The Folklore is pleased to introduce Shekudo, a sustainable women's accessories brand run by Nigerian creative director, Akudo Iheakanwa. The brand was first founded in Sydney, Australia in 2013 before refocusing its offering on statement accessories and footwear in 2017. Now based in Lagos, Nigeria, Iheakanwa has designed the new brand ethos around showcasing the local artisans and the craftsmanship scene in Lagos by incorporating traditional weaving techniques and silversmithing into the brand's contemporary designs.
The majority of Shekudo's raw materials are sourced locally, including its soft leather, cotton, wood, and traditional Aso Oke and Akwete cloth. The latter are hand-loomed cloths woven by Nigerian Yoruba people. These woven items create the brand's signature bold and eclectic weave patterns that appear on mules, slides, and handbags. Iheakanwa's new venture into upcycled leather also offers a modern twist on the brand's current shoe offerings, introducing statement styles the Lolo Sandal and Oby Mule Sandal.
While the brand's mission is to become a leading provider and supplier of quality women's footwear and accessories across Africa and the rest of the globe, it is firmly anchored in sustainable practices that empower craftsmen and women. Shekudo offers women a way to create and hone a distinctive personal style while participating in a socially responsible initiative that advocates for slow fashion and local empowerment.
In just one year, Shekudo has gone from a team of 4 to a team of 14 artisans and the brand has no plans of slowing down. With an engaged Instagram following, Iheakanwa's dream of creating a strong community that celebrates sisterhood among women around the world has come to life.
The Folklore interviewed Shekudo's Creative Director Akudo Iheakanwa about her design process, balancing handbag, shoe design and jewelry making, and her hopes for the future. Shop select styles from Shekudo online now at The Folklore.
Why did you decide to leave Australia to pursue Shekudo in Lagos?
I needed to shake things up a little bit and wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone in a new environment. The sector in which I was working back in Australia was definitely a rewarding challenge, but I felt like there was something else that I needed to be doing. So I ended up following my gut!
You used to work in the health and youth community sectors, so what inspired this shift towards a creative career?
I’ve always been a very creative person since I was young, whether it was taping my own radio shows or writing songs and fictional stories. I dabbled in so many things, and by the time I was in high school I became more fashion conscious and discovered textiles and design. This became my new creative outlet! I first established the Shekudo brand with my best friend in 2013, and we were originally producing clothes that mainly mixed Ankara and other fabrics in Sydney and selling them at the local markets. My studies and my 9-5 job got in the way, so we dropped the brand for a while, only for me to pick it back up in 2017. I relocated the production to Nigeria with the intention of giving Shekudo a new life.
What made you want to focus particularly on shoes and accessories?
I’ve always loved shoes, the production process behind them, and how they can make or break an outfit. In Australia, I was really concentrated on clothing, but once I moved to Nigeria I did a lot of ground research and fell in love with the craftsmanship process behind shoes and how the shoemakers worked with limited resources but created fabulous pieces. I was exposed to some local traditional techniques such as weaving and silversmithing, which I had never seen before when I traveled here during my childhood. My mind was racing at 100 miles an hour thinking of how I could combine all this cultural deliciousness into my designs and promote at the same time Nigeria's overlooked production scene.
What are the main challenges you encounter during local production?
Sourcing materials, finishing standards, and logistical issues. There are more, but I don’t want to be too morbid - ha! I love the fact that we are producing locally, I love the process, and I love watching the growth among the people I work with including myself. We are finally starting to find our groove with local production, but it has been a difficult journey at times, although it creates room for opportunities. When it comes to sourcing materials such as shoe insoles, shoe heels, and shoe lasts - often market leftover stocks are outdated, of poor quality, or sold-out and not due for a restock in months.
What is it about Lagos that inspires you during your creative design process?
Lagos seriously has a very strong beating pulse. I love the energy here, but I try to find quiet times for solitude to maintain sanity to maintain a balance! People around here tend to emanate a natural swag without realizing it and my eyes always light up as I’m walking around the city. A couple of days ago, for example I was in the market sweating, rushing to get home, and then I saw this woven plastic travel bag constructed in a very shoddy manner- but the colors and the textures were gorgeous. I was like 'I think this might be my next weave collection!'
What made you want to use traditional fabrics such as Aso-oke and Akwete in your shoe and bag collections and do you plan to use other types of traditional fabrics?
Not only are Aso Oke and Akwete very durable forms of fabric, which allow you to play with colors and designs in a brilliant way. Our traditional fabrics have such a beautiful story behind them and I felt the need to share it with the world in my own way. In addition, I wanted to support the local textile industry in whatever way I could and I found that being able to produce this fabric locally allowed me to have access to a sustainable fabric that would never run out!
Why do you choose to release only one collection a year?
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of seasonal collections and have always preferred an annual model whereby different new styles or colors are added every month or two to the collection. It works for me and that’s how we’ve been running Shekudo since our relaunch in 2018. I really believe that their consumers will start focusing on the longevity of pieces, buying items that can transcend time and seasons, and designers will be looking at the financial viability and environmental impact of their production process. I’m all for that!
Written by Christine Noumba Um