Growing up in Nigeria in the 80’s, Berlin-based fashion designer, Buki Akomolafe spent most of her time barefoot and playing outside. Meanwhile, her parents were busy building the agricultural project VPP – Village Pioneer Project – which helped shape Buki’s awareness in terms of a conscious approach towards using resources.
“Back in Nigeria, we often didn’t have electricity and sometimes no water, especially during the dry season. If you don’t have access to these kinds of resources 24/7, you become more aware of what you have and how to use it. In Germany, where I live now, people have access to almost everything and all the time. If you have unlimited access to resources, you tend not to appreciate them anymore.”
Buki developed her own sense of fashion at a very young age. Her mother was amused by the fact that Buki was always studying the clothes and shoes people wore on the streets, and her insisting on choosing her own daily outfit even when she was still very small. Upon moving to Berlin, this fascination was only enhanced.
“When I moved to Berlin, I felt free to wear whatever I want. I lived in Stuttgart before, where most people dress the same. In Berlin you find all kinds of styles. That gave me the freedom to experiment with shapes, colours and finding my own personal style, particularly during my studies in fashion design. Nigeria influenced me in the way people wear colour and the shapes of menswear there. And, of course, the fabrics,” Buki told Fashionomics Africa.
After studying fashion design in Berlin and Stuttgart, Buki launched her own label, Buki Akomolafe, in 2016. “At the beginning I did a lot of research on where and how to source my fabrics, how and where to produce, finding a studio, workshops for startups, etc. A year after I launched my label, I branched out to the US as I had very good response and also some stores that were interested in selling my products.”
Through her parents’ work in the agricultural sector – mainly organic farming – Buki learned what it means to live in harmony with nature, and how you grow dependent on it. “I really care about how and where I source my fabrics and textiles. I use high quality fabrics, such as organic cotton, certified cotton, organic hemp-silk and the African waxprints. I only create one collection a year, not the classic two seasons. The collection is divided into a basic range that is enhanced by collection pieces for summer and winter. I also promote the concept of minimal waste and design Tote Bags made of leftovers from cutting.
I buy textiles and threads and some buttons (but I don’t like buttons that much), that’s why all my shirts have a fly front. I buy the materials via textile agencies in Berlin that are focused on sustainable sourcing and from projects, such as Living Blue Bangladesh, where I bought fabrics for my latest collection. I do small-scale production for the Basic pieces and limited items for the costly Quilt pieces.”
A love for simplicity and precise tailoring, mixed with details, bright colours and high craftmanship, inform who Buki is as a person and a designer: “Calm and loud at the same time,” she laughs. “I draw my inspiration from the streets, travels, different cultures. I’m very much inspired by the Baye Falls, a particular Sufi group from Senegal. I have been to Senegal several times and I’m always amazed by the look and style of these people. They wear a lot of layers and patchwork. This inspired me to start to deal with quilt and the art of quilting and develop my own way of quilting the African Wax prints,” she explains.
The Buki Akomolafe brand is about much more than eco-conscious fashion. As a teenager, Buki found herself having to buy men’s pants as those on offer in the women’s section didn’t fit her hips well. This caused her to develop a sense for the androgynous look and it is one she is looking to push beyond cultural borders. “I was always inspired by menswear and clothes that you can breathe in. Clothes that give you the space needed to feel free to move around. My focus is on womenswear in particular, as I only fit the clothes on women during the design process, but most of my pieces are for men and women.
I don’t want to dictate a specific female or male look. That was one thing I fought for in Nigeria: I had to justify my style pretty often as it was not female enough to wear specific clothes. And I want to break that line between what is female clothing and what is male clothing. They’re just clothes - and the most important thing is to feel good, comfortable and empowered by your clothes. I believe the androgynous look will evolve more and more in the future. I think a lot of people want to break the rules of how men and women have dress,” Buki explains.
Offering her clientele flexible choices, Buki aims to empower wearers through her designs. “The wearer can decide if he/she wants to be more restrained while wearing a classic basic shirt in white or show up and wear a colourful Quilt piece like the Bomberjacket that has a certain shape. Both kinds of looks empower the wearer…it just depends on the occasion and the type of personality the wearer has.”
The Berlin-based brand is currently looking into the possibilities of sourcing fabrics and possibly even producing in Nigeria. “The future of fashion in Africa is happening now. There are a lot of amazing upcoming brands and platforms for fashion and many more things are rising. I am happy to see that there is more and more awareness of how rich and diverse and creative Africa’s fashion scene is. And, I think and hope that the future of fashion in Africa will be more and more seen and respected by the rest of the world. I also hope we will see the rise of more sustainable and fair fashion brands, so that everybody in the whole supply chain can benefit.”