Monday, 17 August 2015

Tunde Owolabi: Founder of Ethnik

Hello Nigerians... I stumbled across today's Aspiring Nigerian a few weeks ago, and I mean it when I say that I instantly fell (hard) in love with his work and could not wait to share it with you all. It is with a huge portion of pride and a sprinkling of envy that I say that this Nigerian is truly multi-talented, and as a professional artist, photographer and designer, he could be appearing on this blog under any one of those titles. However today we are celebrating his work as a designer and the amazing line of bespoke Aso Oke footwear (and accessories) that he creates. This Nigerian is not only a man who does not compromise on quality, but as a person who appreciates his culture and heritage, and celebrates it, preserves it and brings it to the masses through his work, I would like to consider him a kindred spirit and somebody that I personally appreciate and I hope that you will too. I only hope this post can do his brand justice. It is with genuine pleasure that I introduce you to Mr Tunde Owolabi: Founder of Ethnik.

Nature of Business

Ethnik is a premium 'Made in Nigeria' brand that creates bespoke handmade footwear and fashion accessories using the traditional Yoruba fabric Aso Oke.

The Aso Oke used for Ethnik designs is made using traditional Yoruba Aso Oke weaving methods passed down through the generations. By creating these stunning original designs, Ethnik is not only promoting the use of Aso Oke fabric amongst Nigerians, but it is bringing this age old fabric to a younger generation and a wider non-Nigerian market. In so doing, this not only provides ongoing employment for the skilled local Aso Oke weavers, but importantly helps to preserve one of the oldest sewing textiles in Africa.

Background to Aspiring Nigerian - Tunde Owolabi:

Ethnik was founded by Tunde Owolabi. Tunde was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He studied painting under the tutelage of Professor Abayomi Barber, a renowned Nigerian artist at the University of Lagos, and later obtained a degree in Graphic Design from Yaba College of Technology. After his degree, Tunde became a freelance artist, a journey that led him to develop a keen interest in photography. He went on to study photography and photo retouching at the University of the Arts London. Tunde worked as a designer at the research studios London under Neville Brody, English graphic designer, typographer and art director, working on accounts such as nickelodeon, Somerset House, Sofitel etc.

On returning to Nigeria in 2009, he worked with Insight Communications, a most sought after advertising agency in Nigeria as an art director, working on brands such as Pepsi, Heineken, Mainstreet Bank, to mention a few.

He started Tunde Owolabi Studios in 2011, offering design and photographic services. Tunde left advertising in 2012, to start StudioMO, with a partner, while still running Tunde Owolabi Studios. He has since become a full time studio artist photographer and designer.

Background to Business - Ethnik:

I was fortunate enough to speak with Tunde recently in order to learn a bit more about the background to this amazing new brand. Below is an excerpt from my mini Q&A with him.

Anthonia: Tunde, when did you start Ethnik?

Tunde: Ethnik was born in December 2014, but started fully in February 2015.

Anthonia: What was the inspiration for Ethnik?

Tunde: Culture, heritage, tradition, people, art, design... I could go on [laughs].

Anthonia: Okay so why did you start this particular business?

Tunde: My love for Aso Oke.... during my research for my Aso Oke exhibition, I discovered that the fabric is very versatile. It is a premium fabric which is very well made. Other people have made things out of Aso Oke, e.g. shoes, soft furnishings etc. Generally speaking nowadays Aso Oke is only really used for special occasions, I wanted a way to make more people both Nigerian and non-Nigerian appreciate Aso Oke and use it on a more daily basis. That's when I had the idea to create sneakers! Nobody else was using Aso Oke for that and sneakers are worn every day so... it made sense, and so I started experimenting.

Anthonia: Did you have to train or study anything in order to start this business?

Tunde: I design myself, however I have weavers who weave the Aso Oke for me to my specifications.

Anthonia: What was the major challenge in starting this business?

Tunde: Artisans! Getting them to understand the philosophy and what the design is all about. Secondly, sourcing material can be a problem here in Nigeria.

Anthonia: How have you/are you overcoming this challenge?

Tunde: With respect to the artisans -  It's still a challenge, but it's now under control. I spend a lot of time with my weavers to ensure that they understand the exact specifications of what I want. Each design is like a piece of art and I am very particular about detail, so each design has to be just right for me to be happy with it. As far as the sourcing of material is concerned, this being Nigeria, there is no guarantee that I can always find what I want and so I find that I may need to import material to maintain the standard of quality that I desire for my brand.

Anthonia: Three words that describe your experience as an entrepreneur?

Tunde: Spontaneity, challenging, freedom

Anthonia: What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur (in Nigeria)?

Tunde: The fact that I have started and the positive response to what I am doing gives me satisfaction; the fact that people can relate to originality. Also, the fact that I am doing it alone.  As long as I am happy with  what I have done, I am fulfilled.

Anthonia: What do you dislike most about being an entrepreneur (in Nigeria)?

Tunde: Being broke! [Laughs] Seriously though, it can be frustrating when certain things are not readily available to get things done.

Anthonia: What is your vision for Ethnik?

Tunde: Just to see it grow and to see 'Made in Nigeia' become respectable and desirable even. I also partly went into this to sustain our culture and heritage, It's amazing that Aso Oke has survived this long. I hope to keep the Aso Oke weavers in employment and to preserve the tradition by passing it on.

Anthonia: What message of advice would you give to fellow aspiring Nigerian entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

Tunde: [Laughs] I need advice myself as I am still learning, but to younger people... If you have an idea - just go for it! One of the major things that hinders people is procrastination! Once you start, you find your feet. Learn from your mistakes! As long as you can think about it you can do it. That is the philosophy that I have adopted.


Contact Business:

Mobile: + 234 8132727717
Instagram: @tundeowolabi_studios
Facebook Page: ethnikbytundeowolabi

So... what do you think? Are you ready to order your first pair of Ethnik's? I kid you not when I say that if I could I would literally order the full range of Ethnik footwear and accessories... in every colour! Not only as a lover of fine things, but as a proud Nigerian who wishes to promote her own both at home and abroad! I have been fortunate enough to see a sample of Ethnik's new range soon to be released and one word! Wow!! Watch this space people, this brand is special!

Nigerians are doing amazing things people... support your own. Patronise Ethnik and get your own original pair of Aso Oke footwear and accessories before they go viral! 

Thank you so much for reading. Please remember that it is our mission to build a Nigerian community in the real sense of the word, so please share this post and tell your friends about it. 

 Who knows, one day it could be you that we are celebrating! 

 God bless 


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