An interview with Buki Akomolafe
We caught up with the German fashion designer to discuss her work, style and heritage.
Read the short profile below.
“I realized while studying and becoming increasingly interested in the fashion scene, that there were not many brands, artists or designers who do contemporary African-inspired work. I wanted to show both worlds – my African heritage but also my German heritage – and express how you can work in fashion without having to fit into one box. My particular signature is the way I work with color and textures. I use a quilting technique with African wax prints. I only do one collection a year. I have a basic range which is a little cleaner and simpler, with navy and grey colors. These are the pieces that people wear in their everyday life. And then I have my more ‘signature’ quilting pieces which are more eye-catching. But the basic range is pretty important to me. All my clothes are sustainably made. I want to create long-lasting pieces that people can wear every day.”
Buki was born in south Germany but moved to Nigeria at a young age due to her father’s work managing an agricultural project. Buki returned to Germany when she was still a child and went on to study fashion in Berlin and Stuttgart, a city in southwest Germany. In 2016, she set up a fashion label under her name with the aim of catering to “the gentlewoman of today” with “clean European classical tailoring and traditional craftsmanship and techniques of West Africa.” Living in Nigeria opened her eyes to the world’s limited resources, and this translates into her ethical and sustainable approach to fashion – primarily in her use of high quality, eco-organic materials like certified cotton, an organic hemp-silk blend and African wax prints. She produces small-scale, fully handcrafted collections and her Instagram is a great showcase of her work.
“My first collection took me two years of research. I now have a studio in Berlin that is also my showroom – so it’s a studio with a front shop. Berlin is definitely not Germany. The country’s fashion scene is quite conservative, and I’m happy to be part of the Berlin fashion world. I feel really free to express myself both in my daily life and my work. All the quilting pieces are produced in my studio. Sometimes, I have interns. I have an assistant but she is not here every day. She helps if there is more work to do, like when I have to prepare for a trade fair, but my work days vary a lot. All of my pieces are handmade, and the designing occurs through the doing. The process is the most important thing in my work, and it’s what I enjoy the most. I create sketches and have something in mind, but the final piece emerges during the actual making, because it’s only then that I learn what I can or cannot do with the materials and fabric I have chosen. I really enjoy the process because there is often a design at the end that is very different to what I imagined at the beginning. It’s a process full of surprises.
“I also like to play with the idea that you can alter a piece depending on your emotions. My quilting pieces are reversible – one side is colorful and the other side is monochromatic – so you can choose accordingly. I also always play with texture. It’s connected to my heritage and the different cultures I belong to, and I’m inspired by a lot of different influences. At the beginning, I didn’t actually like quilting, but now I love it, and so I like to go with the flow. I don’t plan things like ‘in five years or in 10 years’ I’ll be here. Nigeria taught me that it’s important to go with the flow, so I’m more driven by certain visions I have – these are my goals. I’m also definitely a political person, especially with the work I do, whether it’s to do with my heritage or the more sustainable approach I take to fashion. Everyone is political in that sense, but the politics in my country... crazy times. I hope it changes soon.”