Permit me to introduce you to Tosin Lawson, the courageous young woman entrepreneur, who is currently making waves on the fashion accessories and design scene in Nigeria and beyond with her afrocentric label – African Things. Having been inspired after a spin abroad that exposed her to the need for quality home-spun designs, she sprang into action to fill the gap and today, African Things is becoming a household name among lovers of indigenous designs and accessories.
Seeking to re-orientate young Africans living abroad as to the richness and versatility of African-inspired designs, Tosin’s African Things targets their lifestyle choices. The story of her entrepreneurship journey thus far resounds with a passion that paves the way for success and fulfillment.
The African Things brand is a captivating fusion of the learning and personal creativity of the 2015 TEEP beneficiary. Armed with a degree in Product Design and Manufacture from the University of Nottingham, she is blazing a trail churning out designs that stand out every time.Read her inspirational account below:
When did you start African things and what was your motivation? Till date, what inspires your designs?
The reason I started African Things is to promote African designs and culture in our everyday lifestyle. After schooling abroad and seeing how foreigners perceive Africans as poor and backward, I felt very inspired when I returned home and saw that Nigerian fashion design especially in the area of accessories was beginning to boom. But I felt that I could push the products further to meet up to international standards and include lifestyle items such as household furniture and home accessories.
Our African culture is rich in tradition, colour and excitement; but because of westernization, young people are rapidly losing touch with Africa, especially in their lifestyles. Our mission is to change the negative image associated with Africa; from being poor and backward to being a hub for outstanding designs, creativity and growth. With our African inspired bags for instance, you can feel connected with Africa in a more contemporary way and feel confident to say it is African.
When did you know that you would be an accessories designer?
There wasn’t really a particular moment of knowing that I would start African Things. I just got bored at a time during my NYSC; I had been responsible for teaching an extra-curricular class called Creative Hands where I taught students how to make African inspired products. I also handled the design and production of the students’ Year Book, this involved taking photographs and designing the layout for final printing. Anyway, I got bored and started selling Ankara jewelry on the side. One thing led to another from there and African Things was born. I later worked at The Chair Centre Limited as the design executive where I designed products that were sold nationwide. After working at The Chair Centre for a year I decided to leave and work full time on African Things.
I would like to think that your degree in Product Design and Manufacture was for the sake of your afrocentric brand, but I’d better not get ahead of myself. Pray, tell us if and how they are related.
I have always loved design. Although when I chose my course back then, I did not know that I was going to be running African Things; I just knew that I wanted to design something that would make a difference in the world. I am a strong advocate for following your passion, I believe that God has a plan for everyone and by following my passion for design, I was able to follow the path that I feel God wants me to go without tumbling too much.
Please share one or two major strides that you have made with African Things. Or more.
I am very pleased that from selling in units to friends and family, African Things has grown to selling at more than 10 stores in Nigeria and we are still growing. Our products are now available on Jumia, Konga, Terra culture, Spar, Mega Plaza, School Kit, OSC stores and many more outlets around the world. For the full list of our distributors please visit our website http://www.africanthings.org
What would you say is your unique selling point, what sets your products apart from the crowd of designers out there?
Unlike similar African accessories companies, African Things manufactures in large quantities for mass production and retail in standardized units. We do not make custom made items, rather we produce specific designs in large quantities. We also target Africans in diaspora and aim to be the leading exporter of African lifestyle products.
We distinguish ourselves with multiple, easy to use and durable functional products. Our designs incorporate African fabrics and imagery in a modern and innovative style.
Now, where would you say you have the bigger market and appreciation – home or abroad?
This question is a bit hard to answer because although we make a lot of sales in Nigeria (home), many of the bought items are given as gifts to friends and families abroad. Likewise, a lot of people that buy our products for their personal use in Nigeria are people who have lived abroad and have developed a new appreciation for home grown products.
You must have started African things with some business ideologies in mind. Which ones have worked for you and which ones have not?
I will always appreciate my work experience at The Chair Centre because I learned a lot of good business practices. I did not have to make any up as I had already seen them in action, those that worked and those that did not. Structure is so key in any business, also hiring the right people to work with you.
In the light of your expectations when you started, would you say that African Things is doing well?
I have big dreams for African Things; I am happy that African Things is growing but we are still nowhere close to where I imagine us getting to.
A common challenge for artisan-based businesses is the issue of man-power or staffing. How have you surmounted this challenge?
I always have back-ups – backup producer, backup accountant, backup supplier etc. It is also good to know the basics of what each staff is meant to do so you can keep track.
What would you like to see the government do to boost the fashion and craft sectors?
For one remove the FX restrictions as it affects business especially when I need to send money overseas for materials and stuff. Fix power, education for good staffing, funding for local business, business training programs, proper dissemination of information on legal requirements etc.
What does the future hold for African Things?
We are working on increasing our distribution and expanding to other African countries. We plan to set up a franchise around the world especially in UK and America.
Okay, enough of the seriousness. What do you do in your leisure?
I watch movies and TV shows
If you had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of having a super power, what would you choose to have?
What would you advise upcoming entrepreneurs to concentrate on?
Build on their passion… that is the best guide. And remember there is a difference between a passion and a business. Passion is for yourself and business is for your customers. When you are able to get your customers to like what you like then you have the perfect business.
“I have always loved design… I just knew that I wanted to design something that would make a difference in the world” – Tosin Lawson