Ten years of Horseman Shoes- Ghana’s celebrity shoemaker Tonyi Senaya is redefining the once lowly profession
Tonyi Senaya established his shoe-making workshop in Kumasi in 2010 with a commitment to producing the finest shoes. Today Horseman Shoes stays true to its craft tradition, making shoes, which represent quality and quintessentially Ghanaian style. Tonyi’s artisans make just about 150 pairs a month, allowing them to focus on producing shoes of unique refinement, characterized by hand antiqued leather.
Tonyi’s fascination with footwear did not begin at an early age. At 25, his neighbor, Mr. Effah had opened a local shoe factory, where he would often visit to pick up shoes and sell after his friends expressed their admiration for one of his own. That is when the passion started.
“In 2009 I bought a pair of shoes from a local manufacturer and wore them to work. My colleagues were impressed and wanted some, too. Even after work, I still had people calling me to place orders. I realized that I could make a business out of this.” Tonyi tells me.
In a quest to utilize his creativity, he set out to make his mark on the local fashion industry.
Back in Kumasi Tonyi’s father was very supportive as he offered him space in his backyard and introduced him to a few shoemakers in town—where he cut his teeth as a designer. It was here that he began to infuse his aesthetic into the collections. For many years, Kumasi has been the hub of shoe-making excellence and a beacon of hope for many unemployed youth since 1983 after the deportation of Ghanaians from Nigeria where the skill is believed to have been acquired, but as the fashion Industry expanded and the taste of Ghanaians evolved, Tonyi saw a unique opportunity to make higher grade of shoes with even more care and handwork
At the onset of launching his line, Tonyi admits the learning curve towards starting a shoe business was steep. In order to create the high-quality product, he wanted, a lot of sacrifice was required. He had to learn new methods of approaching design and creating a collection, something he had never done before.
” The most challenging thing was that I wanted to make a beautiful product at the best price I possibly could because it was important to me that people were getting their money’s worth.”
By 2010, Tonyi’s company had moved from a sole proprietorship into a limited liability company and opened his first showroom four years later.
The company had begun to witness some appreciable growth by 2016 as proper structures had now been set up. A year later, Tonyi went into a partnership that saw the opening of three additional distribution outlets across the country.
The 36-year-old University of Ghana graduate has built his shoe brand with a commitment to purity of design. His shoes are not of the bells and whistles variety. He doesn’t believe in outer ornamentation. Rather, his shoes are of the lasting quality, the kinds of shoes that go beyond trends and time.
“Our business strategy has been to position ourselves as an indigenous brand, providing quality option to the imported shoes”. Says Tonyi.
In a fashion world where gimmickry sometimes outweighs true design, Tonyi, with his meticulous design, has found himself in step with men who are looking for shoes they can wear. Shoes they will love for years. His favorite of all the collections is the “chairman moccasin” , a blend of casual and executive which you can wear with jeans and polo shirt
In the 10 years since he started his label, he now counts an incredible list of clients including Former President Mahama, broadcaster and entrepreneur, Bola Ray, Deputy Roads Minister Anthony Karbo, Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Broadcaster Kwami Sefa Kayi and Lexis Bill amongst others.
“We have paved the way for other young entrepreneurs to come into the market -many have ventured into the space and realized that shoe-making is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been a mixed bag of everything”. For Tonyi, the profession which was once considered lowly is today creating sustainable jobs and putting food on the table of many.
Horseman shoe collection is one that is not only beloved to his loyal customer base like Freda Barnor, but one that has earned him a bevy of accolades from the fashion industry. Celebrating his 10th Anniversary this year— an enviable task for an emerging brand that came up in a tough retail economy— Tonyi celebrates with a robust business, one that has seen a year on year growth of 30%. His shoes are well-priced within the luxury space, only second to china and Turkey.
“It’s been ten years of learning, sweat, tears and toil. But also, very fulfilling and challenging. We have discovered ourselves as a business and we are still overcoming challenges”. Says Tonyi.
However, the banking crises of 2018 impacted heavily on his business. “We were really hit by the banking crises because most of our customers worked in the industry and some had lost their jobs so that took a hit on our business”.
After almost ten years in the business, Tonyi is looking at building a brand that will extend the borders of Ghana to other West African countries. “We need money to grow, what we require now is investments and capital injection to tap into the west African market. Most of our shoes are imported, we can create a local option”. States Tonyi. “Travelling to china will be minimized so we need an alternative to feed the market locally. We have focused on men shoes but there are limitless other opportunities. Imagine we had just a little of the Nigerian market with the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement? ”
With 13 workers now and a thriving business, Tonyi is unable to celebrate in grand style because of the impact of Covid-19 on his business. The restriction on movements and events has led to a slowdown in business activity,compelling the closure of three distribution outlets in Accra.
While Tonyi will continue to lead the company, his biggest challenge now is to expand the business, develop opportunities in direct retail channels while focusing on growing the African market. With an increase in the number of people turning to online shopping post covid-19, Tonyi has decided to capitalize on ecommerce. In addition, he plans to further utilize his brand to create more owned content for the website and social channels while also cultivating a more experiential retail environment.
Tonyi will mark the milestone with the launch of his Anniversary shoes which should hit the market by the last quarter of 2020.
You can visit horseman shoes on http://www.horsemanshoes.com