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Hazel Eki Osunde, the German-Nigerian Luxury Silk Print Fashion Designer Behind EKI

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Hazel Eki Osunde is the Creative Director and Founder of EKI. She was born in a rural town in Germany, raised in Nigeria and now residing in London. Hazel injects a bit of nature, culture and travel into her designs with Africa on her mind. After working in Asset Management for 8 years, it was her fascination with culture and colour that inspired her to pursue her own career in fashion. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, discover more about Hazel, EKI and her view on the fashion world. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Tell me about yourself and journey as a fashion designer?

Hazel: I am of mixed heritage German-Nigerian. Born in Germany, spent my childhood in Nigeria and now reside in the UK. I spent my first 10 years in banking until I fell pregnant and found a new meaning to life. It was at this time that I decided to follow my passion which was a love for colour, culture and travel which I then translated into prints. My first love is designing prints that narrate positive African stories.

Alaba: What attracted you to fashion and what do you attend to achieve?

Hazel: Fashion can be very impactful. It can light up a room and also create a platform for change. It is powerful and it can be used as a tool to educate consumers on the importance of matters. My goal is to allow the EKI story telling of the prints to naturally evolve into other areas, creating the same magical feeling.

Alaba: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?

Hazel: I was working in banking when I recall a friend of mine talk so passionately about her career in media and it was at that moment, I realised I couldn’t put that much love and excitement into my profession. So, I ventured on a journey of discovery. It soon dawned on me that I had a love for textiles, designs and a nostalgia for Africa. And that’s how it started.

Alaba: How do you walk the line between being unique and having commercial appeal?

Hazel: Uniqueness comes from the interpretation of our prints. I don’t design prints for everyone, nor do I follow trends. I pick shades and colours that I am drawn to and know my customers like. The designs of our dresses are quite simplistic and classic allowing for that commercial appeal. I believe with the bold EKI prints are balanced out with the styles we choose.

Hazel with Models on her new collection at the Lagos Fashion Week 2021 Image: Lagos Fashion Week)

Alaba: How is your work received internationally and where do you look for creative inspiration?

Hazel: The pieces have a clear African influence, yet subtle and the fact that we print on silk gives it that international appeal. The garments are also quite flowy and can be worn casually or dressed up, as our international clients are often quite simplistic in their style. Inspiration is always drawn from Africa and I always tap into nature, culture or travel and narrate the story from an African point of view.

Alaba: What is your favourite part about being a designer?

Hazel: I love hearing clients’ stories on how they felt wearing the pieces; the confidence, the sexiness and the attraction they got from it.

Alaba: How do you want women to feel when wearing your designs?

Hazel: I want them to own their femininity and exude a palpable feeling of confidence and sexiness.

Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion of the state of the Fashiontech industry and its growth?

Hazel: Fashion tech will become the new norm. There will need to be discussions on how we preserve the authenticity and creativeness of fashion. There has been such an investment into slowing the fashion down and producing pieces of meaning by people we should care about yet fashion tech goes completely against this as it cuts out the middleman, replaces them with robots with the sole purpose of speeding up the fashion space. The smaller brands that focus on individuality and handcrafting will have to create stronger identities and brand stories to be able to compete with faster fashion spearheaded by fashion tech.

Alaba: There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with the greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?

Hazel: Keep it creative, small and don’t overstretch yourself financially until you have created your clientele base who not just likes and follows your pieces but also purchases.

Models on EKI new collection at the Lagos Fashion Week 2021 (Image: Lagos Fashion Week)

Alaba: Finally, what would you like to achieve before the end of the year?

Hazel: I just presented our latest SS22 collection in Lagos, Nigeria and my goal till the end of the year is that this collection is very well received and we pick up on how sales were pre-lockdown because fashion in the UK in particular really came to a standstill during our endless lockdowns.

Model on EKI new collection at the Lagos Fashion Week 2021 (Image: Lagos Fashion Week)

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Jusnah Gadi: The Tanzanian Native proving it’s possible to do it all

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Jusnah Gadi, Managing Director of Young Music Boss

Jusnah Gadi a Tanzanian Native, raised in the Netherlands and currently resident in the UK, whose entrepreneurship has landed her in the likes of Forbes, Elle Magazine and the Evening Standard. She is a music business educator and founder of Young Music Boss which is a resource hub focusing on legal and business affairs.

With its tagline ‘Preparing Future Music Bosses’, YMB is an educational channel and network building platform to empower artists and aspiring music executives learning to navigate the business. With a legal background specialising in intellectual property and commercial law, Jusnah Gadi is fast becoming a formidable and much needed force in the music industry.

She is also the Co-founder of the UK’s No.1 Seafood boil brand (Hot n Juicy Shrimp Ldn) which has two operational takeaway branches and recently launched their microwavable sauce pouches ready to take the retail world by storm. HNJ was founded alongside business partner Samantha Pascal and boasts the likes of ZeZe Millz, Krept, Dappy and Ms Bankz among its notable regular customers. 

And as if all of that isn’t enough, Jusnah Gadi also has a full-time corporate job as a Senior Compliance Executive for a FTSE 100 Sports & Entertainment company where she has climbed the ranks in her department leading a team of analysts who ensure the company’s regulatory and legal obligations are upheld. 

 

Alaba: They say ‘don’t try to be a jack of all trades’. Do you believe in this? 

Jusnah: Well the idea is that if you try to be a jack of all trades then you will be a master of none. I believe in the statement to an extent. I do believe that ideally you should focus on that ONE thing and become the go to for it, be EXCELLENT at it and then other doors will open. I don’t entirely subscribe to it though, because I believe that skills are transferable and I believe you can be multiple things at once and be a success at it. 

Alaba: You speak about Tanzania and Africa a lot, particularly as it relates to the music industry – why is that? 

Jusnah: Because Tanzania is my heritage, though I wasn’t born or raised there, I actually visited for the first time in 2003, It is my roots.  I feel a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of my country and I think that my way is through Music Business. I see an industry that is RICH with talent but poor in infrastructure. I want to lead in that area and for me that begins with education. In order to develop an ecosystem which makes our music industry more sophisticated I believe the starting point is to ensure creatives and all stake-holders are adequately informed on the various different components that come into play.

I consult various artists teams in Tanzania and when I speak to producers/artists who have no.1 hit songs in East Africa, are dominating charts and streaming platforms with unimaginable numbers, yet struggle for basic needs I am reminded of the overwhelming amount of work there is to be done. If not me, then who? 

Alaba: You also launched the Young Music Boss Awards in the UK (YMBA), tell us about that? 

Jusnah: I am passionate about creating access to the industry but also cultivating and incentivising it, the YMB Awards are an extension of that. The Music Industry, is rich with accolades which celebrates the Artist’s, Producers and sometimes Labels. But rarely the executives behind the scenes who drive it all forward. The YMBA bridges this gap by awarding rising music executives, creatives and entrepreneurs who are the Managers, lawyers, A&Rs, Publicists, Publishers, Stylists, Marketers, Agents etc behind some of the most exciting artists, campaigns and music businesses of our time.

I was that kid who always used to read all the credits in the small print of the CD covers, wondering who those people were and what the different functions meant …now I know they are the people who make the industry revolve and evolve, the YMBA celebrates those individuals. 

Alaba: What about your Food Business, what inspired that? 

Jusnah: It was really an accident. I never planned to be a food entrepreneur. My business partner and I were craving a Seafood boil on our return to London from a trip in Las Vegas and struggled to find one. Eventually, we found one girl who made them from home, tried it and it was not great AT ALL. My business partner then suggested that we could actually do our own, I didn’t entertain the idea. A week or two later she had begun to test a recipe, telling some friends and family and had asked for my thoughts on a logo.

At this stage, I said to myself ‘okay I want in’. But even then, for me it was just an extra cash injection to fund other projects. Within just over a month, what was meant to be just a weekend gig from our home kitchens, word spread across London and demand increased. We then quickly realised that we could now longer safely or legally operate from our home kitchens which led to us obtaining the relevant licences and moving into a commercial kitchen. Two years later, here we are two branches with a product ready for retail. 

Alaba: So what do the next 5 years look like for you? 

Jusnah: Like Greatness. 

 

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Izin Akioya: Multidisciplinary, Marketing Expert and Author

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Izin Akioya is a multidisciplinary, marketing professional, and author. With nearly 20 years’ experience in roles combining marketing communications, business development, strategy, talent management, government relations, and advocacy. Spanning across FMCG, think tank, consulting, advertising and non-profit sectors. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola engages Izin on her career, businesses, books and passion for the supply chain industry. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about your career-path till now?

Izin: I lead Identiti LLC, a full-service marketing practice, serving corporate and personality brands in the US and Nigeria. Our full-service solutions include; product ideation, brand design, e-commerce/content marketing, change communications, government and stakeholder relations, advocacy, business development and corporate events solutions. I also recently launched Ship Africa Global LLC, to support supply chain development in Africa; accelerate access to global markets for indigenous producers on the African continent. Leveraging technology and strategic partnerships; one of which is its partnership with Supply Chain Africa.

My pre-tertiary career commenced about 20 years ago as a sales representative at Park n Shop, now SPAR. One of the few supermarket chains in Lagos, Nigeria at the time. I consequently maintained several part-time jobs while pursuing a full time undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Lagos. Culminating in a board executive role with a global non-profit (AIESEC) in my graduating year. That early career entry has been the bedrock of my career growth.

I have had the fortune of a multidisciplinary career, working for and consulting with brands in the fast-moving consumer goods, think-tank, consulting and advertising sectors. In technical and operations combination roles. My work in advocacy fortunately contributed to value added tax policy reform in Nigeria. And I look forward to even more global impact anchored on a practice that embeds change-making along every step.

Alaba: How has your purpose, mission and values shaped your journey thus far?

Izin: Purpose often means that one needs to step out of comfort zones, and adapt a lifelong learning approach. For me, finding room for purpose within my profession initially required industry switching, and a whole new learning journey across related disciplines. The curiosity, intent, and commitment to making that move is the basis of my multi-disciplinary capability. It is behind my ability to effectively support a diverse range of clients, with little or no transition gaps.

My accomplishments in advocacy communications are in direct response to a desire to drive “transformative, empathic and sustainable change”. A phrase that has become my life’s mission. Making the industry switch, setting up a change consulting in 2017 despite little references to the practice in Nigeria, has led to new knowledge and expertise that has strengthened my acumen and contributions.

Alaba: At what point did you launch Supply Chain Africa? What is it set to achieve?

Izin: Ship Africa Global LLC was launched in 2020 in response to a gap I witnessed multiplying in product exporting/shipping within Africa, and from Africa to global markets. Today, that gap remains a limitation to the continent’s export potentials. Due to the absence of affordable logistics, low production and value chain capacity and poor market entry knowledge. Our intent is to bridge these gaps, through partnerships, and technology that supports low cost, readily accessible market access. My dream is to see the realization of the AfCTFA’s intent to facilitate trade within the continent. And to engineer global market expression for African made products and brands.

Alaba: You recently launched two great books. Please tell us more about them and what inspired you to write?

Izin: Mum, Find Love Again, was written to provide guidance on personal identity. A pursuit that I find critical for success in the world we live in. In the book, I share transformational life practices interwoven with true life stories. I explore shame culture, ageism and sexism. Show the play of stereotypes on esteem and attainment, and empower the reader with transformative life practices. The second book “Lili” is a collection of poetry, prose and music, celebrating love, reclaiming identity, affirming mastery and the value of solitude.

Both books drive toward the same defining message. “The singular, critical pursuit of personal identity and purpose in alignment with it”. Coming from a culture of shaming, biases and stereotypes. Seeing their impact on my own behavior, behaviors in my society, and the inherent limitations they subconsciously confer. I felt a burden to bring a perspective on life and living that helps people to break out of self-limiting dependencies and belief systems. By teaching purpose and identity. I hope to enable people to embrace their own truths and find attainment in language and paths suited to them, defined by them.

Alaba: This month hosts the International Women’s Day. What are your thoughts on this year’s theme: #BreakTheBias?

Izin: I could easily swap my book title Mum, Find Love Again for #BreakTheBias. The inherent messages are so in sync that I feel opportune to have launched my book this year. Ageism, sexism, inequalities, racism, abuse, are all steeped in biases. Biases remain the leading root cause of non-inclusion, and therefore sit at the heart of a sustainable gender equity strategy. Progress in gender equity, progress in attaining women’s rights over the coming decades will be contingent on how much progress is made. In dismantling unconscious biases and nuances that drive unequal behaviors and societies.

Affirmative action and increased access to education will provide more women with economic security and opportunity. Yet, these women will continue to contend with traditions, lifestyles and faith systems that entrench biases. As we #BreakTheBias, we redefine culture and shape a new meaning of life and living. I am excited to be alive in these times. I am more excited for a future where #BreakTheBias will no longer be necessary.

Izin Akioya: Multidisciplinary, Marketing Expert and Author

Alaba: What was the biggest “no” you heard in your career, and what did you learn from it?

Izin: Being told that I had to stay on “one path” only, in order to have a successful career has definitely been the biggest NO. To do otherwise, I had to commit to a whole new learning journey. I had to learn that necessity of failure, which was something I was not raised to accommodate. Embracing learning became a way to validate my interests. And inadvertently brought me closer to communities and new relationships that helped me to stay on track. 

If you really want to be something, if you put the work behind becoming that something, you soon find the connections and community that enable you to become it. Getting behind one’s dreams is a crucial part of validating, or invalidating them. At best you launch into a new lease of life, at worst, you decide against the idea. Either way, you grow exponentially. This may sometimes mean that one may not “look” successful by the typical signals/markers of attainment. But overtime, I have seen the choice to grow horizontally. Rather than vertically culminate in a solid professional position, options and opportunity.

Alaba: What lasting impact do you hope to have on the industry?

Izin: Three words “transformative, empathic, sustainable change” on people and business.

Alaba: What advice do you have for female executives and entrepreneurs?

Izin: Learning never stops, embrace lifelong learning, get in the forefront of new innovation.

 

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Onyinye Udokporo Speaks on Breaking The Bias

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Onyinye Udokporo is one of the UK’s youngest education experts, dyslexic author, CEO and Founder at Enrich Learning. Onyinye Udokporo speaks with Business Africa Online (BAO) on her thoughts on this year’s international women’s day theme: #BreakingTheBias. Excerpt.

“This year’s international women’s day theme, #BreakingTheBias is a significant one. Why? Because for as long as I can remember, there has always been one, or in some cases, several biases against women. For me personally, being the first-born child and a female (often referred to as ‘Ada’) in an Igbo family is enough for me to have all the odds stacked against me. Luckily my parents are modern, liberal, and progressives who have always wanted me to break the mould. And do what, culturally, is not considered the norm for women and girls.

So, what does #BreakingTheBias mean to me?

Well, it would take more than my allotted word count to explain it all to you. But put simply, #BreakingTheBias means equal access to opportunity for all women and girls irrespective of their colour, creed or circumstance. I was given the same opportunities and more when growing up at home with my three brothers. This access to opportunity empowered me to use my voice to speak up and out about what I believe in. It made me know that as a woman, not only is my voice and opinion important. It is valued and can be used to make a positive difference. I was made to feel like a matriarch and this gave me huge amounts of confidence which I have used to do things many believed would not be possible at a young age.

At the age of 12 I began my entrepreneurial journey providing education services and serving people globally. Now, aged 23, the equal access to opportunity I was given has enabled me to be the CEO of my own company Enrich Learning. Having the privilege to lead from the front means that I can continue to champion initiatives that are designed to help women level up. This year I urge you all to think about how you can empower the women and girls around you to follow their dreams. I urge employers to close the gender pay gap in their institutions. Lastly, and most importantly, I urge all parents and carers to ensure that their daughters are given access to education. An educated woman is an unstoppable woman.

 

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