For many folks, the pandemic has meant slowing down, working from home, or ceasing to work at all. Not for Uju Uzuegbunam, who chose to forgo the quarantine hobbies and buckle down on her business venture. In October, she launched Ozznek Shoes, a kid-focused shoe brand named after her firstborn, Kenzo (“just flipped and with an extra Z”).
The line ranges from sandals and boots to casual shoes and slippers that are equal parts stylish and practical. “The thing about baby shoes, the soles don’t wear out, so it’s ridiculous to keep buying a whole new pair when it’s really just the tops that wear out” she says.
To that end, Ozznek uses detachable tops, letting parents can mix and match shoe styles while maintaining the same sole.
You can find Ozznek shoes online, with the current winter collection full of soft velvet and faux fur. Each “pair” of shoes comes with a sole and two interchangeable tops for under $40. She’s had the idea for almost a decade, right after the birth of her son, who was just 2 months old when she moved to the U.S. from Nigeria in 2011. Now he’s nine, and her daughter, Juliet, just turned one. Her brother Tony Iyke is also in Portland and was named Portland Monthly’s Emerging Designer of the year in 2018.
“It absolutely runs in the family. [My mother] was a tailor just like my brother, she was into fashion and ran a few other businesses on the side,” she says about the entrepreneurship gene in their family. “My dad owned a furniture company and a transportation company, he did all sorts of businesses growing up. I have seven siblings, and we’re all self-employed.”
Another thing Uzuegbunam got from her mother? The desire to help her community.
“I feel like everything we do, we do with her in mind. She was very hardworking, she gave us the itch to always work and help, not just in business but in charity work as well,” she says noting the company sends a portion of the proceeds of each sale to Children’s Global Affairs, an organization in Nigeria that takes care of orphans. And beyond charity, she wants to help parents with the simple idea of affordability, “Times are hard these days, some parents have lost their jobs and are on a very tight budget. If I can hear how it’s helped parents save some money, then I know my mission has been accomplished.”