Four years ago, when Ugo Udezue quit his luxurious job as an agent of the National Basketball Association (NBA) at a top company in the United States, he never thought that he would become the first and only company to officially equip African sportswear. Pioneer. The team that participated in the Japanese Olympics this year.
At least, that was not the original plan.
If the client list includes players from the Golden State Warriors to the Brooklyn Nets, it will definitely be easier to stay in California. After all, Udezue has been in the United States since the mid-1990s, when a basketball scholarship lured him from his hometown of Nigeria.
But after his success in the United States, his homeland ushered in new opportunities.
The former player’s agent told Al Jazeera: “I returned to Africa with the idea of creating a continental league comparable to the NBA.” “All the best sports talents are from Africa, even like LeBron James. People can also be traced back to the motherland (sic).”
Udezue, who calls himself Pan-African, is keen to unify the African continent through business and sports.
The 43-year-old said: “For Africans, the opportunity to showcase the African continent is very important. Africa is suitable for business. If the product is good, Africans will spend money to buy it.”
In 2017, when his next business venture sprouted, Udezue was in the throes of establishing the Continental Basketball League. At that time, just to meet the need for extra kits and equipment in the league, the league has expanded to 10 teams from six African countries.
“When we started the league, I noticed that basketballs are slippery because they are designed for air-conditioned stadiums. We all know that there are not many basketballs of this kind in Africa,” Udezue said realistically. “So I went to China to develop one. A ball that can absorb sweat, and as a result we immediately saw fewer mistakes in the game.”
The self-described spoilers did not stop there.
“Based on my experience as a player, I realized that most Africans have flat feet, so we have also developed’breezes’ shoes that adapt to this situation to reduce the need for separate insoles.”
This constitutes the premise of AFA Sports, which means “Africa for Africa”, and has developed into one of the most popular sporting goods and apparel companies on the African continent.
“Our slogan is’This is ours’,” Udezue said of the traditional community culture on the African continent. “We are trying to build something impersonal.”
In fact, the name “LIV (54)” is even engraved on one of the first lines of the AFA. There are 54 flags representing the number of countries on the African continent.
Prepare for the epidemic
It turns out that Udezue’s vision is not just idealistic. This is also strategic.
Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought global business to a halt, many companies found it difficult to make ends meet. But AFA Sports is well-positioned to take advantage of the sudden shift in consumer tastes, launching a new line of fitness and homewear in 2019.
“When a pandemic breaks out, everyone wants to stay at home and exercise,” Udezu said.
For the African continent, AFA Sports has also established its own factory in Lagos as part of Udezue’s stated mission to reduce Nigeria’s staggering unemployment rate. The official unemployment rate exceeds 32%, but if you take into account the country’s huge informal sector , The situation will be worse.
“Be a Nigerian national [football] The team participated in the 2018 World Cup with a well-known design jersey. It made a lot of money in global sales, but it was not produced in Nigeria,” he exclaimed. “For a country with such a high unemployment rate, This is a huge opportunity. “
When the global supply chain stalled last year, the decision to produce locally instead of outsourcing abroad paid off.
“Since most of the international airspace was closed at the time and imports were at a standstill, we were very popular because we were the only company that produced and sold affordable sportswear locally,” Udezue said.
Udezue plans to continue to capitalize on this momentum.
While many companies continue to close their operations, AFA Sports-which exports to 20 countries, now has two stores in Lagos and one in Abuja-is planning to expand production.
He said: “About 90% of our production is currently carried out in Africa. We hope that by 2022, when we officially open a shoe factory, we can achieve 100% by the end of this year with 2,000 tailors.
New products are also in preparation, including AFA Sports’ own trademark afrileisure brand, which will Africanize casual wear.
AFA’s creative director Sam Otigba told Al Jazeera: “We want to modernize what already exists, and Africans will be proud of it, so we are committed to making traditional African clothing such as robes and jalamia.”
For Udezue to liquidate his savings and sell some of his assets to raise seed funds for AFA Sports, the rewards of the risk are even sweeter. But this is not to say that he did not encounter the obstacles he should have.
For example: the African continent lacks distribution channels to facilitate cross-border trade.
“It is easier to transport from Lagos to London than from Lagos to Nairobi, Kenya,” he explained.
There are other infrastructure challenges. A large amount of reliable electricity is required to manufacture shoe soles. Electricity in Nigeria is sporadic. Although its population (approximately 200 million) is 20 times that of North Carolina, the country as a whole generates only as much electricity as North Carolina.
But Udezue also has other advantages. Some of Africa’s biggest entertainment stars-from Ghanaian rapper Nicolas Sarkody to Nigerian singer-songwriter Patolankin-have endorsed AFA Sports.
“I don’t actually wear clothes from other brands anymore,” Nigerian singer-songwriter Paul Okoye (also known as Rudeboy) told Al Jazeera. “The nature of my job is similar to sports, because I often move around, so I wear AFA at concerts because it is very suitable for the weather here.”
Okoye is now a solo artist with more than 12 million fans on social media platforms and half of P-Square, the largest music duo in Africa.
In addition to sponsoring the Nigerian national basketball team participating in the Olympic Games, AFA Sports also sponsors teams from more than five African countries, and sponsors different football leagues, sports training camps and academies.
“Sports can be a real economic power for the entire African continent,” said Udzu, who was recently appointed chairman of the Anambra Basketball Association in Nigeria’s eighth most populous state.
“We have everything we need here: resources, people,” he said. “I hope we can ignite a fire that will resonate throughout Africa.”