While some BellaStylistas might be shoe gals, I’ve always been more of a bag lady. Give me a great shoulder bags over a pair of heels any day. I love a good bag but I’d hardly spend a few thousand pounds or dollars on one because frankly, I just cannot afford it. So when I find a great quality brand with edgy but practical designs, good enough to wear almost everday, you know I’m all in.
Aside from affordability and of course aesthetic, the buy Nigerian, buy African movement is one we wholly support at BellaNaija Style with long-standing features like Collection to Closet, Lookbooks and Runway shows promoting African designers. Today, we focus on one made in Nigeria brand that I absolutely love, Marté Egele.
Uche Egele is the founder of Marté Egele and the creative director behind the beautifil designs the brand has released since it came into the scene 2 years ago. I’ve met Uche a few times and I had the pleasure of chatting with her about her craft and here’s what she had to say.
BNS: How did it start for you?
Uche: It started when one of my close friends in fashion school asked with a puzzled look, “why don’t you focus on accessories, you’re so good at it”. I was studying Womenswear at the time and so with that question came my focus veering off in the Accessories world.
BNS: Did you have a job before getting into Marté Egele and do you still have a full-time job?
Uche: Yes, I had quite a number of jobs before Marté Egele. While studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, I interned at Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent, a Bohemian Womenswear brand as a Design Assistant then moved on to being the Accessories Design Assistant to Elisabeth Weinstock, an exotic snakeskin handbags & accessories brand after graduating from school. Later, I got the role of being the Technical Design Assistant at True Religion which was a milestone; it all led me back here to Lagos, Nigeria where I was hired as the Merchandising Manager at Grey. Currently, Marte Egele is my full-time job.
BNS: If you do, how do you juggle both priorities?
Uche: I decided to leave my job (at Grey) and focus on building my brand because it was all I thought about and still do. I believed if I continued in a full-time job, I’ll get so comfortable trying to outperform myself and win accolades that my brand will suffer.
BNS: What does Marté Egele mean and how did you come up with this name?
Uche: Marté Egele is my middle and last name. Marté was gotten from my Dutch Heritage (the only thing that connects me to the place aside from my birth certificate, lol I was born in Assen, Netherlands) and my last name. I wanted something that blended who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s able to tell my whole story without much fuss.
BNS: What is the production process like? Did you go through a training? Do you have a factory? Where is it located?
Uche: My production process is very particular at this moment because I don’t produce a lot of pieces. That enables me to focus on craftsmanship and the ability to strive for the best quality hardware on my products. There are certain processes that I require using my hands to make like the cross stitch weavings and tight corners.
I’m self taught on bag making; the way my brain works, I’m able to tear down products and put them back together the same way or even better so I applied that to making bags. In another light, I observed and practiced how bags were made a lot and still do. Overall, I aspire to have top notch internationally acclaimed products meeting all standards. I do not have factory at the moment but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a process getting there given the fact the industry is in its growth stage in terms of leather artisans, their skills and quality of production but I know it can be done.
BNS: How long have you been in business?
Uche: Officially, it has been 2 sweet, enlightening years
BNS: How easy is it working with artisans and suppliers?
Uche: Not easy at all. You’ll end up losing your mind, voice and all the energy you can muster. Thank God for the patience and drive to keep on creating pieces that I connect with, love and strive to perfect, no matter how many times they get it wrong. You have to be persistent and consistent. With suppliers, they want to work with you as well, so for me, it all depends on finances. Pay up and you get what you want, how you want it. As a startup, it’s hard to accomplish that unless you have a trust fund or a money tree. True talk.
BNS: How did the scarves get into the Marté Egele mix with leather bags?
Uche: Scarves are one thing I know women use both day and night. It’s one of the most perfect accessories you can mix with anything. Plus men also gravitate towards scarves so they were in my mind as well (when thinking of scarves). I don’t want to only design for the ladies, I want to smoothly incorporate menswear accessories into the mix. I went with 100% Silk Twill because it was as real and rich as the leather. The utilitarian and natural strength of it made it the perfect choice plus it still maintained a smooth and lustrous look to it.
BNS: What has been your most challenging moment and how did you overcome?
Uche: Production, Production, Production has been my challenge and still is. In due time, I shall overcome.
BNS: What has been your biggest achievement and how did you make it happen?
Uche: My biggest achievement has been starting my accessories line. Every time when something goes right and things work out the way I’ve planned or even better, the inner happiness and fulfilment I feel are out of this world. I stood my ground for my choices and what I wanted to achieve, constantly planning to make sure it made sense and I went into grind mode.
BNS: When creating collections, what are your influences? Are your designs influenced by trends, other people’s tastes, does it reflect just what you like and your brand’s identity?
Uche: The collections get life solely from the brand’s makeup and my life experiences in society. The ideas I get from art, music, movies, relationships, the outdoors and places I’ve been to and would love to visit and the sole purpose of being distinguishable are ways I’m able to create. I do not follow trends, never been big on them. I love my pieces to stand out and have their own individuality.
BNS: Do you have any personal favourites?
Uche: I’m connected in different ways to what I’m influenced by and how they affect me so it’ll be hard to choose.
Editor’s Note: A personal favourite of mine (for the coloue and texture) is the Pirarucu Exotic Fish Leather Ese Mini Flap Bag which I own and love!
BNS: What materials and colours do you like to work with the most?
Uche: It takes me a while to get each piece done because I have to make sure that it’ll be as perfect as it can be so deciding on the materials and colours would be hard. Although, if I had to choose it’d be pebbled calfskin leather for some styles, croc and snakeskin for others and the colours would be blacks and yellows.
Those are also the brand’s colours so, I’m biased.
BNS: Describe to us the Marté Egele woman?
Uche: The Marté Egele woman is a lot of women. She has a colourful personality, shy but confident and sharp, not afraid to speak her mind diplomatically, enjoys both indoor and outdoor activities, from spending a good night in with friends or riding dirty in sports cars, jumping off a yacht into the deep blue sea, she enjoys sports and the ability to stay fit, looking good, stylish and being her own person. Basically, she’s juggling being a better human and friend and earning a living which makes an impact in whoever she’s surrounded by, and importantly, also not forgetting to enjoy herself at the end of it all.
If indeed you are a Marté Egele woman (like me), connect with the brand and follow them on Instagram with @marteegele.
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