BANKE KUKU: TEXTILE GODDESS
by Ladun Ogidan
Banke Kuku is the CEO and Creative Director of Banke Kuku Textiles (BKT). Born in Lagos, Banke left Nigeria when she was only eight years old and moved to the United Kingdom, where she eventually studied Textile Design at the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s College in London, and the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Banke Kuku Textiles has partnered with major fashion houses including Jewel by Lisa, Virgos Lounge Duro Olowu, and Lot78 that have all been worn by the likes of Michelle Obama, Kelis and Catt Sadler. In 2012, Banke introduced a range of interior design accessories that was carried by Selfridges, attracting fans like Franca Sozzani, Chief Editor of Vogue Italia. In this interview, she talks about her amazing journey from the early age of five when she started knitting, to her successful textile and interiors company and then the publication of her book.
What influenced your career as a textile designer?
I have been fascinated with textiles as far back as I can remember. I was already knitting at age five and I would always pick the floral dresses and draw patterns on everything with a felt tip pen! So it was a very natural and easy decision for me.
I chose to study Textile Design after school, and I went from Central St Martins to Chelsea College of Art and Design, specializing in woven textiles. I also published a book, The Unwoven Threads of Nigeria, which was an assessment of the state of the Nigerian textiles industry.
How did you expand your craft to interior furnishing as well?
There is a fine line between fashion fabrics and interior fabrics today. Also, the industry structures are very similar. The interior industry is moving faster and seasonal trends are the norm. It’s also great, as with interiors my fabrics don’t get cut up into tiny pieces as they do in fashion.
What were the challenges you faced when setting up the business?
Setting up a business wasn’t too challenging, it just happened naturally. I was working on several little projects at the time and decided to bring them under one roof. I also had a lot of support from the Princes Trust in London.
What is the design process behind a new pattern, how do you choose the materials and fabrics you work with?
I choose a source of inspiration, which I base my designs upon. My prints are digital and so I create my patterns on the computer. Fabrics are chosen according to the product I’m making.
How do you balance creativity with commerce?
Commerce stimulates my creativity as it gives me limitations. Sometimes having too many choices can stunt your creativity.
What role does social media and networking play in promoting your brand?
I use social media to tell the story of my brand, which gives my products more value.
What is the competitive advantage of your brand and why can’t it be copied?
The unique aesthetic of my designs is my advantage. People like to buy things that are different and BKT delivers that. You just have to keep putting new things into the market so you are always a step ahead. That’s how you get past being copied.
Do you think Africa is doing enough when it comes to promoting and sustaining luxury brands?
Yes, pleasantly Africa is doing a great job at promoting luxury brands and creativity as a whole. There are many strong platforms for designers to exhibit their work and the domestic and international press is invaluable.
In terms of sustaining luxury brands, this is something that is being developed as the industry is growing in many areas. At the moment the industry is being spread throughout the continent. Some countries have the manufacturing but not the promotions and retail outlets while some countries have the promotion but not the manufacturing. It means Africans need to work as a whole to make the industry work.
What tactical decisions do you take to remain relevant and sustain an edge in the industry?
Just delivering very honest designs and having confidence in them.
Who is the average Banke Kuku client, are your clients exclusively in Nigeria and what attracts them to the brand?
My clients are not exclusively Nigerians, but all over the world at the moment. I love when I have Nigerian clients. I am pushing the brand to have global distribution. Banke Kuku is currently stocked in 13 different countries and is doing particularly well in the United States.
People are attracted to Banke Kuku for its beauty, quality and unique design aesthetic. It automatically attracts Africans at home and in the Diaspora as it tells an African story, but the beauty in the product draws in clients from all around the world. Everyone is attracted to beauty.
You have worked with various brands in and out of Nigeria. What was your experience like working with Burberry?
Working with Burberry was a good experience. I was able to see how a very large fashion business is run.
What inspires your collections and unique designs?
I’m inspired by African and Western culture, from art to political issues.
Currently I’m inspired by the work Paradise Lost by George Oshodi, who like me has taken his subject matter from the Niger Delta region. Oil production and pollution in the Niger Delta has become a theme throughout my recent work. I use bold patterns to bring life to an otherwise bleak theme. The main print tries to capture the intensity of an oil spill in the watery creeks, reflecting in the sunlight. The sight of the Delta inspires tales by moonlight. I was struck by the vision of multiple gas flares (gas wastefully burnt or ‘flared’ by oil companies) erupting like little volcanoes against a backdrop of a pitch-black (pollution obscures the views of the stars) Delta night sky.
You published a book The Unwoven Threads of Nigeria. What inspired it and what did you set out to achieve?
The Unwoven Threads of Nigeria is an analysis of the Nigerian textile industry at the time it was written. I wanted to create awareness of the decline in the industry and highlight issues while putting forward suggestions on how to revive it. It’s great that key people in the country are presently making moves to revive the industry.
Are you presently working on any projects?
Yes, I am. None that I can discuss.
What are the long-term goals for your brand?
To further develop my range and brand aesthetic, and to keep pushing the brand globally.
What advice do you have for young people who aspire to go into the textile industry?
Be patient and persistent. Good work takes a long time.
Images: www.bankekuku.com, http://www.amazon.com/The-Unwoven-Threads-Of-Nigeria
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