Shekudo’s founder Akudo Iheakanwa has taken a considered approach to building her brand, and it seems to be paying off. Very much on the lips (and ears, and shoulders and feet, oh yes, feet) of the cool kids – Shekudo has become the destination for those who want pieces that straddle multiple locations and occasions much like Akudo herself who’s mixed Nigerian and Australian heritage has informed both ideation and design process as well as her aims and ambitions for the luxury accessories brand.
“I’ve been designing for a few years while studying and working and started the brand in Sydney with one of my best friends….[However] I ended up quitting my job in Sydney in local government and decided to focus on the brand full time. When I arrived in Nigeria I was travelling between Oyo state, Badagry and Abia state to research production and resources but have now settled in Lagos where I have my small team scattered from Lagos Island to Obalende and Surulere.”
Returning to Nigeria was as much a personal journey of self-discovery as it was an opportunity for the brand to expand and develop its production. The current collection’s name, Woven Ties, evokes this further and Akudo expands: “Since I’ve returned home to Nigeria, the feeling has been hard to explain, but I felt as if my choice to move back was a necessary step and it’s all weaving together as it should. On top of this, my main focus for this collection was Aso Oke weave so the title Woven Ties seemed only appropriate and very symbolic for me.“
Of equal import to Akudo was Shekudo being a true Made In Nigeria brand: “I produce entirely in Nigeria and 95% of my materials are also sourced locally. I started off production in Australia but costs were ridiculously high, I then looked toward Asia like many designers do, but Asia didn’t hold any significance for me. I thought to myself – we have the skills required to do this type of work in Nigeria, and I want to be a part of contributing to the growth that’s currently taking place… I want people to know that Nigeria is also capable of producing luxurious items. I feel this is starting to be more recognised within Africa, but elsewhere this usually comes as a surprise – so I want to change that.” And change it she has with a number of stockists in Australia and more shops expressing interest, although for now, customers can reach out directly on Instagram too on the handle @shekudo. For brands such as Shekudo that are willing to push through the challenges, there is satisfaction on a meta-level for daring to re-imagine and manifest alternative narratives for African luxury and create a commercial space for it in the global market place.
Perhaps most surprising is the seemingly ambidextrous sales offering of shoes and handbags that often go hand-in-hand, and jewellery which is perceived as a craft that requires a different design skill set and disposition. Akudo expands: “I sat down and reevaluated the brand and decided to move into accessories. One of the reasons was that I wanted to explore and experiment with traditional craftsmanship and art forms here in Nigeria and felt I could do this better with all accessories. Another reason is that I’ve always been a fan of accessories- Shoes and bags are the final touches to an outfit and the right jewellery can make or break it.”
The approach has worked: the Shekudo shoe collection thusfar is a case of giving women a shoe for all seasons. From the Ajeniya, a cone heeled sandal that would be as perfect at an elegant soiree as it would be at work to the Ilamoye mule which adds fizz and fringing to off-duty looks. For the woman who is all about flats the Tinubu Tie-Slipper would become an essential part of their stylish arsenal. With the bags, the Maitama circle bag has the air of future design classic and the Saka clutch is the ideal out all night but still fits the evening’s essentials in piece. Oftentimes combining craft elements can steer into items that fall into the ‘touristic’, but what Akudo has achieved is a collection that is evocative of a clever contemporary re-boot utilising traditional methods.
The jewellery takes as its cue traditional motifs from different Nigerian ethnic groups, all wrought in sterling silver. As with the shoes and bags there is a sense of celebrating culture but giving it resonance in the here and now. Prices for both shoes, handbags and jewellery range from N24,000 = N52,000 and whilst high are reflective of the artistry, craft and significantly time taken to complete each piece. Customisation is also available on request for those wishing to take it up a further notch.
Quizzing Akudo about her plans for Shekudo and it’s long term goals, the ebullient creative director states: “Big vision – yikes, well moving here was my big vision last year so now I’ve got to get cracking onto the next. I have a cute little (it’s actually pretty scary and huge) five step process as to where I want to take the brand. I won’t reveal too much but ideally I would like to have a fully functioning workshop here in Lagos and stock across Africa and Internationally.”
Given the pace with which Akudo has moved so far, it is clear there is so much more to come from Shekudo and we can’t wait to see how the next chapter unfolds. Especially, as Akudo continues to explore through her interdisciplinary design practice heritage, identity and belonging while simultaneously creating beautiful must-wear accessories.