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    We sat down with the creative director of the SHEKUDO, Akudo Iheakanwa, to pick her brain on all things eco fashion, introducing an all-female workforce and the importance of honouring heritage in her designs.

    Meet Akudo Iheakanwa, the creative director of sustainable Nigerian label, SHEKUDO

    Interview by Elaine Okoye

    We are always excited to bring new African brands to you, as we carefully select brands to reflect the values we ourselves espouse and we aim to bring the highest quality pieces to our customers.

    One such brand that embodies all that we hold dear is SHEKUDO, a name that reflects the two founders, Shetu Bimpong and Akudo Iheakanwa. From using traditional weaving methods to committing to a completely local production chain, SHEKUDO understands the value of responsible fashion.

    We sat down with the creative director of the brand, Akudo Iheakanwa, to pick her brain on all things eco fashion, introducing an all-female workforce and the importance of honouring heritage in her designs.

    ONCHEK(OC): When did your love for design begin?

    Akudo Iheakanwa (AI): I’ve always had an eye that saw art in everything around me, whether it be certain objects grouped together creating unintentional visual appeal or just ideas of how things can be worn/displayed based on what was available at hand. It just naturally flowed from there where I then looked for an outlet for my creative thoughts.

    OC: Tell us how SHEKUDO began and why was it so important for you to represent your heritage through your designs?

    AI: SHEKUDO began a few years ago between myself and one of my best mates Shetu Bimpong, where we just wanted to create beautiful clothes for women using bold prints and contemporary silhouettes. The design focus has evolved tremendously but I still feel very strongly about maintaining a cultural thread so that the products have their own identity and can tell a story.

    Akudo Iheakanwa

    OC: Who is the SHEKUDO woman and what do they represent?

    AI: The SHEKUDO woman is bold, spirited, brave and authentic. She represents herself unapologetically even through her style where she carefully curates her pieces to reflect who she is. Often these women have rich and meaningful stories just like our products.

    OC:Aso-Oke has become somewhat of a signature for your brand, please talk us through what drew towards weaving and how did it become such an integral part of your brand and aesthetic?

    AI: When I returned to Nigeria I felt as though everything was weaving together as it should so it was symbolic for me. I took a strong interest in Aso Oke and the 500+ year old story behind it, the laborious process, durability and the ability to play around with colour. We will continue to work with Aso Oke in future but it was what we wanted to launch with last year to create a colourful, memorable impact.

    Artisan weaving Aso Oké Fabric

    SHOP ASO OKE SHOES

    OC: Why is so important to you to use locally sourced materials and craftsmanship?

    AI: Sustainability and supporting local industry is important to me. We chose to work with local raw materials that we would be able to access quickly so we started working with carpenters to create our wooden heels and weavers to create our base fabric, we also source our leather locally. If we relied on the raw items solely from the market / online you are then at the whim of big MOQ’s and the local market which can be volatile.

    In addition, supporting local craftsmanship is something we need to continue to do. We have a lot to offer in Nigeria and I believe we can build upon what we have to create better products rather than always relying on imports.

    OC: Why do you offer a special price for Lagos Locals?

    AI: Well it’s actually a Nigeria wide discount. I like to do this because 1. It’s made here and 2. We are shipping within Nigeria so there isn’t a need to include a shipping buffer fee like we have to for international orders.

    OC: In what ways is the SHEKUDO brand supporting and empowering it's workers? (training opportunities, education support etc)

    AI: We focus a lot on capacity building and trying to build upon the current skills of our team to get the best out of them. I like to question and propose other solutions rather than doing things in the same old ways because “that’s just how we’ve always done it.”

    Currently I am working on getting investment to organise further technical training for my team in shoemaking and leather work and also aiming to bring on more women to train up in shoe making by year end. We tend to pay our team higher than the average local pay because I believe their work deserves it and people can afford to invest in that when they buy our products.

    OC: SHEKUDO has collaborated with designers in the past, for example Iamisigo for LFDW (Lagos Fashion Design Week) AW presentations. How do you select the brands that you want to align SHEKUDO with?

    AI: I usually say yes to brands who I admire and who are aligned in some way through their values - and of course aesthetically.

    For now, we are being even more selective with this process as we believe it can dilute the brand if done too early / not done well and sometimes the arrangement isn’t suitable for both parties involved.

    OC: SHEKUDO has collaborated with designers in the past, for example Iamisigo for LFW AW presentations. How do you select the brands that you want to align SHEKUDO with?

    AI: I usually say yes to brands who I admire and who are aligned in some way through their values - and of course aesthetically.

    OC: What are the challenges you have faced running a business in Nigeria and how have you overcome them?

    AI: So many (power outage, delays, time management, stock depletion etc), but I try to look at them now like lessons and opportunities. I’ve had to learn a lot of patience and acceptance as things in Nigeria often can be done in a strange roundabout way.

    I’ve also had to teach myself to understand why things are done the way they are and the completely different upbringing that we are all coming from. Everyone has their own beliefs, values, system of understanding and so forth - so it’s just about respecting this and trying to meet in the middle.

    OC: What's the best piece of advice you have received?

    AI: As mentioned above - “Everything is a lesson or an opportunity (or both) just depends on how you look at it”.... And - “no one can make you feel anything, you are in control of you.”

    Artisan preparing a SHEKUDO mule heel

    OC: On your website, you mention wanting to transition to an all female workforce. What inspired that and how much progress have you made so far?

    AI: Yes this is very important to me for the future because I have spent much of my adult life working with young women in empowerment and community development.

    I currently work with 95% talented men which is wonderful and we are like a family, but I would like to bring on more women because often it is believed by men in this industry that women can’t do this type of work (Goldsmithing and shoemaking) and I want to contest that. I would particularly like to work with women who are finding it hard to find work because of their age or social situation.

    Keep in touch with Akudo Iheakanwa/SHEKUDO on Instagram