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.
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.
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.
Click here for more images
Maelle CABARRUS: The Creator Of The A LA FOLIE
Maelle CABARRUS is a hair coach and hair youtuber since 2010. She is the founder of À La Folie, a research company on textured hair, beauty and self-esteem coaching for black and mixed-race women. Maelle started researching frizzy hair extensively pretty quickly, from the moment she became a youtuber. Her goal is to always better understand textured hair and to provide women with this texture with the tools, keys and methodologies to enhance their hair, themselves and restore the bit of self-esteem.
Her motivation didn’t just come from a desire to share and make the best videos possible. It was also, and in large part, a determination on my part to have the longest, most beautiful hair possible. Kind of like a revenge on life, or a slightly childish attempt, to repair all the anger and resentment she had built up towards my hair.
“I want black women to love their hair and think they look beautiful with it. I want wigs and weaves to be for us first and foremost a means of fantasy, not a default option every other month to “take a break”. I want our hair to be “natural” for us. That wearing them is obvious and natural, that it flows naturally, without any fuss”. says Maelle CABARRUS Founder À La Folie
À La Folie have supported more than 3,500 women in our online programs and served a clientele of more than 8,000 people through our various ebooks and coaching services.
Oumy Saran Keita: Eco-friendly African Artist
Oumy Saran Keita is a Senegalese entrepreneur with a passion for African art. In 2021, she decided to step out of her comfort zone to launch a project that was close to her heart, Kalifa design. A brand that specializes in the design of handmade art objects, with recycled materials.
Having been fortunate enough to grow up with a father who was a visual artist, she has always had a rather special relationship with art. In December 2019, tired of the cold of Paris, she decided to make her first lamp sketches, to give more warmth to the decoration of her office. A dozen sketches were made from it, carefully preserved.
3 years later, back in Senegal, she launched Kalifa Design, an eco-responsible interior design brand offering products designed mainly with recycled materials. All items are handmade and made in Senegal. The name “Kalifa”, which means heritage, symbolises his entire project. The logo features an outstretched hand towards a symbol used by the Adinkra, a West African people.
Oumy Saran Keita uses recycled materials to make papier-mâché which is the basis of all lighting fixtures and works with local artisans to create wooden plates, mirrors, storage boxes and textiles. Kalifa has allowed her to return to the things that are essential to her balance: painting, sculpture and drawing.
Lamine Ndiaye: Promoting Senegalese Art
Lamine Ndiaye, a young entrepreneur of Senegalese origin who is passionate about fashion. A costume designer in audiovisual production, Lamine is the founder of the Yelloow brand, which specializes in the design and sale of 100% African bags. A great defender of local consumption and his goal is to promote all that Senegal has to offer in the field of art and creation. Since Lamine was a child, he has been passionate about fashion. It is therefore quite natural that he chose to undertake this field, while seeking to stand out from the others. For him, entrepreneurship is a factor of development.
Yellow is a brand that offers accessories such as backpacks, travel bags, shoes, computer bags, fanny packs, handbags etc. To successfully promote local consumption, Yellow brings out the originality and quality of its products by using very stylish, colorful and rare African raw materials such as wax, woodin, or upholstery fabrics patched with leather or suede, which makes the products chic and stylish with sustainable use.
Yellow aims to be a brand committed to showcasing African potential in all its artistic variations. The know-how of an Africa that restores itself in its dignity and honour through the creativity of the African.