For the first time in the history of modern Olympics, an African contingent will be kitted not by any of the major sports brands as Team Nigeria steps out in Tokyo with apparels made by AFA-an acronym for Africa For Africa. AFA CEO and former national basketball team’s star Ugo Udezue shares his breakthrough with MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.
Though the delayed 2020 Olympics Games would expectedly be officially opened today at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo, Ugo Udezue, a former National Basketball Association (NBA) agent turned entrepreneur, can lay claim to winning the continent’s first god medal for obvious reasons.
For the first time in the history of modern Olympics, an African contingent will be kitted not by any of the major sports brands but by AFA -an acronym for Africa for Africa – a wholly indigenous kit manufacturing company with its headquarters in Lagos.
Udezue in his characteristic self-effacing style is excited that Team Nigeria are in Tokyo in full AFA regalia as the company becomes the first African Sports apparel to partner an Olympic contingent.
“This is a golden opportunity and a golden moment not just for AFA Sports but also the Nigerian contingent; we are very passionate about the opportunity to represent our country and the African populace,” Udezue, a former national basketball star with D’Tigers said with a boyish smiles .“We are proud to be actively participating on a global scale, and are excited to continue rendering active support to the development of sports, and in particular the Olympic Games.
“We are also grateful to the Ministry of Sports for creating an enabling environment for local sports enterprise.”
Prior to the breakthrough with Team Nigeria en route to the Tokyo Olympics, AFA had feasted mainly on basketball as the jersey sponsor of the D’Tigers; official apparel sponsor of national women’s basketball team (D’Tigress); kit sponsor of the Defenders Basketball Team as well as the official jersey sponsor of the national women’s volleyball team.
Of course, a name is as important as the product as far as branding and marketing is concerned with experts saying that ‘name is an extension of the brand, and it can reinforce the value of the product’.
Udezue sounds so sure about the company’s brand name :“Simply put, AFA is ‘Africa for Africa’; it is ‘Africa for Africa’ because I consider myself as a Pan-Africanist and I see this as our own legacy project in order to bring something valuable to the continent.
“With AFA, we want to create a brand that would be as popular as Coca-Cola or McDonald. We want to create a brand that can rival some of the best in the world and that is why we have embraced quality from the first day we started operations.
“We are hell bent on being original and we are taking it one step at a time because I want AFA to outlive me,” he added.
Though a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, Udezue would be the first to admit that putting together a kit manufacturing company was not as easy as A-B-C, adding AFA is a dream whose time has come.
It is almost four years ago that AFA began operations but the measure of the company’s steady progress is there for all to see with the rank and file of Team Nigeria donning its different apparels in Tokyo.
Yet Udezue is not oblivious about the challenges ahead, adding AFA is an idea whose time has come even as he speaks on sundry issues. Excerpts …
In the beginning
I have been a sport man all my life and sports has given me an opportunity to be everywhere. I remember playing for the national under-16 and under 18 teams and that was the first exposure I had to be able to show myself to the world. There is a certain time you get in life you kind of understand that this what God has put you for , my own is to contribute as much as I can. I am not expecting accolades for setting up AFA because this is something I pray will outlive me. We just want to get things done because we believe Nigeria is a great country; we believe that there are things we need to do to make it better. If all of us can put a little chip in, this country can be great and that is one of the inspirations we have doing this. We want to do something that is sustainable for 50 years from now. We want to marry everything we are doing for the best success of sports. The good thing about our products has to do with the fact we do everything right here in Nigeria. We have been involved with basketball,volleybally,badminton and the Paralympics teams. We have not tapped into five percent of our opportunity and potentialities but we are very excited about what we are doing and this is the testament of that hard work.
I look young but I’ve lived a lot of my life already. I have never been motivated by material stuff. I woke up one day and said ‘as the first Nigerian to be a NBA sports agent how do I translate what I have learnt to make an impact?’ If I’d stayed behind in the US and for whatever reason I left this earth, nobody knows right, it will be a shame if there was no impact of what I learnt there. I was the vice president of the company I worked for in the US but and the president that ‘I was moving back to Nigerian’ and he didn’t believe me; he thought I will be back .I wasn’t think about AFA sports immediately on my return but when we started the basketball league ,the first thing I noticed was that the first basketball absorbed and I had to travel to China to produce the kind of ball that would suit our own environment. Here at AFA, all our designs including foot wear is done with the African need in focus. For instance, we have since discovered that most Africans have flat feet. I had a knee injury because I had flat feet and most shoes you have are not designed for flat feet. This why people like our shoes because they are physiologically designed for Africans in mind.
Competing against major brands
Even in the global economy where we are trying to compete at the next level, all the major brands source their production materials globally. Some of the fabrics we made for Team Nigeria to the Olympics were source locally while some were also sourced globally because of the quality that was needed to compete at that level, I personally I have gone to Aba , Yaba and Tejuosho markets just to understand the fabric market and we have done some fabric using local materials. Our organization is based in Nigeria and our employees are mostly Nigerians, so we should be able to source materials locally too. We are hoping to get a shoe factory here in the next two years , we also hoping to get other equipment that will help us build everything locally here , everything is a process and it is not going to happen overnight . We are not going to run too fast and we are not going to run too slow but we are building a capacity so that wherever you go, we want AFA to be the number one choice for Africans and Nigerians.
My fears are everywhere, there is no day I wake up, and there is no challenge to face or a problem to solve when you are running this kind of establishment. My fears is the uncertainties in the economy , the exchange rate is worrisome for every other business person but most of this works in favor now because most of our content are done here. We e have an advantage over other brands and distributor in Nigeria but what we expect in the next five , ten years , AFA will become a global brand . In the next five years you can walk in a shop in London and you can buy AFAR sports or in Houston, New york, Johannes burg, Kenya, Ghana. I am employing a lot of Nigerians; I’m giving a lot of people an opportunity to eat. You know we can do this here , honestly I like what the NBA did with the BAL but we started that concept first before we played the ABL or CBL some of this things has not be done but we want to show it takes a lot of hard work. To some of my friends that want to bring a Nike franchise and other brand franchise in Nigeria , why are you doing that when you can start your own brand ?, Nigeria is blessed with so many people , I know things are not right in terms of infrastructure but how is it going to get better if we are not ready to do things better?
Next step, Super Eagles
Absolutely it will be a dream comes true to represent our country in soccer and I think one day we shall have the opportunity to kit the Super Eagles. Interestingly, we just developed our new soccer boots and our soccer line is coming out in a month’s time from now. Our dream is not only to kit the Super Eagles, we want to kit the big teams including Chelsea and Manchester United. If we can get such opportunity, it will help in creating more job opportunities.