tailor made shoes. From the scratch, we make the soles up to the uppers. So these are very strong and durable shoes. They are not like those ones which you wear for a day and it gets damaged on the middle of the road.
“Hand-made shoes are very expensive and our range is between K500 and K800, depending on the design of the shoe. The reason we have pegged the prices at that range is because the materials we use are quite expensive,” he says.
Andrew boasts of a cross section of customers and is able to produce a shoe within a day to 48 hours depending on the design.
“At first, I used to search for clients but now, most of them call me to give me specifications of the shoes they require,” he says.
Andrew currently produces executive shoes, leather belts and industrial boots for the male folk while for the women, he specialises in sandals, handbags, pumps, belts and schools shoes for students.
He cites limited tanneries in the country as the leading cause of the high cost of materials.
“I get my materials from Zam Leather. We had five tanneries, of which, four have collapsed. If more can be opened up, then we will have a diverse materials and the cost of buying these materials will reduce and eventually the cost of the shoes will come down,” he says.
Andrew says he is also working towards expanding his production capacity by engaging more youths on the project.
The desire for Chihungu enterprise, (which means Golden Eagle in Luvale), is to open more outlets along the line of rail, in the next five years.
Andrew also plans to venture into manufacturing of leather furniture, an area he feels is not fully exploited.
“Day by day, we want to diversify. I have plans of making leather furniture because I have discovered most of it being sold now is not genuine leather.
“In the next five years, our target is to engage approximately 50 Zambians and group them in departments. One that will be making executive shoes and another in school shoes, handbags, belts and garments,” he says.
Andrew draws his inspiration from the diverse Zambian culture and his aim is to be recognised as a renowned designer on the global market.
Notwithstanding this vision, he plans to complete his studies and is currently pursuing a part-time course on business development and management.
“School is very important. It enlightens the way a person thinks. There are many times I have made loses in my business but I continue to believe in myself and my products. When you drop out of school, it is not a death sentence, be creative and find something to do to sustain your livelihood,” he says.
A local chain store that trades in shoes has noticed Andrew’s potential and is on the verge of taking him on board.

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