Two students design future with male accessory line
Tobi Babajide has always been a fan of leather accessories. It was when he failed to find a decent, affordable leather bag last summer that he had an entrepreneurial epiphany — Herds of the Fathers, a male leather accessory line.
Babajide, along with his business partner Jason Akoi, started Herds of the Fathers a year ago in hopes of creating a male accessory line that appeals to all styles and is both accessible and affordable.
"It took me about three or four tries to just find a decent leather backpack — it wasn't the best, but it was still a leather backpack," said Babajide, a Livingston College senior. "I want people to know that they can actually find these things, that they're actually out there, that they don't have to have a polyester backpack for eight years. You can invest in something nice."
Babajide and Akoi, both 21, said the idea only came about a year ago. To date, the two-man team has created leather backpacks, duffle bags and mini duffle bags with hopes to put them out on the market within three weeks. All products will be sold online at herdsofthefathers.com.
The name Herds of the Fathers is meant to describe how men today are becoming more conscientious of their appearance and are not afraid to think outside of the box and actually develop a style like many women do, according to the Web site. The style is meant to be timeless and not something that becomes obsolete within a few years.
"We wanted to make a strictly men's accessory line," Babajide said. "There's not one place where a guy can go and get a backpack, a wallet and a belt all in one shot. Females have Claire's for that."
The name itself means developing an original style, without relying on designers to develop it for you, he said.
Akoi said the bags would be sold for about $200 to $300 each. He said while this might seem expensive to some people, it is cheap compared to the price of most leather name brand bags.
"It has to be that way because we're dealing with leather, and leather is not cheap," said Akoi, a Livingston College senior. "But at the same time, bags like this — they're like $500. We're trying to show people that you can have a nice bag and you don't have to break the bank to get it."
The accessories are also meant to fit with any style and compliment any outfit, he said.
"I think when it comes to an outfit, no matter how simple it may be, [an accessory] can bring it out, and that's what we're trying to do with our products," Akoi said. "Even if you have a simple outfit on, somebody may be like, ‘Oh, that's a nice bag.'"
While the line as of now consists strictly of leather bags, the team hopes to expand soon to include belts, wallets, hats and scarves, he said.
"We really specialize in leather, but we're going to branch out," Akoi said. "We might have hats, we might have scarves — whatever you need for that season, we're going to have it."
The bags, made overseas in India, are a collaborative effort between both designers and their manufacturer.
Akoi and Babajide admit they are not the best artists, but they work hand-in-hand with a manufacturer who sends them a paper plan, where the designers choose where they want the pockets to be, determine the shape of the bag and include small design aspects down to the zippers and bag buckles.
"We design them. Both of us can't draw, I wish we could though," Akoi said. "It's still us, but [our manufacturer] brings out the stuff we can't draw."
Babajide said growing up, he always knew he would have to go beyond just obtaining a college degree. The public health major comes from a family full of entrepreneurs, and he has always intended to keep up the tradition.
"I thought to myself, there has to be something that I can do. We didn't want a typical T-shirt company, so I said there has to be a niche where nobody has tapped into yet, so I thought, ‘You know what, let's start making fine, leather goods that people can afford and that are also accessible to people,'" he said.
Babajide said he wanted to prove that just because he is a public health major, he does not have to remove himself from his other aspirations.
"I wanted to show people that you don't have to go to fashion school, you don't have to go to business school to do these things," he said. "We just got up one day and decided to do it. You don't really see 21 and 22-year-olds starting a leather company."
Akoi said he never envisioned starting something like this. The political science major always had the dream of graduating to attend a top-ranked law school.
"We just got bored of going to school," he said. "We turned into robots where you just go to class and then you go to the dining hall — it just became a routine, and I felt robotic."
Akoi did not think something that originated as a simple idea would get to where it is today, in a little more than a year.
"It started off as a blog, and then it just grew to what it is now," he said. "It's just amazing what it turned into and the followers we gained after a year's worth of work."
The team plans to reach out to other designers, such as University alumnus Marc Ecko. They intend to continue using their blog and other social networking sites to get the word out.
"The Internet is a lovely thing because we've talked to people from all around the world just through sitting in our room," Akoi said. "Probably 15 years ago, if we did something like this, we would have to drive from state to state, products in our trunks."
The team came up with a slogan early on, "Laugh now, wear later," because most people did not take them seriously in the past.
"When you approach friends and they're not used to you doing a certain thing and you say, ‘Hey guys, I'm thinking about starting an international leather company that will ship all over the world,' they just look at you like, ‘Okay, whatever,'" Akoi said.
Babajide said most do not understand that a plan like Herds of the Fathers takes a lot of time and serious dedication.
"They just don't really understand it … until you show them something," he said.
Akoi said there were plenty of instances where they wanted to throw the dream out the window, because they did not believe it could turn into a reality.
"A year ago, we were telling people this is what we're going to do, and we stayed with it," he said. "A lot of times we got frustrated because it just seemed like it was stagnant and it was just staying in one spot, and there were a lot of times where we just wanted to give up."
Akoi and Babajide said there have also been many times when they had to lift each other up to stray away from any discouragement or anything hindering their progress.
Akoi said when people would laugh at their plan, he and Babajide learned to ignore them and continue moving forward.
"I would say, I know nobody understands what we're trying to do, but we just have to make this happen," he said.