Bold, vibrant striped fabrics covering minimalist furniture designs announced the arrival of Ilé Ilà onto the contemporary African design scene. Handmade in Lagos, Nigeria the furniture designs echo the architectural designs of the company’s founder Tosin Oshinowo, who also runs her own practice, CM Design Atelier. Tosin chats with me about the inspirations behind her work, building two creative businesses and the lessons she’s learned.
1. What inspired you to begin your creative journey?
I am inspired by everything around me. I am inspired by my experiences schooling and working in Europe, travelling, but also I am inspired by my Yoruba cultural heritage particularly from my youth growing up in Lagos, Nigeria.
2. What is the thinking and inspiration behind your designs and why do you use the materials that you do?
As an architect and product designer, I have been able to create an interesting dialogue between designing physical space and designing functional objects to occupy space. It is this process of working at both scales that has been useful for me.
In our architecture practice, we are quite cost-sensitive and ensure the materials we use are locally sourced. We have learnt to be inventive within the limitations of our environment. This is most evident in our many beach houses and also projects located in urban Lagos.
For our product designs – chairs – I am a stickler for locally sourced and celebrated materials from the woods to upholstery fabrics. I can’t get enough of our Yoruba local fabric Aso-Oke. The variety of colour and patterns makes it easy to create the most beautiful chairs.
3. How does your home country inform your creativity? Where does it inspire you and how is it reflected in the work that you do?
I am culturally very conscious and that consciousness is evident in my work. I firmly believe in defining our cultural narrative today and the way we use space, as Africans in a contemporary context should inform how we design space and objects in that space.
4. How do you keep challenging yourself to grow and develop your craft?
I have to constantly remind myself that where we are is not enough. There is always room for improvement and evolution in terms of our typology and variations of each typology.
5. What have been the challenges of setting up your own business, and how have you overcome them?
Generally, it’s tough setting up a business in Nigeria, let alone a creative business. The best advice I was given was to make sure my accounting was set up from the beginning. We have an accountant who comes in once a month who handles our books. It’s a lot easier to set-up structures from the start than afterwards.
The best advice I was given was to make sure my accounting was set up from the beginning… It’s a lot easier to set-up structures from the start than afterwards. – Tosin Oshinowo
6. What advice would you give to designers wanting to start their own creative business?
Be strategic but just do it. Sometimes knowing too much hinders creativity. You need a healthy dose of youthful enthusiasm to get started, the rest will fall into place as you go along.
7. Which other African designers are inspiring you and your work today?
I really like the work being produced by Saba Studios from Kenya, I particularly love their detailing of wood and it’s clean aesthetic. I also admire the work of Pinda Interior Design from South Africa, who have been able to create a strong contemporary African aesthetic.
8. What more can be done by African countries (your own, included) to promote African design – both locally and on an international scale?
I think the opportunity for festivals or joint-shows could be useful. Platforms that create awareness for the designers will be useful. I find here in Nigeria if not for a burgeoning demographic interested in aesthetics, the general populous are unaware that there are designers locally pushing their craft against all odds and producing good design and good quality products at par internationally.
– Tapiwa Matsinde