September 24, 2022


Iniobong Obinna-Onunkwo is the founder and CEO of Little Weavers and co-founder of Neni (a collaborative Nigerian start-up fashion brand). Little Weavers is an Afrocentric fashion brand for young people, people that love African heritage, African identity and everything profound about African culture. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on her collections during the recent Africa Fashion Week, Nigeria and what the brand stands for. Excerpts:
Why the name Little Weavers?
The story started with two of my daughters who attended an elite wedding a few years ago and I was able to put together some pieces from their father’s asuebi (a traditional name in Yoruba for uniform and fabrics). At the elite wedding most people, especially mothers, were taking pictures of them. My daughter came back and told me how they loved her outfit. I was inspired and I just thought that if I can weave a few of these cultural pieces and the children and parents love it, and it gives them a sense of African identity and heritage, I felt this would be great to do. They are little children and since I am weaving something for them, I felt the most suitable name for this would be ‘Little Weavers.’ That was how the name was birthed.
Before Little Weavers, what were you doing?
I have been a trained engineer as well as a portfolio manager. We provide mechanical instruments, machines and equipment for people that work in the oil and gas sector and for those that work off-field and on-field. So as a portfolio manager as well as an investment banker, at that time, the environment was a bit volatile and I just felt that if this is something since this is something I have always loved, then I can do this. I have the passion for fashion and I am a very creative person. I have since seen an opportunity in this market. I felt at that time, it was an underserving market and I needed someone to provide those pieces for the children.
So Little Weavers is just for young children?
Little weavers are for young people. When teenagers are referred to as children, they argue and say they are teenagers. So, I just say young people, which means for toddlers, young children and teenagers.
What inspires the pieces you make?
Because the brand is centred on African heritage and culture, if you take every ethnic tribe and every culture in Africa and you focus on Nigeria and you imagine the whole of Africa, you will find that every culture or tribe has something significant and that significance is in the narrative and in the story they tell. It is also in history. These are things that we need to imbibe in our children and things that we need to connect with them historically, tell a story, just like the Germans, the Indians and the Arabs. We are Africans, we love Africa, we speak Africa and we eat Africa.
How long have you been doing Little Weavers?
Next year 2023 will make it 10 years. Every day is a success story. We just finished African Fashion Week Nigeria and Little Weavers showcased and the feedback from everyone was it was a success and the children look all lit, fabulous and glam. I think it was a success story for me because it has been days and days of hard work, rehearsals, putting all the pieces together, trying to tell a story about the Nigerian culture where we have the South, the North and the West. So, it is just creating that narrative for everyone to understand that as Nigeria, this is our culture.
Is this the first time you are showcasing at the African Fashion Week?
Yes this is the first time and this is our first outing. It has been interesting and filled with its own challenges.
Read also: IDAN worries over lack of historical essence in architectural, interior designs
Tell us about your collections at Africa Fashion Week?
The idea is to tell people about our different cultures. From the north, we have other ethnic groups such as the Hausa Fulani, in the West we have the Yorubas and in the East, the Ibos and in the South, we have other tribes. However, the significant cultures that we decided to showcase and talk about were the Yorubas, Hausa, Ibos and the Ibibio. We also decided to add a bit of the Adire. So, it is all about culture and Heritage. These are the Nigerian children telling a story that ‘we are the future of tomorrow,’ ‘we know and love our culture,’ ‘we can always dress elegantly in our different cultural attires.’ We would like to send this message to our parents that Nigeria is the country to be. We are diverse and we are united.
What are the challenges you have encountered?
As a fashion entrepreneur, one of the major challenges is having the right network of people because people are the wealth we see. If you have people who are able to manage your business successfully, you have the right funding and the right support, then I believe as a fashion entrepreneur, you can thrive. So, you have to start with the people that understand your vision, people that understand your mission and people that imbibe your values. In everything, it is almost as if you are wearing the brand value. This is who we are. We speak heritage, we have integrity, we love culture. We want to show people that we are united and we want to enlighten people more on African culture. So, once you have the right people that send out that message and it resonates with the rest of us, then I think every other thing that sponsorship, support and funding will follow.
Where do you see Little Weavers in the next five to 10 years?
There is something I heard a long time ago, which is ‘Expanding Beyond Borders’. In the next five years, we should have expanded beyond borders. We should become a household name to everyone. It is not just about the outfit. If I order for a particular Little Weavers Outfit, it should tell a story. Every piece should tell a story.
How do you get contracts to make clothes for children and young people?
Since, we are still talking about the African Fashion Week, Nigeria, we have platforms where we leverage and create awareness, especially brand awareness. We get referrals from other parents. We also get contacts through advertising and other advert platforms that we leverage on. People get to know more about us through these platforms.
How do you source your fabrics?
We source our fabrics locally.
Do you export some of your pieces outside Nigeria?
I have had a couple of orders from Canada, United States, Germany, Scotland, UK and some from Europe. So, we are hoping to break into the Asian market and Australian market. We have also had orders from Latin America, Venezuela.
What do you think the government can do to assist those promoting local fashion industries and wears?
I think people should focus more on educating the youths because the youths are tomorrow’s leaders. These youths are very talented and we have so many opportunities here in Nigeria. I believe that if we have the right support, the right sponsorship, resources and environment, then the platform will be there to expand beyond borders and do even better.
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