So I know you guys have been really enjoying my series of interviews with the folks behind some pretty fantastic globally inspired brands, products and home accessories. With that in mind, I’m thrilled to bring you something really exciting today – I want to introduce you to London-based textile designer, Eva Sonaike, Creative Director and Founder of evasonaike.com. Eva’s global upbringing provides much of her design inspiration and leads to some absolutely stunning prints with a strong African style.
Since I started this blog, I’ve been increasingly obsessed by African-inspired designs, fabrics, prints and products. My home now features both African mudcloth and Indigo fabric as well as a Cameroonian Bamileke feather headdress, otherwise known as a Juju hat (I know, I know, I promise to share a photo soon now it’s finally up on the wall!). And I have a lovely Bolgatanga basket from Ghana which just goes to show how excited I am by these traditional tribal handicrafts.
But I digress. Let me hand over to Eva Sonaike so that she can tell you about her brand and inspiration in her own words, as well as show off her gorgeous new range of soft furnishings and fabrics!
Tell me about the inspiration behind Eva Sonaike, the brand. What prompted you to start designing, making and selling?
I used to be a journalist working in fashion and lifestyle. I loved my job, but with many years experience, some designers consulted on my opinion on their products, branding and PR strategies. That showed me that I could set up my own brand. I always loved interiors and since I was a young girl spent a lot of time decorating my dolls houses, my rooms and later my apartments. So after 10 years as a fashion editor for a glossy magazine, I decided to follow my real passion and set up my own soft furnishings and textiles business. I started it whilst still working full time in fashion, but soon realised that this was the way forward for me. When I started there weren’t any companies specialising in a luxury West-African aesthetic, so I saw a gap in the market and did it. I never looked back!
“My brand is me and I am my brand!” – Eva Sonaike
And what about Eva Sonaike, the person? To what extent does your background and upbringing contribute to your style and designs?
My brand is me and I am my brand! I was born and raised in Germany and am of Nigerian origin. So I have taken elements from both cultures to inspire my work. My designs draw from the two distinct influences of colourful African clothing culture and European antique and mid-century furniture traditions. Both cultures have strong references and both are reflected in my work.
Talk us through your design process – from where around the world do you get the inspiration for your designs?
I travel to Nigeria at least once a year and every time I am out there I am like a sponge, taking in as much visual information as I can. The continent of Africa first and foremost inspires my work. And in my case, West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Benin) – the places that I visit regularly. The colours, clothing, nature, street-scenes, architecture – everything is so vibrant and intense in this part of the world and gives me such great inspiration. You just have to keep your eyes and heart open to see all these amazing things.
When it comes to finishing, I am very much inspired by and used to German craftsmanship. Finishing and quality are very important to me, from the fabrics we use, down to the zips and hardware. Growing up in Germany exposes you to quality and that is what I apply to my products. We use British cotton velvet for the backing of our cushions, the finest Italian leather for our bag straps and I make sure the packaging of our products fits in with our branding and looks immaculate.
What does a typical day in the life of Eva Sonaike look like?
My days are quite structured, as I am a so called ‘Mumpreneur’. I am in my studio, which is close to my house, by 9.15 sharp after I drop off my kids at school, and I don’t really leave until 3pm, when I have to collect them.
Thank God for ‘after-school clubs’ where I can leave my kids twice a week until 6pm! These are the days when I plan meetings in town with customers.
I normally start the day with reading though my emails and getting back to customer and press enquiries. My team comes in at 11am (that gives me two hours of undisturbed work in the morning) and we have a little conference of what our daily task are and what we have to achieve by the end of the day. I then spend a lot of time reaching out to new and established stockists, engaging with clients and work on the administrative side of the business.
My work differs from day to day, depending on what we are working on.
People often think I design all year, but unfortunately that doesn’t take up the majority of my time. If you have great designs and are running a commercially viable business, you have to spend a lot of time working on marketing and sales. We also have a blog, which I love planning and writing for and a newsletter that goes out to our clients. All of this takes up a lot of time.
What are your favourite items in your store at the moment?
I love my new Falomo collection! I have to say that I wasn’t so sure about it during the design and sample manufacturing process, but now feel it is my best ever! I am especially proud of the new lampshades.
What are your biggest sellers/most popular items/designs?
Our best selling design has to be the yellow Aburi palm design. The cushion is our most popular design, as well as the pouffes and the fabric. [I love the fact that this design is inspired by the Aburi Botanical Gardens in Ghana – inspired by Africa, made in England. Just lovely!]
You had a successful career before you started your own business. How did you build the courage to leave the safety of a steady income and go it alone?
I always knew that I wanted to run my own business, which is in my blood. My parents are both successful entrepreneurs and I grew up with the vision that if you have a great product, idea or service, turn it into a business!
It wasn’t an easy decision to give up my full-time job, but I never doubted that I would be able to have a successful company. It is just that it takes a long time to establish it, make it profitable and gain recognition in the industry.
“Don’t try to be like others, be yourself” – Eva Sonaike
What advice would you give anyone thinking of doing the same?
Make sure you have a a great product or service with a distinct USP.
Be patient, success doesn’t come over night.
Don’t try to be like others, be yourself.
Work smart and don’t give up.
Want more of the same? Sign up here if you want to go global!
What has been your biggest achievement since you started Eva Sonaike – that moment where you felt like you’d really made it?
That’s such a difficult question. I am very strict with myself and always strive to be better, so I often don’t rest on achievements but think ‘what’s next?’. I was very happy to see that my soft furnishings with an African aesthetic are part of the design narrative when we were picked up by Selfridges, Liberty and Fenwick of Bond Street in one season.
I also always dreamt of showing at Maison & Objet, and now we have done 5 successful years at the show and our stands are getting bigger and better season by season.
“Having the freedom of doing and creating what you want to do is great. I am so passionate about my work and feel truly blessed being able to do this and making a living from it.” – Eva Sonaike
What are the best and worst elements of working for yourself?
Having the freedom of doing and creating what you want to do is great. I am so passionate about my work and feel truly blessed being able to do this and making a living from it. I don’t like that I can never switch off. Not at weekends or when I am on holiday. If I client wants me, I make myself available.
How do you keep yourself motivated when times are tough or you’re lacking inspiration?
My clients keep me motivated. Sometimes you feel very discouraged, but then a client puts a nice comment on Instagram or Facebook, you get a nice press feature or a great store calls you. That gets me back on my feet.
Are you able to share any secrets about what may be coming up in your next collection?
I don’t even know when my next collection will be out. We just launched our new collection in January 2016.
How would you describe your interior style in your own home?
Modern glamour with an African influence.
“My most precious item is a statue given to me by my aunt. She discovered it on a trip to Togo decades ago and it is apparently over 100 years old.” – Eva Sonaike
What items do you have in your home that remind you of your overseas travels?
I have a collection of African artefacts and statues that are placed all over my house. I sourced some of them from local markets in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin, some I found in flea markets such as Clignancourt in Paris, my husband picked up one for me on Greenwich market and some were given to me by my family.
Sometimes the trips to markets in Africa are very adventurous. You have to drive long distances, through deep potholes and sometimes not too safe areas until you reach your destination. But once there you are treated to the amazing experience of seeing the artisans create their statues, masks and artefacts right in front of you.
I combine them with contemporary or antique European furniture, like a traditional English chesterfield sofa and a 19th century traditional German black forest chest or just put them against bare white walls, which works really well and reflects my ‘Afropolitan’ way of life. But I am also very careful not to have too many pieces, such as abstract masks around the house, as traditionally they were said to sometimes have dark magic powers. My most precious item is a statue given to me by my aunt. She discovered it on a trip to Togo decades ago and it is apparently over 100 years old.
What’s your favourite travel destination and why?
The world! There is so much to see and there are so many places I haven’t been yet.
What’s the one place you’d like to visit and why?
I would love to visit Zanzibar (it is actually on our schedule for this year), because it is culturally very inspiring and has the most stunning beaches. Hopefully I can switch off when I am there!
Isn’t the Falomo collection simply stunning? I can’t wait to see what Eva’s future collections look like! In addition to African-inspired cushions, pouffes, lampshades and fabrics, you can also pick up stunning make-up bags, shoppers, stationery on evasonaike.com – do go and check it out and get yourself a little glamorous ‘afropolitan’ style at home!
I’ve also been meaning to ask you what you think of the new blog design? I’ve got a new logo on the way to make the site look extra profesh, but what do you think so far? Gimme some feedback in the comments below!
Happy travels, and shopping