When you think of African Fashion using Aso oke, ETHNIK by Tunde Owolabi comes to mind. For decades, Aso Oke has been used as the traditional attire for weddings and ceremonial events in Nigeria. Tunde has been able to prove his worth in the fashion industry with his innovation of creating an accessories brand of bags, belts, home accessories and most notably, shoes, using Aso Oke fabric.
Apart from being an accessories designer, he’s an artist, photographer and also the founder of Tunde Owolabi studios. As an artist, he has participated in group exhibitions, the likes of lines and colors in 2013, inner thoughts at the Nimbus African Art center in 2014, working with communities, a Guinness group exhibition, 2004, and Gods of this Age at Didi Museum, Lagos. His first solo exhibition, African Elegance was at the Battersea Art Gallery, London in 2009.
In this interview with Tunde Owolabi, the creative genius talks about his passion for culture and tradition as well as the motives behind his choice of Aso Oke, one of Africa’s surviving fabrics.
1. Tell us about the brand ETHNIK by TUNDE OWOLABI?
ETHNIK is about making aso oke accessible to the fashion-forward modern man and woman. Beyond accessibility and creating fashionable pieces for brand savvy trendsetters, Ethnik is about sustainability, promoting culture and giving back to local community.
2. What’s the concept behind your brand?
The brand is about reinventing and modernizing tradition.
3. We know you use a lot of Aso oke in making your designs and products. Why Aso oke?
I am passionate about culture and tradition and aso oke seems to be one of Africa’s surviving fabrics. The sustenance of this fabric and those who make them drove my curiosity into the use of the fabric. Its versatility and durability is another very important factor.
4. There are a lot of clothing designers now, what made you decide to take the path as an accessories designer?
First of, I don’t regard myself as a fashion designer. I studied graphic design and because I love creating, I apply my artistic skill into creating what I have conceived. You see, art is beautiful, it allows you express yourself in different ways you desire. So my venture into fashion really wasn’t to play exactly in the fashion space but really to recreate and rewrite the African stories in a contemporary way through fabrics without using fashionable items.
5. Are there any challenges you face in presenting Aso oke in the form of shoes, bags and cushion you produce?
There are always challenges but your ability to face them head-on determines how passionate you are about what you do. Yes we have the challenges of availability of raw materials to work with, willing, passionate and capable hands to work with, amongst other domestic challenges.
6. Describe your clientele. What kind of person wears ETHNIK by Tunde Owolabi?
Anyone who appreciates quality and dares to be different.
7. Where can our readers reach you to purchase your products?
Directly from us via our Instagram @ethnikbytundeowolabi and through the phone numbers provided. International customers can buy through our website, www.ethnik.com.ng.
8. How hard is it for you to follow your day to day activities and follow your dreams at same time?
It’s really not hard to be honest, aside the lack of infrastructures needed for every day to day activities but that doesn’t deter the dream and the focus. The dream is the reason I do what I do. If one can’t dream dreams, he can’t see visions. There must be a purpose to your living and that drives you daily.
9. Where did you study Fashion?
On the internet.
10. You started out as a photographer, what made you go into designing?
I actually studied graphic design, it has always been a part of me.
11. What can we expect from you in the next 5 years?
A lot of inspiring works from us and I expect Ethnik by Tunde Owolabi to become a household name.
12. Any advice for Ethnik readers wishing to follow their dreams?
Be passionate, be hungry, and be driven. Death isn’t exactly a great loss, what dies inside us while alive is the greatest loss. So whatever you can dream, you can do.
13. What do you hope to achieve with Ethnik?
Telling the African and the Nigerian story to the world through creativity and also sustenance of our cultural heritage.
See photos below:
Photo credit: Ethnik by Tunde Owolabi
Interview by : Eromosele Patrick Eidusi