Launched in April 2018, Ékété is an accessories brand that made its fashionable introduction with intricately woven basket bags. While they exude the essence of blissful holiday, rooted at its core is rich culture and a fervent appreciation for ethical craftsmanship. Ékété believes that customers should never have to choose between their conscience and their style. Founded by Favor Olugu, the brand offers a modern take on age-old artistry designs for women who want to connect and identify with what they buy and wear. We caught up with Olugu to find out more:
Tell us a little about your journey leading up to Ékété…
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. My sister and I would make little outfits for our dolls using anything we could lay our hands on, from scrap pieces of fabrics we found in our moms closet to biscuit wrappers, nylons and ripping apart our clothes. Anything was potential fabric to us, we’d stitch them together and turn them into clothes and accessories.
Flavor Olugu ~ Ékété founder
I believe in the power of the African Brand and I have dedicated my life to showing the world the best of African Fashion.
However, on entering the university, I studied computer technology but 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 services for a year. After which I ventured into fashion – starting out as a Stylist Assistant and worked my way up over the last seven years. I’ve worked in various capacities as a Stylist, Writer and Fashion 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.
What does Ékété mean and why did you pick it as your brand name?
Ékété means basket in Igbo, which is my native language, spoken by the eastern people of Nigeria. However, it is much more than its literal meaning. It characterizes the beauty and strength of a woman, and the bond she shares with the people in her life. It also speaks of her delicate yet resilient nature as baskets are malleable, can take on different forms and still remain long-lasting.
Favor Olugu ~ Ékété founder
The first step to showcasing authentic Nigerian craftsmanship is by using authentic Nigerian materials. Because concealed in these materials are our rich traditions, culture and heritage.
Why did you choose bags as your form of artistic expression?
Not to sound cliché but I didn’t choose bags, it sort of chose me. Becoming a designer was never really in my plan and if it ever crossed my mind, I thought I’d be designing swimsuits instead. 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 and on that occasion I wanted something other than a nice dress or pair of pants. Something handcrafted, something Nigerian that would complement my vacation style and so I began my search but to no avail. That was how I noticed the gap in the market. I decided to design mine and just like that Ékété was born, taking whole new life of its own.
Are you worried that it will limit or define you as a designer?
Oh no. I don’t feel limited at all as the brand has so much possibilities, some of which I’m currently exploring and others I’m yet to uncover. It’s exciting, discovering how creative we can get with these typecast, neglected natural fibres.
Speaking of natural fibres, what materials do you use?
Our core materials are home-grown natural fibres; cane and raffia peculiar to the eastern and northern villages of Nigeria, combined with locally sourced leather and African prints. This is important because the first step to showcasing authentic Nigerian craftsmanship is by using authentic Nigerian materials. Because concealed in these materials are our rich traditions, culture and heritage. Also using these materials means impacting the lives of the people whose worlds are built around it by creating a sustainable source of livelihood.
What sets the brand apart from other fashion houses on the continent?
The craftsmanship, the techniques we employ have been passed down for generations. Our rich culture and heritage is painstakingly hand woven into each piece 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 home-grown and locally sourced natural fibres that are environmental friendly and so by carrying our accessories you identify with and become part of this narrative.
Ékété turns one. What lessons did you learn from your from your first collection?
Our first collection was us experimenting with cane and raffia, trying our hands different shapes and sizes to see what works and what people loved. Though it was fun to create, it was also challenging because these were uncharted waters for both my team and I. There was a lot I needed to understand about the materials and a major reorientation process for our artisans in order to broaden their minds and harness creativity. It was such a learning curve, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Favor Olugu ~ Ékété founder
I want Ékété to stand at par with international brands while still carrying essence of authentic African craftsmanship worthy of your trust.
Overall, the most important lesson I’ve learnt is to make sure the brand is meeting a need, solving a problem. This is one of the many lessons that has informed a lot of my actions going forward, especially with upcoming new collection.
Was the size of the bags intentional?
No it wasn’t. Our first piece was small so we just kept it that way. Somewhere along the line we introduced a bigger bag that was well received. So in our new collection we’ve added a few bigger sizes.
So there is a new collection in the works?
I’m too excited! I want to spill my guts and tell you all about it but I’ve got to let your excitement and anticipation build. But I will let you in on a few things. The collection is inspired and named after a ‘not so pet name’ my dad used to call me while I was growing up. We’ll be introducing some new materials, fun colours and other accessories in addition to the bags. The new collection will be available for purchase next month (April 2019).
Biggest highlights the brand has experienced so far?
Hmmm, got three actually and in no particular order. Debuting our first collection last year at Kampala Fashion Week, getting a review/feature on Vogue and winning a financial grant.
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, and logistics. Generally running a business in Nigeria is certainly not a walk in the park as we have to strive for certain necessities even when they are supposed to be the basic necessities.
When all is said and done what message do you want Ékété to impart to audiences?
As a fashion editor, while attending fashion shows like the New York Fashion Week, dressed in clothes by Nigerian designers, certain pieces made more impression than others. The pieces that did had people in awe, stunned at their level of detail. They found it hard to believe they were made in Nigeria. I want Ékété to be that brand, to be able to stand at par with international brands while still carrying essence of authentic African craftsmanship worthy of your trust.