Story highlightsFashion brand Ethnik is reinventing ancient methodsCreations are made using the traditional hand weaving technique Aso OkeThe designs are inspired by the Yoruba
(CNN)When European explorers discovered the Yoruba kingdoms in West Africa in the fifteenth century, they found a civilization already established over 500 years earlier.
The culture spread across the world, partly as a result of the slave trade, with its vibrant artistic traditions, albeit fading, still felt as far as Cuba, Haiti and Brazil. Now, designers are reinventing ancient Yoruba crafts for their modern creations.Nigerian fashion brand Ethnik are using Aso Oke, a traditional Yoruba weaving technique, for the contemporary designs.”Every piece of an Ethnik product is art,” says founder and creative director Tunde Owolabi, who set up the company in Lagos in 2015.Read More”This year has been a stepping stone for us, because we’ve been able to establish Ethnik as a strong brand.”JUST WATCHEDPreserving Nigerian heritage through fashionReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Preserving Nigerian heritage through fashion 02:45Owolabi, also a photographer, got the idea when photographing events celebrating this culture.”I’m Yoruba, so I needed to go back to my roots,” he says.Today, the Yoruba people make up 12% of the population in Benin and 21% in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Yoruba is also the name of the group of languages spoken by them.The fabric is inspired by Yoruba design.Connecting with the past through fashionPacked with vivid, blue, yellow and red patterns, Ethnik’s sneakers, bags and smartphone cases are a way for their customers to connect with their heritage through fashion, Owolabi says.”We are creating a movement of people who want to identify themselves with where they are from.”Ancient design, contemporary creationsThe hand-weaving technique has been passed down from generation to generation, a tradition Owolabi hopes his venture will help revive.”It’s all about sustaining and reinventing the culture and making sure that it doesn’t die.” What is Aso Oke? Aso Oke is a traditionally hand woven wool fabric, made on looms powered with foot pedals. Commonly seen in everyday Yoruba clothing in the past, it’s now mainly worn on special occasions.”I needed to find other ways of using Aso Oke and making it more appealing to young people, because after the weddings, after the ceremonies, people don’t wear Aso Oke any more,” Owolabi says.The hand woven wool fabrics are made on foot pedaled looms.Ethnik’s creations are handmade following the Aso Oke method. Some are designed with the help of local artists, who draw unique patterns on the sneakers, says Owolabi.”You won’t see the kind of artistry and detail that we put in our own fabric [in other brands].”With one cobbler and an initial capital of only $84, the company has grown to nine employees and saw an annual revenue of $25,000 in 2015.But launching a fashion brand does not come without obstacles, Owolabi explains. “Since Ethnik started we’ve been faced with a lot of challenges: people, materials, logistics.” They have seen global interest but shipping products can be expensive.”The most pressing one is the logistics right now, being able to distribute around the world,” he adds. Photos: Africa's young trendsetters – What makes African street style? These designers and stylists are pushing boundaries with their colorful street wear. Pictured: Casablanca, Morocco – Sofia El Arabi, designer for label Bakchic.Hide Caption 1 of 21 Photos: Casablanca, Morocco – “The fashion and street style culture in cities like Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Casablanca are incredible at the moment”, says Fashion Cities Africa author Hannah Azieb Pool. 40 designers, trendsetters and stylists in four major African cities were interviewed on their style – numbering over 160 people.Pictured: Zhor, Chadia and Aida Rais. Caftan designer Zhor Rais’ daughters are developing a ready-to-wear line.Hide Caption 2 of 21 Photos: Casablanca, Morocco – Yves Saint Laurent’s 12-acre botanical garden remains one of Morocco’s most visited sites. Born in Algeria, the designer found inspiration in Marrakesh. Fashion there “is like a sponge” absorbing western, African and Islamic influences. Pictured: Louis Phillipe de Gagoue is a stylist and fashion blogger originally from the Ivory Coast. He regularly posts images of the country’s fashion scene on Instagram. Hide Caption 3 of 21 Photos: Casablanca, Morocco – Pictured: Safae Bennouna is a fashion designer for He.Do. “I make simple pieces with powerful embroideries from Rabat and Fes” she told Fashion Cities Africa. Hide Caption 4 of 21 Photos: Casablanca, Morocco – Amine Bendriouich is designer for fashion label Couture & Bullshit better known as ‘AB-CB’. “I love the tailoring and playfulness of Amine Bendrouich” says author Hannah Azieb Pool. His unisex collections are iconic to Morocco’s younger generationHide Caption 5 of 21 Photos: Casablanca, Morocco – Inass Saghdaoui, Fashion Graduate. Saghdaoui is interested in the use of industrial fabrics to make feminine clothing, she says.Hide Caption 6 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Africa’s most populous city is known for its flamboyancy. “Wallflowers need not apply”, writes Helen Jennings, journalist and former editor of African fashion magazine Arise. Women mix African and European styles by wearing tailored dresses with the gele, a traditional African head wrap. Pictured: Lagos, Nigeria – Nike Davis Okundaye, Nike Art CentresHide Caption 7 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Amaka Osakwe, designer, Maki Oh. Osakwe’s designs have a celebrity following including Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Kerry Washington and Rihanna. “Lagos inspires my work because I live within a culture that I love” she told Fashion Cities Africa. Hide Caption 8 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Eku Edewor is a TV presenter and actress. She hosts Nigeria’s 53 Extra, a celebrity entertainment program.Hide Caption 9 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Zara Okpara, PR Consultant. Okpara represents Nigerian designers, most notable being Jewel by Lisa whose pieces are stocked internationally. Hide Caption 10 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Androgynous brand Orange Culture. The brand is to take part in London Fashion Week this season. Hide Caption 11 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Androgynous brand Orange Culture. “In a few years [Africa] is going to be a completely different landscape” says Adebayo Oke-lawal, the designer behind Orange Culture. People have the skills and textile factories are popping up he explains. Hide Caption 12 of 21 Photos: Lagos, Nigeria – Reni Folawiyo, owner of Lagos’ first luxury concept store Alára. She is also a furniture designer. “We love color, print and beading” she told Fashion Cities Africa. Hide Caption 13 of 21 Photos: Kenya, Nairobi – Mitumba is a Swahili word for secondhand clothing. Secondhand clothes shopping is a key part of Nairobi’s fashion scene. Flea markets are popular. “there’s a renaissance happening in Nairobi. the creative industry is doing extremely well and that’s affective the fashion scene”, says stylist Sunny Dolat in Fashion Cities Africa. Pictured: Jacky James, performing artistHide Caption 14 of 21 Photos: Nairobi, Kenya – Brother and sister Velma Rossa and Papa Petit are founders of fashion blog site 2ManySiblings. “Our mother instilled the culture of thrifing in us when we were small” they told Fashion Cities Africa.Hide Caption 15 of 21 Photos: Nairobi, Kenya – Kiongera Ndugire is a stylist and freelance model working in Nairobi. He often tweets on the latest fashion shows.Hide Caption 16 of 21 Photos: Nairobi, Kenya – Lyra Aoko, photographer and blogger, wearing Kenyan designer Kepha Maina. Traditional fabrics such as Kanga are often used to produce bespoke pieces in Nairobi. Hide Caption 17 of 21 Photos: Johannesburg, South Africa – The city’s street style has a relationship with its history on race and politics. It’s Citizens are “full of attitude, and much dressier than its laid-back cousins Cape Town and Durban” according to Fashion Cities Africa. Pictured: Lerato Tshabalala Writer and EditorHide Caption 18 of 21 Photos: Johannesburg, South Africa – Laduma Ngxokolo, founder of knitwear label MaXhosa by Laduma. The brand is ‘a celebration of dark skin tones contrasted with bright hues to elevate the appreciation of color diversity’ says its creator.Hide Caption 19 of 21 Photos: Johannesburg, South Africa – Clothing brand Loin Cloth & Ashes. Anisa Mpungwe’s brand has been involved in fashion weeks in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Italy, Sweden and New York. Hide Caption 20 of 21 Photos: Johannesburg, South Africa – Anisa Mpungwe’s Loin Cloth & Ashes. There is so much awareness of African brands through new online publications and blogs explains Mpungwe. Hide Caption 21 of 21A growing marketThen there is the competition. The apparel and footwear market in sub-Saharan Africa is on the rise, with a number of small companies competing for a share of the market. Valued at an estimated $31 billion in 2015, the market is expected to keep growing, according to research by Euromonitor.While still at an early stage, Owolabi is hopeful that his company will play a part in making Lagos one of the fashion capitals of the world.”I see Nigeria on the world stage.”