The Fashionomics Series: Onchek.com

“Focussing on Made in Africa is so empowering because there is just so much opportunity.”

Chekwas Okafor – Founder, Onchek.com

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The African Luxury series continues this week with an interview with Chekwas Okafor Founder of Onchek.com, an online retailer for African luxury fashion.

‘Made in Africa’

Not only does the e-commerce platform exclusively stock luxury brands founded by African designers but it is restricted to made on the continent products only. “Onchek is an online retailer for African luxury fashion although I’m hesitant with using the ‘Made in Africa’ label in fear of sounding homogenous, but we do stock luxury brands and designers from across the continent who are in the luxury space and who make their products locally.” This is a model that Chekwas initially battled with, “I did think: what about all the amazing brands and designers of African heritage in the luxury space who are producing elsewhere? But it was clear to me that if I really wanted to play a role on the continent then it had to be on the continent.

www.onchek.com

This rationale was clear to Chekwas even before he focussed his attention on African luxury fashion. “I was born in Aba in South West Nigeria but moved to the States when I was 19 for college. I have a Biology degree and have worked in the manufacturing space most of my career but the whole time I knew that I wanted to do something different. Not just because I wanted to be my own boss or anything like that but because I always wanted to create opportunities back home but I didn’t really know what that looked like.”

It was only after a friend introduced him to some suits made in Nigeria back in 2014 that an interest in African luxury and fashion in general, was triggered “At the time I didn’t really know anything about fashion, Lagos fashion week or anything like that. I wasn’t all too interested as I just never connected my ambition to create jobs and opportunities back home to the industry.” It was later on that year that Chekwas finally made this connection, “I started to really look into the industry and that year I went to Africa fashion week in New York. I realised the way I could do this was through e-commerce and if I only stocked brands that were made locally,” through this Onchek.com was born. Despite the obvious challenges of having a stringent Made in Africa criteria, Chekwas remains optimistic and sees the Onchek platform as a vehicle for change “I think about it as an opportunity – if I really want to work with these amazing designers then I can focus on making it easier for them to produce on the continent by increasing their visibility in a highly competitive market and making African luxury fashion more accessible to the world.”

I don’t think if you asked African designers who produce elsewhere, they would say that they do not have a desire to produce on the continent it’s just that there are a lot of infrastructural barriers. The way I see it, someone has to do it.

TAIBOBACAR

Partnerships

With no fashion experience, Chekwas endeavoured to gain knowledge of the industry, “I began studying the fashion industry in general, Nigerian fashion, African fashion, ethical fashion etc. I came from a totally opposite industry and knew nothing so I had a lot to learn. I also learned about e-commerce and taught myself how to code. Overall, It took me about 2 years to do the groundwork before launching officially.

Chekwas then began to reach out to luxury, locally made brands to feature on the platform which at first, proved difficult, “When we started it was brutal – most were not interested and understandably so. They’ve spent years building their brands.” Eventually, though, a couple of designers agreed to stock their collections on the Onchek platform and things began to kick off “I won them over by buying their products and doing a shoot so I could show them my vision. Once I did, a couple of brands decided to give me a chance. It’s a natural process – you’ve got to show what you’ve got for people to have trust in you. And I think we have started to build that trust.” After 2 and half years Chekwas quit his full-time job to work on Onchek.com, having been working on the platform on the side. Onchek.com has now been in operation for a year and a half, stocking 18 Made in Africa luxury brands with plans to expand its partnerships.

FEMI

The power of content

As the Founder and CEO, Chekwas oversees a team of 3 core team members as well as periodic contractors, “within our core team I have a social media manager and a content creator. I believe these roles are extremely important to our brand and mission simply because I believe in the power of content as a driver of education and take education very seriously. African luxury is still relatively new. People want to know what it means and understand why they’re paying x dollars for an item. So we are taking a big stand on educating people about the brands: how they’re made, where they’re made etc. Customer satisfaction is our top priority and I believe creating an educative experience is part of that.

African Luxury

What is luxury? To Chekwas, all the African made brands featured on the Onchek platform effortlessly encompass luxury. “take for instance Maxhosa by South African designer Laduma. The craftsmanship is well done and consists of weaving wolf/ mull hair material into his fabric. We survey all our customers and have 100% satisfaction for quality. The collection is unique as Laduma seeks to merge his xhosa culture into his pieces which makes for really distinctive clothing that creates this sense of belonging that luxury brands have. For example, when I’m wearing my Maxhosa socks and I see someone else in them too we look at eachother like ohh! – literally, there’s this sense of belonging and emotional attachment to the brand and it’s something that’s not easy to create.

MAXHOSA BY LADUMA

Chekwas believes this sense of belonging goes further as there is a growing market of sophisticated African consumers that are emerging “African luxury is becoming more intrinsic, it’s becoming a consideration of what does it mean to me? Even if it’s not something as obvious as Laduma –  if I wear a Sawa shoe for instance even if its plain black it means something to me: Its made locally and its empowering people because these designers don’t just see themselves as designers but as people who are creating jobs and that’s super exciting.”

So I think these black consumers identify themselves as the type who don’t just buy into anything they’re more sophisticated. They use their money to vote” This is something that Chekwas closely identifies with himself “Personally, for a few years now I haven’t shopped anything that is not African brands because it doesn’t mean anything to me. And I think for a lot of African consumers its empowering.

 

MAXHOSA BY LADUMA x LAURENCEAIRLINE x TAIBOBACAR

African designers in the spotlight

Already competing in a highly competitive market, African designers face a myriad of challenges that mean they struggle to access markets and the media spotlight they deserve, “It’s just so hard for them. They’re dealing with infrastructural challenges and trying as far as possible to make their products locally and paying 2 or 3 times the price because they’re not buying in large bulks.” In Chekwas’ opinion part of the solution lies in mobilising support for the fashion and creative industries on the continent “There just needs to be a lot more players – Oncheck is playing its part but we need more. As Africans, we have to see fashion and the creative space as something that’s tangible and worth investing in. We need more players, organised bodies and funding.

Chekwas, however, remains excited about prospects on the continent “I get excited about how raw it (Africa) still is – there is opportunity everywhere. Every aspect of business from sourcing to manufacturing to agriculture there is so much opportunity in every tier of fashion – from the farm to the rack: Manufacturing that we see as a huge problem is equally a huge opportunity, e-commerce is a major opportunity that I think we will double down on in the next couple years – the reason why they’re opportunities is precisely because they’re challenges.”

SIMON AND MARY

 

One persistent challenge though goes beyond the physical infrastructural barriers but is one of mindset, “the idea that African clothing or products made on the continent are of lesser quality is a challenge. But I believe that can be overcome with good marketing and it is something that is slowly eroding right now. As I mentioned there are sophisticated buyers right now who are already buying African brands and who are enlightened to its worth and value beyond the price tag.”

It is part of the Onchek mission to begin to reverse this mindset “We are trying to make it a little more mass market where people don’t look to the east or west for products. We’ve spent years saying our products are terrible which sometimes they are – but it’s going to take time to reverse that and that’s okay as it is just the process.”

FEMI

Chekwas advises any budding African designers to,”focus on the made in Africa ethos no matter how challenging it gets. Make products locally and weave our culture into our fashion. Every creative space is needed because we’ve lost so much of who we are. We need our brands to start this conversation about who we really are, where we’ve come from and what we have been.”

Chekwas also urges entrepreneurs to “Start where you are with what you have. When I started it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be but at least I started – the value of starting is important.

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Onchek.com is a one-stop shop for African luxury fashion and it is just getting started! What are your thoughts on the platform? Comment below

 

Chekwas Okafor

Shop: www.onchek.com

Contact: hello@onchek.com

IG: @_onchek

Twitter: @_onchek

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The Fashionomics Series: Walls of Benin

Craft is something that we do and have been doing for centuries.”

Chi Atanga – Founder Walls of Benin.

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For the first instalment of this African Luxury series, I spoke with Chi Atanga: Fashion and Textiles entrepreneur and Founder of African luxury loungewear brand Walls of Benin.

Setting the stage

Whilst currently based in the UK with a Portuguese subsidiary, Walls of Benin is set to launch its African production in Kenya. Getting to this point has been no easy feat for Manchester born and Cameroonian Chi. “I started with a vision, knowing nothing about fashion, manufacturing, dealing with suppliers or anything like that especially in the context of foreign languages across Europe and Africa.” The process has been a challenging one as Chi recalls, “In the beginning, I was doing more paperwork and raising finance than the creative, especially getting around the challenges of dealing with both British and Portuguese entities. And I kind of feel I’m still there. So day to day I do everything – I’m the CEO and the janitor literally!

African Excellence

If you are not familiar with the story of the Great Walls of Benin, its introduction by way of this African luxury brand is apt, “the story of the Walls of Benin is one of great geological feat. It was the greatest manmade construction ever – bigger than the Great Wall of China and built by citizens of the Benin Empire (So we are talking pre-colonial Africa.) When Europeans arrived they were surprised that something so great could be produced by Africans.” And this is where the brand name and ethos emerges – it is a reference to African sovereignty and greatness.The brand is a representation of this in two ways: Firstly we want to put out great African images and aesthetics like through the models we use, and secondly we want African made products to stand on their own and be in the likes of Selfridges and Harrods.”

The brand itself, however, is just the beginning for Chi’s vision of African excellence as with a strong passion for manufacturing, Chi sees the company going further than the loungewear collection, “The vision is bigger than the brand. Walls of Benin is like the cornerstone or starting point for a big vision. I feel really lucky that I’ve found an industry that I have a passion for and see myself going very far in but I do see things evolving.  I am fascinated by the input-output process as capitalism in its purest form and I think the factory is a great representation of that. I’m from Manchester the home of the industrial revolution and there’s still that legacy. So that’s what I think has partly influenced my interest in manufacturing. Factories took China from poverty in the 70s to where it is now and it could do the same for Africa.” Starting with Walls of Benin, Chi sees the company growing to distribute other African luxury brands, “almost like the African Farfetch.”

Moving up the value chain

Walls of Benin will create an EU Africa fashion value chain with a difference – where Portuguese silk and Tencel will be imported into Africa – Kenya – specifically, where it will be manufactured to produce the value-added product: Luxury Loungewear. Although this in itself is revolutionary, Chi warns against being overly idealistic and acknowledges that transforming the value chain is a strategic aim that will take time, “people ask me, why don’t you produce everything in Africa if you truly want to create a ‘Made in Africa brand’? Well, firstly we plan to manufacture in Kenya not Africa as a whole. Kenya and parts of Eastern Africa like Mauritius and Madagascar are good locations for manufacturing and have been manufacturing since the 70s to a high standard. On the textile side of things, the standard isn’t as high. For instance, Kenya currently only has around 45 functioning factories and 12 working textile mills. There remain lots of issues such as old and inefficient machinery. What I’ve observed in Portugal, however, is that even in the oldest factories are using the latest machinery. Its a very complicated challenge and I’ve seen a lot of brands struggle because of the idealistic part of this which is very easy to fall by.

He continues, “Saying that,  there is obviously some idealism that you need – you need to have a vision. For me producing on the continent was absolutely necessary and integral to the brand but I also realised that we want to get all the materials that we need even if that meant getting it from elsewhere. Ultimately, the brand needs to stand on its own – it needs to be good. So the value chain I’ve built is a reflection of these ideals coming together.

 

 

 

Luxury

What is luxury?  To Chi, Luxury fashion naturally has a place on the continent “Craft is something that we (Africans) do and have been doing for centuries. There are lots of individual tailors working in silos,  everyone has their own tailor. Imagine having that natural generational talent for garment making in a factory and making one product really well?– that’s naturally luxury.”

I think that luxury is a perspective. For example, China is not synonymous with luxury but there are luxury brands that produce there and work with manufacturers who have the perspective that they need to take their time with the craft. And I don’t think that’s a very hard sell in Africa.”

Kickstarting production

Walls of Benin will launch a Kickstarter campaign to gear up manufacturing in Kenya. Chi, however, has already started work on the continent in terms of finding partners and navigating through the business and legal aspects of setting up, “It’s a challenge. At least once a day I’m shouting on the phone in the office to our partners solving the whatever issue of the day. For instance, at the moment, we are figuring out where we stand with tax and import duties…” Encouragingly though, Chi has the support of experts, “ the way I’ve overcome these challenges has been by working with Partners like DHL – getting advice from industry experts has been crucial”.

Chi remains excited about his prospects on the continent “The first time I went to Africa as an adult – I went to Ghana and I was just blown away. It was just so much fun and there was so much going on. I saw so much opportunity. I remember going to Ghana Fashion Week and networking with a range of people including students, other returnees – and not just Ghanaians but other fellow Africans too.  I saw similar things in Kenya. It is such an exciting space to be in.”

Growing up my father would always tell me about the problems on the continent but would always phrase them as opportunities. And going out there for myself I have seen that. So what I am doing now feels like fate. I always wanted to do two things: make a lot of money and do good – particularly vis a vis Africa and Walls of Benin has given me the opportunity to do that and that is very exciting.

Success leaves clues

I asked Chi what advice he would give to other budding African entrepreneurs trying to make their mark on the luxury market, “Success leaves clues and success in one area leaves clues in another. What I mean by that is observe and learn from other successful people in your field whatever it is.  You have to educate yourself – the trick is to get the information as you go along and to seek and speak to people to connect the dots.” This is advice Chi has learned to live by and something that has positively impacted his business journey, “For example, for the Kickstarter  I am launching when I was researching and I came across a fashion Kickstarter that raised 9million. So I’m thinking where’s the trick? I did some more research and found out who the man behind PR was. I decided to get in touch and it just so happens that he was flying out to Atlanta (where I was located at the time for a programme and where my parents currently live), the next day. We had dinner and maintained a relationship, now he’ll be working on the campaign.”

The Walls of Benin Kickstarter to launch African production will begin next week – stay posted for details!

I’m looking forward to the next phase in the Walls of Benin journey – it’s amazing to see a luxury brand waving the flag for African production and excellence.

What are your thoughts? Chi would love to hear from you, comment below!

Shop: www.wallsofbenin.com

Contact: Chi@wallsofbenin.com

IG: @wallsofbenin_official

Twitter: @wallsofbenin

 

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Agri-tech: Africa’s Answer to Agricultural Productivity?

Africa’s economy is inherently dependent on agriculture. More than 32% of the continent’s GDP comes from the sector and it accounts for two-thirds of livelihoods. Yet despite Africa’s vast, resource-rich and arable land, tropical climates and a booming young population it remains a net importer of staple food products (it spent $35bn on food imports in 2011). This devastating reality is further highlighted when we consider the fact that Africa actually has the potential to feed the world as well as itself.

“Africa could replace these imports with their own produce, which would, in turn, reduce poverty, enhance food and nutrition security, and provide sustainable growth to the respective societies.” Otavio Veras howwemadeitinafrica.com 

The issue lies in Africa’s agricultural productivity – or lack thereof. Agricultural productivity on the continent still remains far from developed world standards. Over 90% of agriculture in Africa still depends on rainfall, with no artificial irrigation aid*. As well as this Africa’s smallholders still face basic infrastructural challenges and barriers to market access which stifles potential earnings, causes poverty and upholds gender inequality (women make up 70% of Africa’s farming community).

To counter foreign dependency, African governments have attempted to rejuvenate their economy’s agricultural sectors in recent years through a combination of policy and investment including import restrictions, institutional reforms, and direct investment. However many commentators have questioned the effectiveness of such policies. For example, the use of import restrictions on foods such as rice in Nigeria under President Buhari only worked to inflate the cost of a staple food product in many Nigerian households. Instead, focusing more attention on technology change and market improvement has been suggested to be the answer to Africa’s productivity challenges.

Solutions in Agri- Tech 

Africa’s adoption of technology has been rapid and unprecedented. Sub-Saharan Africa has the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, increasing at an average of 44% annually since 2000, according to GSMA. Mobile penetration in Kenya is well over 70% and in 5 years the continent has accumulated 700 million smartphones. Some have even suggested that Africa now has more phones than toilets! This type of ‘technological leapfrogging’ has left room for opportunities in technological transformation in many areas. For instance, Africans have rapidly adopted financial technology (fin-tech) as a way of life; this has led to fin-tech solutions leapfrogging the Western world’s traditional way of financial services as we know it.

The same is beginning to be seen in the agricultural industry with the growth of ‘agri-tech’ solutions to help combat productivity challenges. Startups in agri-tech have been popping up across the continent, providing solutions for smallholders from seed to market and everything in between. Ghanaian startup Landmapp provides a solution to every smallholder’s initial challenge: land ownership. Landmapp uses a mobile mapping and data collection technology to offer farmers affordable land rights documentation that is fully compliant with Ghanaian regulations as well as customary traditions. Poor land governance systems are one of the biggest challenges to agricultural productivity. According to Thisisafricaonline.com, only 10% of Africa’s rural land is registered, leaving the remaining 90% susceptible to contention and corruption which drives up costs and stifles productivity. Thus such technology could reduce the cost of land administration significantly.

On to the issue of trade, the combination of fin-tech with agri-tech has naturally been a common feature of agri-tech solutions since financial access remains a significant barrier to productivity, especially in rural areas. One example is 2-Kuze (duh -KOO-zay), a new digital marketplace for East African farmers to sell their crops and receive payment via their mobile telephones. Smallholder farmers trying to get the best price for their crops are often dependent on middlemen –  agents, buyers and sellers who leave them with inconsistent and unpredictable returns. The technology offered by 2-Kuze gives real-time mobile solutions and transparency in the market. That way smallholders are able to get the best deals for their crops and are paid faster. There is also an indirect benefit for smallholders when using this type of platform.  A financial log or history is created, which could prove helpful when they seek credit or loans to expand their farms.

Companies such as Farm Shop aim to improve access to information about farming techniques and input quality.  Farm Shop agents collect soil samples from farmers, and within a few days send results directly to the farmers via SMS, informing them about what will help improve yields. According to howwemadeitinafrica.com, the average farmer in Ghana uses only 7.4kg of fertiliser per hectare, while in South Asia fertiliser use averages more than 100kg per hectare. As a result, an estimated 8 million tonnes of nutrients are depleted annually in Africa. Agri education/ information sharing like that provided by Farm Shop’s technology is therefore key and has the potential to make a significant impact on productivity.

Financial technology solutions > access to finance > financial freedom > access to quality inputs > agricultural productivity

Technology platforms providing information > access to information/ education > improved skills > agricultural productivity

 

 

The Agri-tech startups popping up across farming communities offering solutions to Africa’s productivity woes have been encouraging and have begun to yield significant results. However, given the complexity of Africa’s challenges, it is clear that individual startups cannot be the answer to all smallholder woes. At the moment these startups and their solutions are confined to their individual regions/ farming communities lucky enough to be in the vicinity of such ventures. And in fact, many smallholders remain unwilling to risk testing out new ventures. Moreover, the reality is that despite their promise, these innovative startups will face challenges with scalability that will need to be addressed. Therefore to achieve sustainable economic transformation, innovation will need to be complemented with effective policy, strategy and investment backing. It has been encouraging to see many African governments prioritising the agricultural sector. Combining the innovation we are seeing in agri-tech with investment backing and policy (e.g. in agri education, research, infrastructural investment, entrepreneurship etc.) will build the ecosystem of digitised solutions Africa is in need of. That way Africa may begin to translate its wealth in natural resources into prosperity.

Some examples of Agri-tech startups in Africa:

Greenfingers Mobile (South Africa) – a mobile-first software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology platform that manages and finances large groups of smallholder farmers.

Zazu (Zambia) – allows farmers with extra produce to connect with new markets, while buyers are provided with a more sophisticated and easy way to order more produce for less.

Ghalani (Ghana) – provides a mobile and web-­based ERP solution to the contract farming sector that integrates all agricultural supply chain processes seamlessly.

Kilimo Salama (Kenya) – an insurance designed for Kenyan farmers so they may insure their farm inputs against drought and excess rain. Weather stations are equipped with small sim-cards that wirelessly transmit data every 5 minutes to a cloud-based server to create a weather-based index insurance system.

Mfarm (Kenya) – through SMS allows rural farmers in remote areas of Kenya to check the latest market prices, post information on their harvest for buyers to see and purchase, and band together with other farmers in their area to make bulk purchases.

*Only 5% of the cultivated land in Africa makes use of irrigation, with most of the farmers depending on rainfall. In comparison in Asia, 38% of the arable land is under irrigation

What are your thoughts on Africa’s Agri-tech industry? Could it be the solution to productivity shortfalls? Comment below.

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An Interview with Okwu ID

Okwu Ndi Igbo na Ala Beke

(Igbo Diaspora Media)

 

Okwu ID is an independent platform of young Africans, telling their own stories and documenting their culture. Earlier this month I joined Okwu ID for the filming of a panel on sexism within the Igbo culture. On the agenda was:

How much to blame are women for enabling sexism within Igbo culture?

How much do you personally identify with your Mother’s/ Father’s view of manhood/ womanhood?

 Okwu ID lady’s panel 

These hard-hitting questions made for fascinating, passionate and often heated discussion which was amazing to observe from young Africans in London. As a non-Igbo (and non-Nigerian for that matter) learning about the Igbo culture in its own right in the organic form that is presented by Okwu ID has been incredibly interesting. So far it has been valuable to discover the nuances of Igbo culture as well as it’s similarities with my own.

 

My only exposure to the Igbo culture had been from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s depiction of the Igbo language and history in her novels. I also remember listening to a BBC World Service podcast entitled ‘Forgetting Igbo’ which was a fascinating account of one man’s exploration of the Igbo language and the idea that it is effectively ‘dying out’. I feel as though Okwu ID has tied all these themes together in a consistent platform.

 www.okwuid.com

Birthed Out Of Frustration

After the panel, I caught up with brother and sister Chukudubem (Chids) and Chinye, who form the sibling duo that makes up the founding members of Okwu ID. They discussed with me their motivations for creating the platform and what they see its purpose as. Chids who works in psychiatry and Chinye who works in the construction industry both run Okwu ID alongside their day jobs. However, the concept was the birth child of Chinye whose return from studying abroad ignited a frustration with the African community. “I studied and worked abroad for about 6 years and one of the things I learnt (especially in Denmark) was how societies work together to create a cohesive unit, and how having a unified identity and support system could change the face of a nation. When implemented this can allow them to direct their narrative.”

Thinking about her own cultural identity, Chinye realised that this was not a concept that was being applied within African/ Igbo communities worldwide. “When I returned from Denmark I came back to London wanting to know what Africans were doing across the board. I attended various events of different cultural groups trying to figure out what we were doing as a community. And to be honest I was quite disheartened as I felt like there were so many issues in our community that were not being addressed, and that if we do not act to direct our own narrative and to control our self-determination as people, looking into the future – where does the African stand?

Having a good cultural brand is important – it is important what people think of Nigerian people because it affects whether we get visas, our ability to travel and do business it is important that people respect your country and that’s what I learnt from living in a Nordic country. They have a fantastic PR system and we don’t and it affects the everyday lives of Nigerian people inside and outside of the diaspora and back home. Plainly, no matter where you go and whoever you are, you will always be African, so it is important that our image and narrative is a positive one. I think all that frustration just lead to a feeling that we had to do something.

 

Chinnye decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own initiative. But after trying a few things that did not really work especially as she was going it alone she created a poster which called for African creatives to get in touch. This is where her brother, Chids who, with a significant Twitter following and social media presence came in. He shared the poster and it was met with great interest. “We then specified that we needed people to take part in a discussion especially after seeing loads of discussion panels out there. Once we started getting responses from social media we thought ok wow, people are actually responding to this let’s do a pilot and see how it goes.” The pilot went well and after its success, they along with their brother Ike began to build the Okwu ID platform.

 

Okwu ID
Okwu ID
Okwu ID

Chids’ motivations for getting on board were aligned with Chineye’s, “Similar to my sister the project was birthed out of frustration from the lack of access to information and available networks within the Igbo and West African community. I also think Igbo culture can be quite individualistic and hyper-ambitious, so you have a lot of people that are not particularly concerned with group identity.” Chids also has a strong passion for dispelling misinformation about the Igbo culture, “there are a lot of things that you find online about our culture which is plainly incorrect. So part of the reason why we wanted to set up Okwu ID was to express a pro-Igbo and African narrative because we knew there was a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people narrating the culture in a way that is detrimental to our people in general.

 

The siblings have since created a team behind Okwu ID with their complementary skills sets, “My sister came up with the concept and then it was lightning in a bottle: Chinnye who came up with the initial idea, my brother Ike who is quite tech savvy and myself who has a good network of people and a social media following so together we have consolidated our strengths and it has gone well from the first pilot.

Challenges

Okwu ID is currently a platform encompassing a Youtube Channel and Blogsite as well as the main social media platforms which currently each produce consistent content. This would be no easy feat for any content creator, but particularly for young people juggling full-time careers and education.

One of the main challenges I’ve encountered running Okwu ID is a constant conflict between the desire to do everything – keeping it in-house, within one small team of like-minded individuals, and not ‘burning out’” says Chids. “If all the major decisions are made between 2-3 people including organising and creating content, it’s easy to burn out and effectively create an ‘echo chamber’. In the future, it would be ideal to form a wider network of people who are truly interested so that we can delegate roles and have established roles but at the moment it makes the most sense to keep it in-house as we figure things out.”

Another challenge the siblings have encountered interestingly centres around the nature of the Igbo culture itself, Chinye mentions “an issue we’ve encountered is that certain people feel threatened by what we’re doing and it is quite disappointing as it is something that has plagued our community. Igbo people have historically democratic systems (i.e there are no Kings) and a lot of the cultural narrative is that you are your own King and that individualism can turn negative and can create unnecessary competitiveness. It would be better if we could come together. There is also a strange subculture amongst the older generation of Igbo people that want to keep Igbo culture in their pockets which is completely opposite to the premise of Okwu ID as we are about sharing, teaching and creating a network around our culture.”

Okwu ID on Youtube

 

Learning Points

I asked Chids and Chinnye what they have personally learnt about their own culture and history since launching Okwu ID.

Chids: “Getting an insight into different narratives. When you bring together different people across the Igboland you discover the impact of things beyond your immediate family or network e.g. when we discuss things like religion, patriarchy and gender dynamics I think – wow, these things have affected an entire nation of people in so many different ways

“From observing our analytics it has also been fascinating to see what culturally, people are drawn to i.e. men and women, British and US audiences. We can almost anticipate which subjects are going to resonate with who.”

 

Chinnye: “Learning more about the Biafran war. How it’s trickle-down effect has impacted people like our parents. Additionally, I have learnt more Igbo and since launching Okwu ID my Igbo has improved greatly from often doing infographics and language learning content and simply creating an environment where we can ask questions and practise.

 

There are also many misconceptions about Igbo people, culture and history. To Chinnye one of the most poignant to her is the idea that, “we are all light skinned. This narrative annoys me as often my Igboness is questioned as a dark-skinned Igbo woman” To Chids it is about the history of Nigerian Civil war and the view that “’Biafranism’ (the cessation of Igbo people from the rest of Nigeria to establish their own country) is something to fear.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that Igbo people are causing trouble and antagonising with the country, but Igbo people are just at the forefront of airing their grievances but all the grievances that Igbo people are airing are universal. I do not think there is any ethnic group that is particularly happy with Nigeria. We are speaking for the majority of Nigerians who are unhappy with the system.”

Goals and Takeaways

So what do the siblings hope that it’s audience take away from Okwu ID?

If there is one thing that I would like people who consume our content to know is that we (Igbo people) are African and we have been African since the dawn of humanity. There is another common misconception that we are descendants of Jews but we are not related to any semantic culture and our accomplishments have nothing to do with Palestine/ or Jews. This rhetoric is plainly anti-African.”

Through the Okwu ID platform, the siblings hope to encourage a pro-African narrative, the development of Igbo culture and language and create a network of young African people within the diaspora.

www.okwuid.com

Instagram: @okwuid

Twitter: @okwu_id

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10 African Inspired Christmas Gifts

The holiday season has come around already! If you’re stuck for ideas, I’ve got you covered with a Christmas list packed full of African inspired and African owned brands:

1. For Him

MIA Ldn – AW 17

Broderick Hunter for MIA LDN in the Maureen Fitzsimmons II Collection
MIA LDN’s new AW17 Collection of handmade formal wear from some of Africa’s finest tailors is the perfect gift for guys (and girls) this Christmas. You may remember MIA LDN from my Fashionomics Series – if not, get familiar as they’ve just launched their e-commerce store making it easier to shop their collection and bespoke services.

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 AW17 Ethel Howard Collection

Shop: www.mialdn.com

Twitter: @mialdnapparel

Instagram: @mialdnapparel

Facebook: mialdnapparel

 

2. For Her

Kuba Wraps – A/W 2017

Another brand featured in my Fashionmics SeriesKuba UK a line of authentic handmade African head wraps and accessories, has just released some stunning pieces for Autumn/ Winter. Accompany one of Kuba’s satin lined (fro- friendly!), head wraps with a matching choker for her perfect gift.

3. Jewellery

Lonam Jewellery 

The Guardian pendant uses the Mmusuyidee Adinkra symbol and represents good luck/removal of bad luck.

A gift with meaning – Lonam’s collection is full of stunning sterling silver and 14ct Gold pieces adorned with Adinkra Symbols (visual symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms created by the Ashanti tribe of Ghana).

With such an extensive range (including bangles, pendants and wedding bands) and something for both men and women, you’re bound to find the right gift at Lonam.

The word Lonam means ‘Love Me’ in my father’s language, the West African language of Ewe (Eh-way) which is largely spoken by a tribe in the Volta region of Ghana. We specialise in traditional West African silver and gold jewellery with a strong Ghanaian influence and a modern twist. Our designs are both symbolic and meaningful using the Adinkra symbols created by the Ashanti tribe which aim to inspire the wearer with their spiritual concepts and simple truths.

Aisha, Founder – Lonam Jewellery.

*Get E-gift vouchers from £10

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 Me in the ‘Starlight’ earrings and ‘Signature’ and ‘Hero‘ rings

Shop: www.lonam.co.uk

Twitter: @lonamjewllery

Instagram: @lonamjewllery

Facebook: lonamjewllery

 

4. Prints & art:

  Bonita Ivie Prints 

Bonita Ivie Prints are a gift and stationery brand that celebrates West African culture with the use of bold illustration and prints. These designs were born from the designer, Bonita Ebuehi’s dissatisfaction with the lack of ethnic influence in high street gift card and stationery stores.

Bonita is passionate about creating products that people of colour can easily identify with, to make both celebratory and everyday moments special. Add a personalised touch to your Christmas greetings cards and stocking fillers with Bonita Ivie!

*Get 20% off with your Jamii Card!

Shop: www.bonitaivieprints.etsy.com

Twitter: @ bonita_ivie

Instagram: @ bonitaivieprints

Facebook: @ bonitaivieprints

 

5.For Foodies

Hibiscus by Lopè Ariyo

www.lopeariyo.com

 

From okra and mango salad to hibiscus and sumac prawns – Hibiscus by Lope Ariyo shares a fusion of Nigerian and British recipes perfect for the adventurous foodie. I had the pleasure of tasting some of Lope’s hibiscus drizzle puff puff earlier this year at the Africa @ Spitalfields Market in London and loved every bite – this cookbook comes highly recommended!

Shop here.

                       

6.For the Bookworm

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Photo credit: @africanbookaddict 

For the book lovers, there is a wealth of African literature that

would make the perfect addition to someone’s collection. I reached out to my favourite African lit blogs: Afreada and African Book Addict for a recommendation this season, who unanimously selected Lesley Arimah’s short story collection:

The one book I’d recommend would have to be What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah. It’s a collection of stories that are like nothing you’ve ever read before, and nothing you’ll ever read again. It’s breathtaking and brilliant. The stories are short and sharp and witty, and it’s an illustration of the best that African Lit has to offer. I couldn’t recommend it any higher.”

Nancy Admimora Founding Editor Afreada

Grab your copy here

Follow @Afreada and @Africanbookaddict for more African lit recommendations and reviews!

7. Beauty 

Tsaka Beauty

Tsaka (saaa-KA)

(noun)

Happiness (Ronga dialect, Mozambique)

Tsaka Beauty is a hair care brand with African roots. I love the story behind this brand where it’s founder Celmira Amada remembers admiring her Grandmother’s beautiful long hair and learning her secrets. Now she endeavours to share her grandmother’s African plant-based hair care recipes through Tsaka Beauty. This is a gift suitable for all hair types (afro, curly and tex-laxed) and one for the natural beauty lover as its vegan-friendly and sulfate free!

We use carefully selected plant ingredients blended to unlock the rich nutrients of the African flora. Our hair care routine is part of a traditional beauty ritual, handed down from my grandmother.”

8.For the kids

Nana Dolls 

Remember the days you would search for hours on the net or in store for a black doll (often with no luck)? Yeah, me too. Luckily, Nana Dolls have got us covered now and not only provide beautiful black dolls but beautiful black dolls with afros and stunning Ankara & Kente print outfits. If that wasn’t enough each doll tells the story of a powerful woman in African history. I would have loved a Nana Doll as a little girl, but thankfully we’ve got the chance to gift our little-loved ones today! 

“On a recent trip to Ghana, we visited Cape coast Elmina castle. The stories we heard about slavery and the brave women who fought for black freedom really touched us. We felt it is very important for us to remember and also educate our children and future generations about these powerful women in history. It was this trip that inspired us to create Nana dolls. “

 

A doll for my doll – I picked up the Nana Nehanda doll for my little cousin at Notting Hill Carnival this summer.

*Gift wrapping services available

9. For the party

Grass-fields

Holiday season = party season! If you’re looking to enter the office/ Christmas/ New Years party in African style Grass-fields is the place. I absolutely love this brand for its variety, style and quality. Grass-fields also have a team making clothes in Cameroon, who are paid 3x the average salary! As well as Cameroon fabrics are sourced from Nigeria and Benin. With something for men, women, plus size and kids, Grass-fields is the place to find your festive outfits.

10. Something to do 

Africa Centre – African Christmas Market 

 Add some African sparkle to your Christmas shopping this year!

The Africa Centre presents The African Christmas Market on Great Suffolk Street Southwark, London, from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th December 2017.

The African Christmas Market will feature an incredible seasonal offering of African and Caribbean food, craft, fashion and jewellery stalls; gospel choirs; a special Santa’s Grotto and kids’ activities; Christmas lights; warming drinks and seasonal surprises. It’s free! – go along and share the Christmas spirit, African style!

Register here

Can you recommend any other African inspired gifts? Comment below

Have a good Christmas
x

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annettebena