Tokyo Olympics: Ministry of Sports chose our sportswear brand after rigorous screening – CEO of AFA Sports
For the first time in the history of the Olympics, an African sportswear company fully outfitted a country at the world’s largest sports competition. AFA Sports announced on July 14 that it had partnered with the Sports Ministry to outfit the Nigerian contingent for the Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, he revealed a range of kits, shorts, sneakers, jackets, and shorts made with a combination of unique fabrics, modern techniques, and distinctive designs.
For a company founded in 2017, its rise to the top has been remarkable, as it continues to deliver on its promise of fostering a healthy and comfortable lifestyle through unique sport and leisure products.
In an interview with Nairametrics, CEO of AFA Sports, Ugo Udueze spoke about the progress the company has made as well as a number of other issues.
How does it feel to be a local sports brand that successfully equips Nigerian athletes at the Olympics?
I think the most important thing for me is that we finally have the chance to introduce ourselves to the world and I think seeing our brand on the international stage validates all the hard work and trust that we have in the system. And we are extremely grateful and proud to see an African brand representing an African country on the world stage, which in today’s world is not normal.
And I think for us that serves as an inspiration that it can be done here. You know, it serves as an inspiration that we can see on the world stage that we Nigerians are able to accomplish more and beyond.
Can you tell us about the journey that led to the creation of AFA Sports?
The journey has been very difficult in terms of understanding, entering a company, an industry that is still in its infancy, and trying to understand the values ââand the proposition. The way people see it, from not understanding what you are doing initially to what it is now. I think the trip was remarkable and that I found the right opportunities and the right time. We are very passionate about what we do and we think it translates into a lot.
What is the story behind the making of these kits for Olympic athletes?
What I can tell you is that people don’t understand. We understand that this is not something that we actually pursued or something that we thought possible in any way. I think what people don’t know is that the Sports Department has done a lot of due diligence, surveyed all of Nigeria, looking for local manufacturers of Aba in Lagos.
They came to our office and interviewed us; the minister himself came, spent three hours here himself, went through all our processes, understood our fabrics. He sent his people to follow and make sure everything we were doing and to inspect our factories. And we stood out among everyone they met in Nigeria.
So it was not an initiative that we even thought about. Until then, I had met the minister once when I congratulated him when he took up this post. I do not have a personal relationship with him and I have never met him afterwards. He did his due diligence. So I commend the minister himself and the ministry for going above and beyond to ensure that it was a local brand that equipped Nigeria. This has never been done before.
How was it, from an operational point of view?
From an operational standpoint, we had about two days to come up with a design and find the type of fabrics we needed to achieve our goal. We had to check the environment and climate in Japan during the time of the event. We had to call people who are physically in Japan to describe what the environment will be like.
We would have been there on our own, had it not been for the restrictions of Covid, although we did call people in Japan to understand the weather, because looking at the weather and climate online can be different from what it feels like on the body. .
It helped us develop the fabrics we wanted. Most of the fabrics we have created were made locally. For the tracksuits, they were imported because we had to develop the fabrics because of the colors from scratch from abroad. So the fabrics, apart from the tracksuits, we have developed ourselves organically. But we did not have the capacity to source tissue. Everything else that we did was mostly done here in Nigeria.
Are the reports true that athletes did not receive enough kits?
Well, I’m not the type to talk about what people see online. I actually saw these videos myself and people sent them to me. Our job is to provide what has been requested from the Ministry of Sports. And we’ve done our best to fill it all in and make sure everyone is taken care of. You should also understand the impact of the Covid restrictions and many other factors.
I was watching an event and a guy wearing Nike, and his ripped clothes. A lot of things happen in events like these. No one really knows the real story behind what the guy was doing. Everyone gets excited about the news and situations like this come out. It’s a bit unfortunate, but I can assure you that we have done our best to give the best to our country.
AFA was primarily a basketball sportswear brand and now it has moved into other areas. Why was there a different trajectory or what influenced this?
Our trajectory has been very strategic from the start. Basketball was something we knew very well and was the lowest fruit at the time, allowing us to develop our opportunities and our ability to adapt. Under Armor started out with underwear for soccer players. Nike started out by running. Everyone has their starting point and you grow from there. You don’t start a business or something new like this and you do it all at the same time. So as we grow we are very strategic in our offerings which will expand to other sports, kits, soccer and other sports available.
For the past year, we have been developing our soccer equipment and products. We have been very deliberate in having our niche, our opportunities and our advantages to come from an African market. And we are delighted with this opportunity. We would reveal it very soon.
What’s the next phase for other sports? What are the areas you want to improve to make the brand more globally recognized?
We haven’t even exploited 10 percent of our opportunities, and I think for us it’s also about capitalizing on our distribution and supply chains, and hopefully our expansions through the Africa. We will be very aggressive from the end of the year to position ourselves from next year to be the leading sports brand in all of Africa.
So we are working diligently to raise capital and capitalize on every opportunity not only for AFA Sports, but with our number one goal of building an industry and the ability to add something that was not previously there in the Nigerian economy and to provide tangible goods.
For us, it’s not just a one-time contract like a sponsorship deal or paying someone money for something. We actually want to create value in the environment which might not be immediately quantifiable in dollars and cash, but in the long term, create sustainable and economic value in Nigeria.
What is the leadership position or future plans for sales and marketing?
All! it’s still small steps now, but you know everything takes time and opportunities. For us it’s like trying to play basketball and start shooting three points from day one. We are very methodical in our growth and we are very methodical in our offers. We are also very methodical in our expansion plans. You know, we are slowly developing our supply chain and our distribution opportunities. And I think at the end of the day everything has to consolidate at some point in order to be able to make that major momentum.
What are your plans to get more funds? How do you search for investors and what’s next?
For us, financing is not the hardest thing to do. I think before you get funding you need to make sure you have all the capabilities you need. You know, for us that’s the most important thing, the ability to deliver on your promises and your processes. We are working diligently to make sure that we have structures in place, that our foundations are strong before we can take it to the next level.
I think the opportunity we have created is already very evident. But to consolidate and embrace what we’re trying to do, we have to make sure that we’ve actually dug deep enough into the ground to be able to take on whatever kind of responsibility comes our way.
Are we looking to see more collaborations with artists or are there any products created for those types of people?
Collaboration, for us, is a fantastic opportunity, not only for us, but for our partners. Collaboration, for us, also helps show that there is an opportunity for us to grow as a business. Our next step in collaboration is to expand worldwide, but most importantly, the opportunity to be united and to grow. Doing the 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 so continuously after the Olympics?
We would definitely work with some of the athletes who made us proud. We certainly work with a lot of athletes. This is 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 will continue to do our utmost to continue these collaborations.