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Creative Industry: Maliko’s craft is telling African stories, but poor funding is a threat

Each piece in the studio of Ebuka Omaliko, the creative director of Maliko fashion brand, shows the potential in Nigeria’s creative sector and tells African stories. But funding is stiffening growth and threatening the sector, he said.

In a conversation with BusinessDay during a tour of his studio, Omaliko, who is intentional about sustainability, preserving African craftsmanship, and empowering local artisans, named access to funding as a major challenge to his fashion business, and the sector at large.

“First of all, it is funding,” he said. “I have to be very honest because people that want to give you money want to think in their heads that you have to make a certain amount. It’s just about numbers.

“But I’m like, these numbers are great, but it takes time to get those numbers, and you have to give people the opportunity to do things.”

As a result, the creative fashion entrepreneur resorted to bootstrapping since he started the business as an undergraduate. Omaliko said he started the business with his pocket money as a student, noting that the business is still self-funded till this point.

While he called on authorities to provide grants and access to the market depending on brand needs, he, however, expressed hopes of getting financial support later in the future as steps are being taken in that regard.

But for now, his brand still runs on bootstrapping.

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“There is no form of external investment or funding,” he notes. “The pace at which it is going, I’m in conversation with some people. I’ve been self-funded and I’m saying this to encourage someone or any young person out there that you can do this. It’s not about how much you’re able to use,” he said.

Maliko is a Lagos-based artisanal luxury brand established to create handmade African-themed iconic pieces using recycled leather and other materials sourced locally.

The brand is known for its exclusivity as no two shoes made by it are the same. Maliko also takes pride in promoting African narratives through his pieces. For instance, the company developed a collection for school children which allowed them to express themselves, and attend classes how they wanted to while schooling at home during the lockdown of last year.

Omaliko also told BusinessDay that he is currently making a collection that is inspired by albinism—a theme that is very personal to him because of his mum who is an albino.

The albino collection reflects different colour of albinos from their skin to hair, and eyes.

The Maliko brand started out in 2015 with the founder designing for fun. But it has now morphed into one of the few African shoe brands promoting African craftsmanship with numerous collaborations with international designers including Emmy Kasbit, Bloke and Imprint.

Maliko was one of the winners of the 2018 Lagos Fashion Week Green Access Fashion Competition, and has been featured in international publications such as Vogue Italia, Native Magazine, Schick Magazine, and Guardian Life.

But much of its success is owed to the local artisans who infuse life into Omaliko’s designs and creative processes.

About 30 local artisans ranging from wood carvers, to basket weavers are under his employ. Although very involved in the tedious production processes as creative director, Omaliko said he believes that working with them goes a long way in preserving African craftsmanship.

“A lot of our craftsmanship in Nigeria is really getting extinct and I think we need to do something about it. So, I decided to use shoemaking to incorporate all of these crafts to make shoes that have a human element,” he said.

He noted that working with them has enabled him to produce carefully made, sustainably crafted shoes, using all the best ethical methods in producing the shoes in order to tell African stories.

He revealed that while the artisans do his work as a brand, they are also helping other brands he works with, who also help these artisans, thereby providing employment for the local artisans which help to improve their living standards.

“So, in my own little space of shoe making, I’ve decided that somebody that weaves basket is getting blessed from it, a girl that just finished secondary and not doing anything is getting blessed. All of these things require a conscious effort,” he said.

He hopes that one day, his brand will be perceived to celebrate African craftsmanship, but most importantly, like the likes of Gucci, Bottega Veneta.

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