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Behind the Brand: Authentic Nigerian Craftsmanship to the World

Behind the Brand: Authentic Nigerian Craftsmanship to the World

March 19, 2019

 

Behind the Brand:

Authenticity to the World--A look at the Ékété brand

Nyema Igwe

Founder of Asa Afrique

Welcome to the first 'Behind the Brand' post of 2019! 

 It has been a while, but I truly enjoy writing these because it is an opportunity to share with you the stories of the brands and designers that we work with.  In today's post, I will be giving you a look behind Ékété, the Nigerian brand we partnered with to bring you all the beautiful handmade woven bags we recently introduced.

Ékété (which means basket in Igbo) is a brand I was excited to work with because they utilize authentic and traditional design elements and processes.  When I went home in December 2018, I was determined to meet with the owner, Favor Olugu, and see how we could work together.  At 28, she has built a brand around the traditional practice of handweaving with cane fibers and added her own creative touch to produce one-of-a-kind bags.

Read on to learn about her background, her brand, and the plans she has for it.  Enjoy!

Favor Olugu, Founder & Creative Director of  Ékété

Tell us a bit about your life before you started  Ékété and what you experienced.

I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, the first out of four siblings.  Growing up, my siblings and I were always encouraged to explore our passions. As children, my sister and I would make little outfits for our dolls using anything we could lay our hands on.  Anything was potential fabric to us, we’d stitch them together and turn them into clothes and accessories.  However, upon entering university, I studied computer technology but I always knew I wasn’t going to go on to be some top shot tech girl.  As soon as I  concluded my Nigerian daughter duties of studying a “good course”, I dabbled in oil and gas service for a year, after which I decided to go with my passion.

I ventured into fashion, starting out as a stylist assistant and over the last seven years, I have worked as a writer and editor at a top Nigerian magazine whilst consulting for other fashion and lifestyle brands.  My works have been featured on Vogue Italia, TW Magazine, Bella Naija, Style Mania Magazine, Spice TV and Ebony Life TV.  I believe in the power of the African brand and I have dedicated my life to showing the world the best of African fashion.

I believe in the power of the African brand and I have dedicated my life to showing the world the best of African fashion.

What inspired you to start a bag brand? What was the spark for you?

Ékété was born out of the desire to showcase authentic Nigerian craftsmanship to the world.  Whenever I travel, I always carry a piece of home with me.  There was an occasion in which I wanted something other than a nice dress or pants, I wanted something more handcrafted, something Nigerian that would complement my vacation style, so I began my search but to no avail.  That was how I noticed the gap in the market and decided to design my own.

What was it about women’s woven bags that interested you so much that you decided to build a whole business dedicated to designing and selling them?

First, it was the possibilities.  As a creative, my mind is conditioned to see the angel in every stone a lá Michelangelo. The possibilities of 100 different ways to design stylish and functional bags out of materials that have been stereotyped and neglected, the possibilities of showcasing to the world authentic Nigerian craftsmanship in fashion pieces that aren’t clothing. However, shortly into starting the brand, it also became about the people, the artisans, providing a stable income and source of livelihood for them whilst preserving Nigerian tradition, culture and craftsmanship by infusing these age-old techniques into modern pieces.

                   

What makes your brand different from other bag brands?

The techniques we employ have been passed down for generations. Our rich culture and heritage are painstakingly hand woven into each bag by our skilled artisans whose lives are made better through our fair-trade policy. It’s the authenticity and sustainability of our process, our use of homegrown and locally sourced natural fibers that are environmentally friendly that make Ékété unique.  By carrying our accessories, you become a part of this narrative.

What was it like starting/running your own business? What hardships/obstacles have you experienced?

Starting a business was the easy part because all I needed was a great idea, however, running a business is where the challenge is and that’s the part nobody tells you until you’re in it. Like most new businesses, I’ve had my own fair share of challenges, some which including funding, logistics and a few others. Generally, running a business here in Nigeria is certainly not a walk in the park as we have to struggle for certain necessities even when they are supposed to be the basic necessities.

What have you learned about being an entrepreneur? What advice would you give to others?

Oh, there’s a lot and I don’t know where to start but I’ll say this -- entrepreneurship has changed me. It has given me a whole new outlook on life and I have grown in more ways than one in the last year as a result of starting a business. My advice to others is to just do it.  It is cliché but for a reason.  My other piece of advice would be to surround yourself with like minds, seasoned business people and people who inspire and push you. Listen to them when they speak and draw from their wealth of knowledge. Iron sharpens iron.

Surround yourself with like minds, seasoned business people and people who inspire and push you. Listen to them when they speak and draw from their wealth of knowledge. Iron sharpens iron.

What plans do you have for Ékété in the next 5 years? What do you want it to become? 

In 5 years, I see Ékété being a brand with a cult following, synonymous with authentic Nigerian craftsmanship and functional fashion pieces and in stores all over the world.  I see us growing our community of artisans, training more people and impacting more lives. We will expand beyond fashion and become a full-fledged lifestyle brand.


Working with Favor has been an inspiring experience.  Her brand embodies everything that Asa Afrique is about -- culture, design, and lifestyle.  Not only are Ékété bags beautiful and durable, but there is so much culture, history, and love woven into every piece.  By shopping our selection of their bags, you become a part of the narrative and movement that brings authentic and meaningful fashion to the forefront.  With that being said, I hope you have enjoyed this post and please feel free to share your thoughts.  

Until next time,

Nyema 

Shop Ékété 

BIMPE Handwoven Crossbody/Waist Bag

Sometimes less is more!  The Bimpe bag is just what you need if you love small bags that you can carry on the go.  This versatile bag can be worn as a crossbody or a cute fanny pack.

CHIZI Woven Bag

Fall in love with the C H I Z I  woven bag at first sight!  Just like the N A N A bag, it is a must-have this spring and summer.  Handmade and built to last.

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