Meet the founder of Leather + Cotton London — Just Entrepreneurs (2023)

My name is Eze, founder of alternative footwear brand Leather and Cotton London. I was born and raised in Nigeria, and from a young age I was very much into sports and fashion, thanks to my five trendy sisters and brother who were on top of their fashion game. Seeking a better life, I soon arrived in the UK, and although I worked in various industries and sectors over the years, I was never completely satisfied in any of my roles. Frustrated by my trials and tribulations I asked myself one day… What are you great at? What comes naturally to you? And that's when I returned to my childhood passions, my roots in fashion and the rest is history.

What inspired you to launch your business and what is the end goal?

My attention to detail and ability to coordinate colours and styles started quite early. My friends used to come to me for advice and I would take them shopping to pick out clothes and shoes. I could tell them the exact impression that an outfit would make without even thinking about it. I also owned a clothing brand whilst in university which was great, but I didn’t really take my passion seriously until the idea for my shoe brand literally came to me in a dream. I saw the style, designs, and colours in such detail that I knew I had to make that dream become a reality.

However, I want my brand to be more than just shoes. There will be three stages, the shoes, the accessories, and then some charity work to support women and children in need.

How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?

Well firstly, there are not many Black-owned companies in the British shoe manufacturing sector, but I aim to become one of the leaders in the industry and inspire other upcoming Black designers in the process.

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Secondly, my designs and ideas are quite futuristic and unique which really stands out in what is historically, a very traditional, English, shoemaking industry. Times are changing, I know tradition is always tradition which I respect, and I’ve kept the essence in my work, but we need to evolve. We need soles with soul!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far as an entrepreneur?

Patience is a key one. Nothing happens overnight and to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be in it for the long run and focus on the end goal, so I have learnt to believe in myself, trust in my abilities, and most of all, believe that my dreams are possible regardless of the naysayers. Another lesson that I’ve learned on this journey is not to be afraid of making mistakes, as there will be many! It’s just about learning from them and continuing to push forwards.

With all the success stories around entrepreneurship and how innovative people have to be to take the leap. How do you think you’ve innovated your sector and why?

As I mentioned, I think my brand is unique and very adaptable so there’s definitely a space for Leather and Cotton London in people that are looking for alternative footwear. I pride myself as someone who doesn’t necessarily wear designer brands for the sake of it, but appreciates items for the detail and quality. I have focused a lot on designing footwear that is functionable, stylish, adaptable, comfortable, versatile, and most importantly affordable, and nowadays it is very rare to get this combination in a pair of shoes. It’s about daring to be different with what you wear, looking good and feeling great, and my designs certainly achieve just that!

What plans do you have for Leather + Cotton London over the next two years?

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We are planning to launch our women’s’ shoe collection within the next year which is very exciting! I have been designing and redesigning the collection for quite a while and working closely with the production team in my factory in Portugal to ensure everything is perfect and exactly how I envisioned it to be. Following this we will be looking into creating our bespoke accessory range, which will be something quite different for the brand and very interesting.

What’s the single most important decision that you made, that contributed to your business?

My journey has been quite a difficult one, from not having any financial support, and no formal training in shoe making, to not attending a fashion school or having any design qualifications to my name. I think it’s for these reasons that I found that people within the shoe industry were not taking me seriously, so I’d say the most important decision that I made was deciding not to give up on my dreams and to believe in myself.

After making this conscious choice, I went looking for help in areas that I struggled with and I came across the Department for International Trade (DIT). My International Trade Advisor at DIT has guided me and given me the support that I needed to ensure that my business was headed in the right direction. Also, through exploring international markets it has opened my business up to even more opportunities and soon my shoes will be sold in stores across the US and Dubai which I am really excited about.

How did you fund the launch of your business and what creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?

The shoe industry is a very challenging sector to get involved in especially if you’re doing something bespoke and building something original from scratch, but I definitely underestimated the amount of money involved in starting a footwear brand.

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The banks didn’t want to help me at first, they wouldn’t even give me a business account, so I had to literally get out there on my own, crowdfunding, meeting with potential investors and using my own salary from my full-time job. I even borrowed money from the high street with a 50% interest at one point, but luckily, I found four people that believed in me and invested in my business.

How did you conquer those moments of doubt that so often affect entrepreneurs or stop many with great ideas – what pushes you through?

Now that would be telling all of my secrets wouldn't it? I believe that moments of doubt are part of the journey but as I mentioned earlier, as long as you are persistent, have a great product, and a decent amount of patience, then you are certainly on the right track. Also, taking time to attend industry events and exhibitions helps quite a lot, as it gives you the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs who can relate to your experiences, and gives you a better understanding of the business and the sector as a whole

What’s the most important question entrepreneurs should be asking themselves?

There are quite a few questions that entrepreneurs should be asking themselves that can determine how ready they are before embarking on their start-up journey. Some of my favourite ones include:

  • How much do I understand about the business?

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  • How much research have I done?

  • Where can I get available help should I need it?

  • Am I in this for the long term or not?

  • How much passion do I have for it?

Any moments where you thought you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?

Oh yes! I’ve had a couple of those moments actually, but the most gut-wrenching was the moment that I realised I needed much more money than I initially thought. The lack of financial support at the beginning of this journey was very tough, and there were plenty of times when I worried about making ends meet, but I persevered and my business and I are much stronger for it now.

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What do you think gives a brand longevity?

What gives a brand longevity is when it does exactly what it says it will do and is consistent with it, and I hope to achieve this with Leather and Cotton London.


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