Today’s Friday Column is on Nkwo; a seasoned Global Fashion brand. The brand came to my radar about 5 years ago, during the Arise Fashion week. They had one of the most intriguing collections!
Still around that period, it was also quite an exciting discovery to find her stocking at my favorite online store; Asos. Her Afromania by Nkwo collection was a massive hit on the site! I was more than a little obsessed with the Tulip dress pictured below:
The Creative Director, Nkwo Onwuka has long since moved her base to Nigeria and is currently stocking her pieces at Zinkata! How exciting!!
We had an in-depth chat with Nkwo on her journey into the world of Fashion and Entrepreneurship. Please read below:
1. Ezinne Chinkata: Hello Nkwo. Can you tell us a bit about your brand?
Nkwo Onwuka:It all started with an obsession with dolls and a mother who taught me how to sew. I earned a degree in Psychology, but my love for making pretty things has turned into a fashion business.
Please read excerpts from the brand’s profile below:
“The label debuted in the UK at the prestigious Kulture2Couture, where NKWO won the coveted Phoenix Award presented by the Mayor of London’s office in conjunction with the V&A museum. After several years of exploration and experimentation with innovative techniques as a form of preserving traditional craft skills, the label relaunched as an artisanal brand in 2012 and is now based in Nigeria.
The clothes are free-spirited and nomadic, inspired by the lives of the wandering people of the African deserts and the great plains. Modern interpretations of early methods of hand crafting like weaving, beading, hand dyeing and embroidery, give new life to fabrics by transforming their conventional uses and making the transition from tradition to modernity.Working closely with artisans and local makers across Africa,the label aims to educate and employ small scale manufacturers/producers, enabling the growth of sustainable businesses”.
2. Ezinne Chinkata: Your designs have a unique fusion of African traditions and contemporary leanings . Is this intentional?
Nkwo Onwuka: I would say that the fusion in my designs is a function of the way I grew up – half in the UK and half in Nigeria. Being from both cultures is a unique opportunity so instead of closing off one for the other, I have been fortunate enough to gain access to both.
3. E.C: Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your last collection at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week.
N.O: My SS17 collection, THE OTHER WORLD, was inspired by the fact that even though Africa is embracing modernity, we are still very attached and have a strong belief in things that are not ‘ordinary’. Things that are not to be questioned, just believed.Things that are steeped in tradition, rituals and religion where rites of passage, initiations or prayers take you momentarily from this to the other world. A place where you step into the darkness or float into the light. A place where everything is different, yet strangely familiar…
4.E.C: How did it resound with the immediate consumers?
N.O: I was actually quite overwhelmed at the reaction I got here after the show. I never had so many ‘likes’. Usually, it is more of a 30/70 split, with the majority of the Nigerian audience not really sure what to make of me…too edgy,too quirky or just plain mad!LOL!
5.E.C: What is the best part of being an African designer producing made in Africa clothes at such a time as this?
N.O: The best part of being an African designer, working and producing here now is the absolute freedom of spirit in a place where there is still so much to discover. There is limitless inspiration, access to artisans and raw materials and an opportunity to create meaningful change on the continent by invloving as many parts of the expanding fashion eco-system as possible.
6. E.C: The toughest part?
N.O: However, for all the positives, production is a huge issue. There is a lack of a skilled labour force, infrastructure, training and for the most part, the workers and myself have difficulty understanding each other.Not just in terms of language but trying to change the mindset and introduce a new way of thinking – more effort and time need to be put into producing items repeatedly with consistent quality, then their local crafts can become more than a subsistence activity and develop into a profitable businesses.
7. E.C: What advice would you give an international buyer looking to invest in Nigerian designers?
N:O: I would advice international buyers looking to invest in Nigerian designers to be mindful of time. Firstly, once prices have been agreed on, things have to progress swiftly, especially now when the cost of raw materials change on an almost weekly/daily basis. Secondly, if an order would normally have a 2 week lead time, it might be wise to give it at least a month or 6 weeks instead.
8. E.C: What is Your biggest achievement till date?
N.O: My biggest achievement would have to be turning my dream into a reality and keeping it going through all the blood, sweat and tears!!!
9. E.C: Ankara or Solid Colour? Which do you gravitate towards?
N.O: When I lived in the UK, all I wanted to do was immerse myself in print and colour, it must have been my way of coping with those never- ending- grey days. In Nigeria, where everything is so vibrant and in constant motion, solid colours and single tones have a way of providing me with a space in which I can find perfect peace.
10. E.C: What is the one thing you wish they told you before you started your entrepreneurial journey?.
N.O: Not to believe that creatives cannot be entrepreneurs. It makes you unable to or refuse to understand the art of making money.It is your business and that responsibility lies with you.
We are quite excited to have Nkwo stocking in the store. I am pictured below in a very modern take on the classic Iro and Buba set, available in different sizes at Zinkata.
NKwo’s pieces are currently stocking at Zinkata! Stop by and stay fab!
Image Credit: NKWO LFDW