Lagos is a seductive city saturated with colour, music and a hypnotic aura that encourages hustle and bustle. chopping life slogan. But then, there is chaos; endless crashes and horns of frustrated drivers. Now imagine carrying these experiences literally on your feet. This is just one of the things Habib Olawale wants to share with people through his brand, Smiley Africa. The brand is also committed to changing the African shopping experience. What started as a side hustle for Habib is now one of Nigeria’s budding community-centric brands.
How was it start
The year is 2019. Habib Olawale works as a Communications Leader at a technology company. This is after a career in marketing and content creation. But like many teenagers, she wants to do more than just work 9-to-5. A business wants to start an additional business. But he doesn’t want to do it blindly. That’s why people visit top e-commerce websites to research what they can get into that will meet their needs. Habib notices that some of the tops are socks and wrist watches. But he is immediately drawn to the socks section. “I noticed how bright, colorful and cheerful the socks designs on these sites are. But when I looked at Nigerian brands, the experience was not the same. And I thought, people always wear socks. We can do something here,” recalls Habib.
Until April of the same year, Smiling Socksis a colorful and lively sock brand designed to ignite fun and excitement. “We first launched it on social media before we launched our website. And it was great. “We were getting orders from the website, WhatsApp and other social media platforms,” he says. Habib reaches out to Bolatito Akanbi, a former colleague, to join him as a co-founder. His wife, Zainab, also joined the brand as chief web designer. “Bola and I do most of our designs in-house. Then Zainab manages the website. He is a pretty good web designer. Whenever we have great ideas for the website, he brings them to life.”
About a year later, Smiley Socks began receiving requests for other products. “We’ve learned that many of our customers love to give gifts. And they were constantly looking for what to add to their order. So we started adding more products. People were demanding quality sportswear, and we undertook it. We also added berets to the brand,” he says. Shortly after, they rebranded from Smiley Socks to Smileys. “Right now people call us Smileys Africa,” adds Habib.
smileys africa is an African athletics brand that offers comfortable and exciting products for young Africans. The brand’s products include socks, caps, panties, ultra-t-shirts, collapsible bottles and sportswear. Their products are size and weather friendly. For example, the active jacket is made of lightweight material that can be worn on both hot and cold days.
The core of the company is the community it builds. When she launched her gym clothes, she partnered with different fitness phenomena around the country and started a mini blog to share her experiences. “We call them ambassadors because they represent the brand,” says Habib. “Initially, it was not configured. But now we’re working with an influencer housing brand called Alice. “These influencers get 10 percent off any product they buy, and their customers get 10 percent off when they use coupon codes,” he adds.
The brand is currently trying to expand its affiliate marketing program with a quarterly ambassador program where ambassadors can collaborate, create products that mean something to people, and earn from it. “We want to provide value to these influencers beyond the commissions and products they receive. They can create products and even if they put them on other e-commerce platforms, we will help market them,” says Habib.
Besides affiliate marketing, Smileys is also very good at collaborating with creators. “There is so much we can do when we collaborate with people, especially creators. It’s a way to let people express themselves and share their talents. That’s how Femi Ajiboye came about,” says Femi Ajiboye, creator of the latest collection of Smileys. Lagos in a Box, It was launched in June.
Lagos in a box
The Lagos in a box collection is a collaboration with Femi Ajiboye, presenting the Lagos experience through relatable sock designs. The entire collection is available in four designs. The first icon is called Fela and nightlife. “One of the great things I connect with Lagos is the nightlife,” says Habib. “I have stayed in many states in Nigeria and the nightlife is not the same everywhere. But Lagos is on another level. The city does not sleep. And when you think of nightlife, you think of entertainment. You are thinking of music. You’re thinking of Afrobeats. Lagos is the heart of Afrobeat and without Fela there is no Afrobeat.”
The next icon is Eyo, a cultural festival unique to Lagos. The third design is Lagos monuments, which includes Aro meta, Lagos theater and Ikoyi bridge. The final design is Danfo, the colloquial name for commercial buses in Lagos. “Anyone who knows Lagos knows that the yellow danfo is the Lagos badge. You can’t experience Lagos without Danfo,” says Habib.
The collection is available in eight variations – two variations of each icon. These socks come in two boxes – mainland and island. However, it is a limited collection of only 200 boxes. With every order, customers receive a Spotify playlist of songs such as Echo by Kizz Daniel, Ojuelegba by Wizkid, and Lagos Party by Banky W. The collection embodies the Lagos experience that evokes nostalgia.
“There are many creatives in Nigeria. One of the ways to monetize your talents is with value-linked products. We want to collaborate with more creators who can design or share stories through these products,” says Habib. “We’re also interested in the community. Every creator has their own community, and collaborations are a good way to reach these diverse communities,” he adds.
Smileys has a giveaway program where they distribute socks. “We noticed that many students don’t have socks. And it can shake their confidence by turning to how they approach education. Wearing comfortable clothes can help build confidence,” says Habib. The brand has an account where people can send random donations. The money is used to manufacture these socks and distribute them to schools. They collaborated with several NGOs to reach schools and donated over a thousand socks.