INIOBONG OBINNA-ONUNKWO – AFROCENTRIC CLOTHING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS
Iniobong Obinna-Onunkwo is the founder and chief executive officer of Little Weavers. With a factory and outlets in Lagos, it is a unique African couture brand that designs and manufactures clothing and accessories from infants to teenagers using purely African prints. The brand also designs uniforms for corporate organizations and schools. Over the past decade, she has worked in various capacities in investment banking and engineering. During that period she also co-founded Astra Capital Investment Ltd, a venture capital firm with interests in real estate, as well as hospitality and tourism.
With a passion for creativity, she leveraged on her experience garnered over the years in the financial and venture capital space to set up Little Weavers in 2012 to provide for an under-served market. Obinna-Onunkwo has attended various local and international institutions including the Lagos Business School, University of Port Harcourt and Centro Venezuelano Americano (Caracas, Venezuela). She loves travelling, singing, dancing, writing shorts, songs and poems, and has a strong interest in abstract art and entertainment.
You started your professional career in the banking industry. Why did you decide to switch to fashion and is there anyone in your family working in that line?
Fashion has always been an ingrained talent in my family. My mother had an exotic taste for stylish clothing in the late 50s and applied her tailoring skills adequately. Little wonder she hastily retired her overworked sewing machine for my dreams. It currently serves as an antique in the window display of our Little Weavers store at the Maryland Mall. In mid 2011, a special opportunity presented itself in form of tailoring a few pieces for my daughters, for a high societal function, which spun the need to test a theory. This thesis yielded unexpected gross sales and increased demand at a school fun fair, that confirming the need to create a niche product for an underserved market. The experience birthed Little Weavers.
Why are you particularly interested in children and teenage fashion and what is your bias for Afrocentric fashion?
Afrocentric couture for the older audience has gained momentum in the past few years. It’s now in huge demand in different parts of the world. However, very little attention has been spared for the young ones. Our experience spurred the need to circumnavigate that arena to enable them enjoy and appreciate African clothing as an identity, lifestyle and art. With the growing appreciation among young families, educational institutions, fashion affiliates and media, Little Weavers decisively developed two concepts to further inform the audience on the importance of Afrocentric couture for kids and teens —Heritage Friday, a derivative of TGIF, where scholars are clad in simple uniformed prints on Fridays to discuss diverse African ethnicities and their histories, and Kulture Funkidified, trendy and sometimes outlandish clothing that promotes specific African tribe(s), must-have pieces in any child’s closet.
How did you get Zuriel Oduwole as your brand ambassador?
Zuriel Oduwole is a young and brilliant African-American female education advocate and filmmaker, best known for her advocacy for girl child education in Africa. She is of Nigerian and Mauritian descent. Presently, she is the youngest person ever profiled by Forbes for her excellent work. She has also interviewed many famous world leaders and presidents. Her fashion style and conservative preference for authentic Afrocentric clothing made us the ultimate choice for her wardrobe. Zuriel celebrates most of our pieces at major high-end events and functions.
Zuriel Oduwole in Little Weavers.
What inspires your designs and where do you source your textiles, fabrics and trimmings?
Art is in every space and shape. As creative minds, we work with everything around us including the environment, abstract art, folklore and people. This enables us work closely with the local market, as some of the traditional accessories or materials are affordable and delicately handcrafted with particular attention to patterns that depict our cultural history. A good case is the batik and tie-dye fabrics, beadwork and embroidery.
What challenges have you faced going the Afrocentric route?
Given its economic volatility, every business start-up regardless of its dynamism usually experiences a momentary dip in its early years till it peaks and stabilizes. Amongst some embedded macro and micro economic factors in the system notably experienced as restraints to Nigerian businesses, ours is interestingly peculiar because the market perceptual norm to embrace urban clothing is generally acceptable and highly competitive for Afrocentric clothing. Nevertheless, we re-strategize consistently to keep abreast of our vision.
People say the creative industry is the new oil. How do you think working with our indigenous textiles will boost our economy?
First, most creative jobs are value-adding services that are still dependent on the creation of physical goods in the value chain. Subsequently, we will be able to fully optimize our value chain. Inclusively, a country’s brand is usually represented by its culture, which includes clothing, art and culture as its unique identity. Hence, the need to embolden such a heritage through clothing, as well as constant creation of value would encourage increased productivity that will spur growth.
It is generally believed that our Nigerian products are more expensive than imported ones. How do people react to your pricing as we have high costs of production here?
Foreign exchange rates are major determinants in the export and import chain where the cost burden is on the consumer. However, in the Nigerian context, the availing fixed and variable costs determine prices. These costs are usually incurred at the level of efficiency and effectiveness of productivity, which is enhanced by existing functional and stable infrastructure.
What improvements would you like to see in the growing Nigerian fashion industry?
The Nigerian fashion industry requires basic tools to grow geometrically such as electricity, authenticity of locally manufactured textiles and haberdasheries. The industry should synergize and promote emerging global Afrocentric designers / clothiers through; media networking —electronic (establish an African fashion network like Fashion TV that strictly celebrates African clothing as a lifestyle), social and print, to constantly educate everyone on the need to re-orient their cultural perception about Afrocentric clothing; the creation of basic fashion houses and academies fully registered and globally appraised as standard; empowerment programmes and initiatives for young designers and clothiers; increased entertaining fashion runways and Afrocentric pageant shows; the establishment of one-stop Afrocentric clothing departmental stores; and Afrocentric uniforms, corporate wears and accessories.
What would you advice people who want to work in children’s fashion?
Be G.O. D. S: God fearing, Original, Determined, Strong!
Image credits: Little Weavers.
September 20, 2017
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