Giving Ghanaian Shoe Craftmanship an International Market: Daniel Odonkor

Selorm Tamakloe
6 min readFeb 15, 2021

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Let’s make shoes in Ghana and sell them to the world. That was the vision embossed on Daniel Odonkor’s mind when he officially launched his shoe manufacturing company (Chaste Shoes) in 2014.

Daniel knows the essence of strategy in business and knows that a graduate class in an internationally recognized university would be a great place to network with business leaders from around the world, so in 2019, he enrolled in Coventry University’s Global Entrepreneurship program. His commitment to the study of entrepreneurship as a graduate student earned him the Rising Star Award for Black Students at Coventry University. This interview captures the pathways on Daniel’s journey into entrepreneurship. Read on to learn more.

What’s your story?

I grew up in Tema. I had a knack for design and drawing, with a passion for buildings and structures. Those translated into me wanting to become an architect. However, KNUST offered me Construction Technology and Management instead of architecture when I applied. I went ahead and took that nonetheless.

In my second year at KNUST, I realised I was very passionate about doing business, so I started chasing that. I saw an opportunity to manufacture shoes in Kumasi, so I sold my laptop as initial seed capital and experimented with running a shoe business for a while.

I knew that within 5 years after school, my mates would be in places where they would be capable of purchasing the kind of brand of shoes I wanted to introduce to the market. My goal was to ensure that at least 80 per cent of the people I met in school knew about my shoes. My school years ended up becoming a combination of my academic work and my shoe business.

I completed KNUST and worked with one of my uncles who owned a microfinance company for my national service period. I worked as a loan officer at the microfinance company, giving out loans to people in Ashaiman. I used the allowances I received to travel to Kumasi to purchase the stuff I would need to make shoes in Accra. I knew that at some point, I needed to produce my shoes in Accra.

National Service ended in August, and in December, I launched Chaste Shoes officially. That was in 2014. Taking that step was a step of faith. I had faith in my idea, but I didn’t know how things would turn out.

I rented a small place in Madina and started production. I had only one worker at that time. He let me down at a point and quit the job. In just a year’s time, I had literally nothing but a few products — a lot happened in that year (after the launch).

The next year (2016) wasn’t all rosy, but 2017 got much better. I ensured the lessons from 2015 and 2016 didn’t get repeated. One thing with doing business is that you need to start making the mistakes early enough that you don’t get to make them when the stakes get higher.

It was in 2018 that I decided to study in school what I have been doing for all these years — entrepreneurship. I realised that understanding in certain contexts is more important than action. If you really understand what you are doing, you stand higher chances of going further on the success journey.

I started applying to schools. Trust me, that was a risk, because here I was as a founder going to be away from my business for a year or 2 (since I was considering going to the US as well).

I wanted my business to go international and global, so I knew getting into the education space in the Western world would give me the exposure and opportunity to network with potential clients, partners and collaborators.

It has been rewarding by far. The exposure has broadened my creativity and horizons. Studying at Coventry has been tremendous. There were so many great programs outlined, only that a lot of them got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were supposed to go to Taiwan for a camp for students of entrepreneurship. Students from the US and other parts of Europe were all going to be part of this great event. The goal was to have us come up with ideas, and then we would get funding at the end to start those new ventures. That didn’t happen, but there were some other things that we were able to do virtually.

I was the only Ghanaian in my class, actually the first Ghanaian to go through the MA Entrepreneurship at Coventry University. Having a mixed class made the experience rich and dynamic. I was able to understand how startups work in Malaysia, how businesses are run in China, and interesting insights from other countries through my colleagues.

The year-long program felt really short. The structure was such a packed one, with 3 classes each week, then presentations and assignments the following week. Even though it was really stressful, it was a great experience to have all in all.

What does the future hold now that you have an MA in Entrepreneurship?

I need to pour back into the business. That is the reason I enrolled in the master’s degree program. I need to practicalize what I have studied, to ensure that I can teach it really well. I have plans to teach someday, so I would want to try these principles and concepts out before stepping into the teaching role. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you don’t have the experience, you end up teaching only theory.

How do you find the shoe industry in Ghana?

It is growing. It has been dormant for a while. There were people in the industry, but they haven’t thought about how to make it internationally appealing and more commercially scaled. Now that there are people that are doing it in that way, people are beginning to come to terms with the reality that Ghana can produce shoes that can match up to any shoe in the world.

What could universities do more or better to support entrepreneurial thinking?

I think that universities need to allow students to express themselves. I really don’t think it starts at the university though — it needs to start before the university. People pick up entrepreneurship with greater ease at a younger age. My dissertation was on entrepreneurship education for high school students in the UK. I had wanted to do that in Ghana, but lockdown restrictions blocked that.

If I had known that I wanted to become an entrepreneur from my teenage years, I believe I would be performing even better at this point. I would have made lesser mistakes in university and made greater gains from my shoe business in its early years. There are other people just like me who go through this cycle. They go to university, graduate before realising what they really want to be.

The risk level increases with age in most cases. Students should be allowed to express themselves way before university. And at the university level, we should factor in the practicality of entrepreneurship in how students are graded. Grading should have a practical aspect as well. There are different forms of learning and they all can’t be justified in a 3-hour exam that is paper-based. The practicality of how students apply what they learn should be included in grading systems.

Any final words?

I would say that if any young person wants to start a business, just start it — JUST DO IT! It can be expensive to start a business. Knowledge is expensive. But ensure you have the knowledge before you delve into it.

There are basic things that you need to know. Your idea, what would make you stand out, and what would make you last. For me, I started just like that — no knowledge, nothing but action and a vision. I made a lot of mistakes, but no one can take the lessons from those mistakes from me.

Start anyways and ensure that every lesson you learn, you pick them real quick and you work on them. Nobody can take your experience from you. What you need to understand is that you are the business.

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Selorm Tamakloe

principally an interviewer, consequentially a poet, and occasionally voicing opinions