Made in Italy is a guarantee of quality as Italian footwear know-how is internationally renowned. Temi Olanrewaju understood this very quickly and as a lover of well-made shoes, the former relationship manager in Corporate Banking combines the design of Lagos with Italian craftsmanship. Her passion for luxury footwear took her to study in Milan, and she continues to jet across Europe, India, and Nigeria, traveling the world in search of inspiration and business partners, to establish her brand, Reva Stryder, an African as well as international reference. Created in 2019, Reva Stryder is a hybrid brand that concentrates the best of both of her worlds. The luxury footwear brand offers a range of leather ballerinas embellished with tulle and lace in delicate tones with elegant, chic, and classic lines.
Meet Reva Stryder Designer, Temitola Olanrewaju
Originally from Nigeria, Olanrewaju wants to make a name for herself in Nigeria’s world of luxury footwear. Integrating Italian excellence and Nigeria chic brings something missing in the accessory market still dominated by foreign brands and global brands in Africa. Reva Stryder takes a unique quality look and ambitions to close the gap and become a reference. For All the Pretty Birds, the Nigerian shoe designer remembers her humble beginnings, the people who help and advise her along the way, and testify about the ground’s realities in making a dream come true. Despite challenges such as the Covid-19 outbreak, Temitola Olanrewaju remains confident and is already working on a new collection.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: Nigeria is one of the leading fashion scenes on the African continent and one of the world’s most creative. However, African designers are not distinguished by their accessories. Why do you think that is?
Temitola Olanrewaju: To gain recognition and compete globally, creativity may not be enough. We have to pay more attention to the product quality instead of quantity, fitting particularly for footwear and the overall finishing of accessories. Bringing it home, most local footwear designers create basics for men and women because adequate infrastructure and modern expertise required to express their creativity are unavailable. The Government and Financial Institutions have considerable roles to play, but unfortunately, little or no support is provided.
AWK: How did your desire to create women’s shoes manifest? When did you create Reva Stryder, and what does it signify for you?
TO: Most designers recognize their creativeness and passion early on, but I discovered mine in 2016. At this point, I was three years into a corporate banking career. I spent some time within the following years studying at a luxury footwear school in Milan.
Afterward, I traveled between Nigeria, India, and Italy in the hopes of partnering with a footwear factory for production. For young foreign designers, partnering with the highly skilled Italian factories could be difficult without local agents because you’re unknown and young, plus there’s the language barrier.
After nearly a year, I convinced a 43-year-old Italian luxury factory to partner with my brand without an agent. This factory is known to produce shoes for Azzedine Alaia, Giambattista Valli, and Versace, etc. Even though legwork commenced in 2016, Reva Stryder was officially created in 2019. Reva Stryder is inspired by purposeful women who wake up each morning with a determination to overcome what stands in the way of achieving her dream.
AWK: What is your process in creating a model like the Lady Flora? In your range of prices, who are your customers?
TO: It begins with an inspiration and a genuine desire to create unique and functional shoes for working women. After sketching on my laptop, I made the paper pattern tests to confirm that the designs are realizable. I meet up with the production factory in Italy, sketches are transitioned to 3D prototypes, and then samples are made, followed by a final model and the production phase. Advancing to the next step is highly dependent on the result of fitting evaluations that occur after that current phase. For this collection, I focused on designing unique ballet flats to complement the hectic everyday lifestyle of working women easily. These women expect premium quality materials, appreciate the attention to details, and, more importantly, never sacrifice functionality and comfort for style. Just like I do, they believe that the perfect shoes should be a combination of both, never one without the other.
AWK: Many great artisans in Africa handle leather superbly. Why didn’t you want a 100% African process?
TO: Back in 2016, my first business plan was entirely focused on local production in Nigeria. The idea was to learn from the best in Italy, train and partner with Nigerian artisans for local production. Upon my return, I observed that there was still a considerable disconnect between the infrastructure available and the overall direction of the prospective brand—the complexity of the craftsmanship, unavailability of technological infrastructure, cost implications, etc.
For instance, the technology and expertise required to create Lady Flora to perfection weren’t available. The fragility of the embroidery tulle lace and the overall complexity of fusing soft lace with calf leather strength was challenging. The experienced footwear factory still had to partner with another seasoned Italian lace manufacturer to actualize the design to achieve this. Within the next five years, I’m convinced that certain aspects of production will return here.
AWK: Do you have a favorite pair of shoes from your childhood? What shoes are you wearing at the moment?
TO: About age six, I would say a pair of boots. I looked forward to when my mum would let us wear our matching Chicago Bulls denim jacket, T-shirts, and those cool boots. I’ve always frowned at the idea of moving around with an extra pair of shoes. So now, I spent a lot of time in the Brown Reva Shoes because they’re functional enough to transition from my day meetings to night outs, hassle-free. The neutral shade compliments almost every outfit I own, and more importantly, the gold heels accessorize the entire outfit.
AWK: There are a lot of uncomfortable shoes, but we like them. What do you prefer when creating a pair of shoes for women? Do you think comfort should take precedence over style?
TO: I believe that the perfect shoes should be a combination of comfort and style, regardless of whether they are made for lifestyle, for everyday wear or the red carpet.
AWK: The “Made in Italy” is a sure value, especially when it comes to shoes. How do you work with local factories?
TO: As a foreigner, working directly with local Italian factories has a few challenges but highly rewarding because there’s an acceptable level of transparency in the process. It strengthens your business relationship because the workers easily put a face to the brand; it eliminates the key man risk of depending solely on the local agent’s goodwill. The importance of visiting the factory at crucial moments such as starting a new collection, fitting tests, or final inspections cannot be overemphasized. A challenge for a foreign client like myself might be the language barrier, but nothing aside from class can’t be fixed. Fortunately, there has always been (at least) one English speaker who translates, but that’s the key man risk again. So, I started taking Italian lessons early this year because I’d like to hold conversations without that barrier.
AWK: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
TO: We’d love to continue working on our next collection. The pandemic state in Nigeria was aggravated shortly after I returned from my first trip to the factory to discuss the collection. We’re creating beautiful red carpet heel shoes that are comfortable and, as usual, unique. This unique approach to aesthetics would always set the brand apart. Exposing the brand to new markets is definitely in the picture within the next few years. My ultimate dream for the future is to create a customer-centric luxury brand adored by women and recognized by all for its distinctive aesthetics, superior quality, and extra comfort.
See more on Reva Stryder website and Instagram!