Entrepreneurs · Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

IN CREATIVE SPACES WE TRUST

by Akumbu Uche

I love well decorated interiors and as such, a good chunk of my browsing time is spent on virtual hangouts like Apartment Therapy and The Selby. Recently, whilst searching for similar websites to feast my eyes on, I came across Okiriko, a Nigerian blog dedicated to indigenous interior design.

Despite being less visual than I had anticipated, the intimately written but highly informative articles on offer, dishing on decorating tips and urging for an environment friendly approach to design, resonated with me.

Fascinated, I e-mailed some questions to one of the site’s Administrators, SCAD*-trained artist and interior designer, Azuka Okonji, and she graciously answered them.

 

Azuka Okonji
Azuka Okonji

 

Before co-founding Okiriko and starting up your own design firm [Ekaje Design Studio], you were already an accomplished artist and illustrator. Why did you make the switch to Interior Design?

Actually, Interior Design was my first love. I was 14 when I decided I wanted to become an interior designer. I couldn’t get enough of magazines like House and Garden. I would keep stacks of them and pore through them over and over again. So you can imagine my disappointment when it was time to do JAMB and I looked through the courses searching for interior design to no avail, I remember seeing Industrial Design in OAU* and briefly wondering if the courses were related. So Fine and Applied Art for me, was the natural substitute; I had been drawing and meddling with colours since I could remember so doing something in the Arts was inevitable.

Do you find that these two (Fine Arts and Interior Design) complement or conflict each other?

They complement. Illustrations that I do, drawings, design, graphics, they all feed and strengthen the same creative source.

A lot of people use the terms Interior Design and Interior Decoration interchangeably; what’s the difference?

An interior decorator “decorates”. The surface treatments you see like curtains, wall treatments, light fixtures, flooring and the tasteful and artistically pleasing – arranging all these elements in a space is the work of a decorator. Anyone really, with a creative flair and a good eye for colour can decorate.

A designer on the other hand is an “interior architect”; we deal with the actual space planning of the interior of any structure. We make decisions based on quality of life and ergonomics. We study the interaction of man and his environment and we bring solutions that maximise quality of life. We study a bit of everything – construction, electrical layouts, plumbing, lighting, furniture, the merits and demerits of various materials, like carpet, wool, paint, etcetera.

So in other words, an interior designer should be able to design a home for a 70-year old man in a wheel chair who is allergic to natural fibre, and loves to entertain. The architect deals with the design of the external shell of a building while, ideally, a designer takes over the interiors and does everything else. This of course also includes decorating.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m your client; could you help me find contemporary art pieces that match my design theme/colour palette?

Absolutely, although my personal opinion as an artist is that art pieces shouldn’t necessarily always be made to “match the décor”.

The world is going green and I would like to adopt that kind of lifestyle. How easy is it to find eco-friendly furnishings in Nigeria?

Very easy. Under-development comes to our aid a lot in Nigeria, not because of our love for the earth, but because we are still a very “manual” society for the most part. We take resources from the earth and produce what we need with very little processing.

The problem I see in Nigeria is not “going green” but staying green consciously. In many rural parts of the country people are still building their homes with materials they get from their immediate environment, [for example] my grandfather’s 4-storey building was built entirely with mud. We plant indigenous plants, we eat organically grown fruits and vegetables when they are in season, we call a carpenter to make a lot of our furniture, and we are not a wasteful society, even if a lot of that is due to poverty.

What we should watch out for are our production and use of plastics and most importantly, the things we import. We need better quality control.

Is it possible to redecorate my home/workspace without necessarily buying new things?

Yes of course, I have an article on my website, “Making the Most Bang for your Buck!” that gives pointers on this issue. We have the wrong belief that oodles of money need to be spent to redecorate; it is not necessarily true.

Looking around your environment and seeing things with “new eyes” shows one different possibilities. This is also a part of going green.

In our society, the services of a professional are more likely to be hired by the Oga Sirs and Big Madams. Do you have any D.I.Y tips for those on a limited budget?

There are loads of websites and magazines that offer countless D.I.Y ideas. Just Google! Be creative with what you have, never be scared of trying out a new idea.

Wallpaper has a reputation for being tacky so I’m surprised to find that you make a case for it on the website.

Ha ha, in what world is wallpaper tacky? Not at all! I pointed it out as an option and a good one. The problem I see with wallpaper is the perception that it ages badly, it’s a pain to put up and take down and after all it’s only just “printed paper”. But wallpaper like everything else has evolved a lot – from washable, to paintable to the range of beautiful patterns ranging from floral to geometric. Its application method has also greatly improved as well as its being easier to uninstall.

Wallpaper still maintains a relevant role in design and I have seen a couple of wallpaper shops here that have a very impressive range of product.

Final question. Home improvement and decoration shows are one of the attractions of cable TV; any chance we might soon see you doing something similar on one of our local channels?

Ooh, nothing like that being planned for the immediate future, but nothing would make me happier!

 

*SCAD – Savannah College of Art and Design, USA

*OAU – Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife

Fashion & Lifestyle · Relationships

THE BOYFRIEND ISSUE

by Akumbu Uche

Every female fashionista worth her salt knows that you can’t succeed in fashion without a boyfriend.

Let’s start with the supermodels, shall we?

Did you have any inkling as to who Miranda Kerr was before she became Mrs. Orlando Bloom? How about Bar Refaeli and Erin Heatherton before their romances with Leonardo DiCaprio? I didn’t think so.

Before American designer Rachel Roy became one of Michelle Obama’s favourite designers, she interned at then boyfriend Damon Dash’s fashion line, Rocawear.

In a 2011 interview I conducted with Akpos Okudu, the Port Harcourt-based designer, told me she made the switch from a Blogspot account to a proper website with the aid of her boyfriend. Max Azria’s name may be appended to the BCBG brand, but his wife, Lubov is a key member on his design team.

And it’s not just the world of haute couture.

Besides curating trendsetting fashion blogs, what else do the likes of Ashley Madekwe (Ring My Bell), Betty Autier (Le Blog de Betty) and Emily Schuman (Cupcakes & Cashmere) have in common?

Supportive partners who lovingly help them out with their photo shoots.

Hey, I can hear you say, Garance Doré takes all her photos herself. Yes, but mind you, it was boyfriend Scott Schuman who gifted her that Canon camera she swears by.

From time to time, Garance makes appearances on The Sartorialist outfitted in the street photographer’s jacket or his shorts. This is very much in line with the fashion dictum that masculine clothes can be worn by women as long as they are prefixed by the word ‘boyfriend’. Hence, the proliferation of the boyfriend jeans, the boyfriend blazer, the boyfriend shirt and the boyfriend watch.

Remember when pop singer Avril Lavigne instituted men’s neckties? These days I’m beginning to see men’s boots and waistcoats paired with dresses so I won’t be surprised if the boyfriend briefs follow suit.

But wait, before I pursue a career forecasting fashion trends, I need to find me a boyfriend. Fast!

Fashion & Lifestyle

YELLOW YELLOW

by Akumbu Uche

For some time now, I have been longing to try out some yellow nail polish so when I saw some eye-catching City Colors polishes selling for N150 at Central Supermarket, Uyo (Oron Road), I did not hesitate to snap up one of the custardy shades on sale.

I couldn’t (I still can’t) understand why this brand does not subtitle its products but it didn’t stop me from falling for the cubic shape of the bottle and its solid black cap, reminiscent of the Chanel Le Vernis range.

A steal over a splurge any day.

Oops! I forgot I was supposed to buy some real custard.

More disheartening, when I applied it, the yellow was watery and too sheer for my liking; after two coats I could still see my nails!

I did some improvising and was pleased to discover that a coat of glitter – Revlon Soft Sandssaved my nails from being too ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’.

Nail polish
Revlon (left) to the rescue

Now if only I could sell this combination, I would call it Midas Touch.

My hands
Gold is the new black

Until then, try it out for yourself.

Tada!

Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

WHY I WEAR MY HAIR NATURAL

by Akumbu Uche

Early this year, I made the decision to cut off my relaxed hair and embrace my natural coils. Six months later and my afro, more Kwame Nkrumah than Angela Davis, is at that stage where it takes 10 minutes to wash, 15 to dry and 20 to comb. In other words, I go to work late all the time.  Help!

I turned to my personal hair icons for some much needed styling advice. But first, what are their reasons for sporting a natural ‘do?

 

1. Relaxers are creamy crack

Who: Mgbechi Erondu, Medical Student.

Where: USA

Hair icons: Lauryn Hill, Amber Rose
Natural since: 2004

 

What made you decide to go natural?

Relaxers really are like creamy “crack”.  I hated feeling beholden to getting my hair done every few months so I would wait 6, 7 until my hair started breaking off. Relaxed hair is weakest at its junction with new growth.  I would attain great length while my hair was in braids but once I finished combing or brushing I would be left with that thin ponytail characteristic of relaxed hair.  In my sophomore year of high school, I decided to grow my hair out by keeping it in braids. After a while, the straight ends just disappeared. No “big chop” necessary.
Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling.

I definitely disagree! Natural hair is far more resilient. You can straighten it, curl it, put it in any style of braid, weave, wig and as long as you play nice (limit heat, deep condition and give your hair a break rest between styles), you’ll get your bouncy, healthy curls back with very little breakage.  I’ve never been very creative when it comes to hair.  I usually go for kinky or Senegalese twist braids but this is expensive so I’m currently trying to figure out the best combination of strategies to get simple wash and go curls that don’t get too dry and frizzy by the end of the day.
Your hair used to be longer than this; why did you cut it?

A number of reasons.  About a year ago I experienced the weave from HELL! The stylist braided the cornrows so tight that my hair literally pulled out from the middle! I had a bald spot!!! After a couple of months (thankfully!) my hair started growing back but I was frustrated with the obvious difference in length.  I was also tired of having long hair overall that I didn’t quite know how to style and it was starting to limit my braid options SO I decided it was time to try an edgier look.  Problem is, I think the ease of having shorter hair makes it addictive! Haha. I’m actually thinking about cutting it again!
What’s your usual hair care regimen?

I’m very impatient with my hair so I prefer to keep it in braids.  BUT I am a major proponent of giving your hair a break between styles. Usually I go at least two or three weeks before getting a new head of braids.  During that time I try to deep condition at least once, wet it every day in the shower coupling it with shampoo every couple of days (depending on my workout schedule) but otherwise doing what the natural bloggers call a “co-wash”: basically washing your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo.  Afterwards I try not to comb or mess with my hair too much except to moisturize the ends with castor oil and that’s really it.
What are your favourite hair care products?

Castor oil!!  And a spray bottle.  Moisture is key! Still looking for the ideal shampoo.  Apple Cider Vinegar* I use while I have braids in, Head and Shoulders I use to get rid of that post-braid gunk (eww!!), and after that I use Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo because it doesn’t give my hair that weird, squeaky clean feel.   I try to switch up conditioners because I’ve found that once my hair gets used to one, the detangling effect no longer works.  I think humectant conditioners are the best, but really even the cheap ones will do—especially if they smell nice!
Most annoying comments people make about your hair?
Can I touch it??  -_-

 

2.  I love being natural


Who: Hauwa Abubakar, Journalist
Where:  Abuja
Hair Icons: Nil
Natural since: All my life.

 

What made you decide to go natural? 

I love being natural.

Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling. 

I disagree. I style my hair however I want because it’s naturally soft, long and wavy.

What’s your usual hair care regimen?

I usually plait my hair without braids [extensions] and I do this every two weeks. I always wash my hair before plaiting it and after that I use hair cream.

What are your favourite hair care products?

Dax and Bergamot Hair Cream, Hair Fruits Shampoo and Conditioner, Heads & Shoulders Shampoo and Conditioner.

Do you ever feel tempted to change your hair texture with a relaxer?

 Yes, sometimes. But I deal with it by having a blow dry and stretching my hair with a straightening iron.

 

3. It’s a socio-political standpoint

 Who:        Ojiugo Uche; University Student

Where:    USA

Hair icons:    Just about everyone featured on lecoil

 

How long have you been natural?

With the exception of short periods that add up to between 2 to 5 months, I have been natural all my life.

What informed this decision?

I am one of those people who find it so much easier to wake up, wet my hair while showering, and run a comb through it.  For me, the constancy and simplicity makes it no stress in comparison to having to relax and retouch my hair, or go through the putting on and removing of weaves.  I have also always preferred the texture of natural hair.  However, keeping my hair natural is now a conscious decision and a socio-political standpoint born from the realization that the cultural pandemic of disfavoring natural hair as uncool, and even unprofessional in favor of expensive attachments that look like the hair of others is a way of saying that one’s own hair is not good enough and thus that one is not good enough. Subtle as it seems, I believe that this question of individual self-worth leads to, or perhaps is consequent of a societal low esteem. On a larger scale it manifests in the devaluing of our own traditional cultures, history and heritage in favor of being superficially like others.  This is a problem.

Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling.

I completely disagree! The tumblr blog, lecoil, (which my sister shared with me) clearly shows that there are so many things one can do with one’s hair. I have often cornrowed my hair into different styles like ‘basket’ and ‘shuku’. I have also threaded my hair. I have been inspired by this questionnaire to try out some interesting things. I have attempted a faux hawk, which actually turned out well. Also, I have begun a regimen of doing a quick cornrowing of my entire head (this takes about 17 minutes) before going to bed, loosening the rows in the morning and fluffing them out with my hands(as a pick spoils the texture).

What’s your usual hair care regimen?

Right now, it is a basic, wake up in the morning, shower, rub some Shea butter, do a quick comb through and ‘carry go’.  However that is changing.  As time goes on, and my braiding skills improve, I hope to include more faux hawks, zigzag cornrows and twist-outs.

What are your favourite hair care products?

I have one, and one only  – Shea Butter

People can sometimes be judgmental about those who wear natural hair; what has been your experience so far?

Well, the judgment I’ve had have been mostly good – there is a lot of great rep from Americans, mostly white people who appreciate the texture of our hair more than we ourselves do.  In Nigeria however, bad rep abounds. To be fair though, sometimes when I have gotten a bad rap about my hair in Nigeria, it was unkempt and in need of a combing touch-up (as afros are constantly wont of)

Would you like to see more women wearing their hair naturally?  

I would LOVE to see this happen, as this will mean that natural hair is gaining good rep (reputation together with representation) and it would mean a move towards a greater and more overt appreciation of self worth, not only on an individual level, but on the grander societal level.

 

* Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a particular type of vinegar that is supposed to closely match the natural pH of one’s hair when mixed 1 part ACV to 2 parts water    –   Mgbechi’s note.

Fashion & Lifestyle · Reviews

A SCENT FOR EVERY WOMAN

by Akumbu Uche

I grew up in a family where perfumes figure prominently in family ritual and celebratory occasions like Christmas and birthdays are incomplete without some kind of fragrance given as a gift. (Maybe we’re emulating the Magi)

Some of us have signature scents suggestive of our personalities and this inspired me to create the following labels and assign specific scents to them; feel free to interpret as creatively as you wish.

Of course things like body chemistry, personal preferences and wallet size play an important role in choosing what scent to wear but let’s have a fash mag moment here, shall we? 😉

 

Collegiate

The Beat (edp*) by Burberry – This edgy fragrance is a funky blend of white musk, cedar, tea, hyacinth and tangerine. An energizing burst of pink pepper makes it spicy and yet it is incredibly cool. The hotter it gets, the sweeter it becomes. Perfect for crowded lecture halls and the party scene.

 

Miss Independent

The One (edp) by Dolce & Gabbana – Vanilla based perfumes can often be overpowering but this one is quiet and has a clean feel, due perhaps to the softening effect of vetiver. A watery blend of jasmine, lily, plum and peach give it a refreshingly delicate and chic quality. Elegant and easy, this is ideal for a woman comfortable in her own skin.

 

Yummy Mummy

Tresor (edp) by Lancôme – I associate this 90s classic with motherhood probably because it was once my own mum’s favourite; its smell conjures up the image of tasty pastries with caramel topping. In actuality, it is a very warm and romantic combination of rose, apricot, amber, vanilla, musk, sandalwood, peach and pineapple. Tender and comforting.

 

The Queen

Chanel No. 5 (edt) – Different scent groups are well represented and blended in here. Ylang-ylang, lemon, civet, oak moss plus an injection of aldehydes are just a few of the many interesting notes on roll call. If you think you have this one’s precise scent pinned down, a surprise awaits you. It has mysterious and sophisticated written all over it.

 

*edp – eau de parfum; edt – eau de toilette