The Bright Idea In The Dark

Forbes Africa
Published 7 years ago
The Bright Idea In The Dark

On a sunny Friday afternoon, amid the hustle and bustle of city life, Frederick Deegbe was shopping in the retail district of Accra, Oxford Street, when he came across a pair of Pierre Cardin shoes. On his way home, after purchasing the shoes, he asked a shoemaker if it was possible to create the same quality of shoe in Ghana and the answer was an emphatic “no!”

Realizing that a lack of education might be a contributing factor to the pessimistic answer he got from the shoemaker, Deegbe asked a group of educated friends and other professionals the same question. The answer was the same.  “No!”

“I asked myself, ‘if we believe we cannot make shoes in Africa, when are we ever going to be able to make airplanes?’” says Deegbe.

He decided to dig a little bit further into the luxury shoe market.  Deegbe discovered that it was a $500-billion market with an average pair of luxury shoes selling for $4,400.

“I said to myself, ‘someone out there is willing to pay me [$4,400] if I can create a shoe of the same standard.’”

That was all the motivation he needed. After a year and a half of research and planning, he quit his job as a banker to pursue luxury shoemaking fulltime and Heel The World was born. The name is apt; it represents Deegbe’s mission to prove that Ghanaians can produce high-end products that are of an international standard.

“I didn’t have all the answers, but I knew there had to be a social cause involved with the brand to give back to Ghana,” says  Deegbe.

He challenged his artisans to push the boundaries and made them believe that they had what it took to create shoes on the same level as those in the international fashion world. He sourced high-end materials and created designs that were original and contemporary. But there was something missing, which led to wrist beads being added to the Heel The World brand.

“At 1AM, we had a eureka moment. Why don’t we create beads? And then the lights went off,” says Deegbe.

The customary load shedding of electricity in Ghana, affectionately named ‘dumsor’, sparked an idea to use black beads in addition to gold detail. The black symbolized hard work and the gold was the reward.

Through social media, the Heel The World empowerment beads became an instant hit, selling thousands across Africa. Since then,  Deegbe has become a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, spoken on the same panel as Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and received the best fashion brand award from the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. He has also had regular features on CNN and BBC and achieved all this in just three years. The brand is currently in talks with Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury goods department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York.

Despite this, Deegbe still has several hurdles to overcome. Some feel that the ostentatious price of his shoes is unwarranted, especially with the current state of Ghana’s economy. He is however unyielding in his passion to show that talent exists within the manufacturing sector in Africa.

Also, proceeds from the sale of the luxury shoes go back into training and empowering young craftsmen to produce high-end products that can compete in international markets.

“Africa definitely provides a longer-term growth opportunity for luxury brands. The shifting appetite and behavior of consumers in this segment will require luxury goods retailers to develop a sophisticated but uniquely African approach to reach and satisfy the growing demand for luxury goods in this segment,” says Rodger George, Africa Leader for Consumer Business at Deloitte.