Eva Sonaike is defining what African luxury is. Through her self-titled interior design company based in London, she has carved a unique niche in the world of design creating textiles and furnishings. Patterns overlay vibrant explosions of color in tastefully and meticulously curated collections of textiles, rugs, cushions, lampshades and more. Sonaike draws on her Nigerian and West African roots in her work; born in Germany to Nigerian parents, she attributes her work ethics to her German background.
Following a masters in Fashion Journalism from the London College of Fashion, where she specialized in African fashion and textiles, Sonaike pursued an fashion editorial career. As an editor, she worked for magazines such as Instyle and German Elle. In building an international brand, Sonaike harnessed her experience from working with international fashion brands to create products that have made their way into the stores of power houses such as ABC Carpet and Home in New York City, Fenwick of Bond Street, Selfridges in London, Globus in Switzerland and Temple Muse and Alara in Lagos, naming a few.
With the mission to "bring colour to life", Sonaike's pieces are timeless, versatile and bold.
Design233 (D233): What is your definition of modern African luxury? Is there an African aesthetic and how do you bring that into the contemporary space?
Eva Sonaike (ES): For me, modern African luxury combines the pioneering spirit and the renaissance movement that can be seen across the continent. It covers fashion, music, entertainment, but also represents the spirit of the 'Africa,Your Time Is Now' movement.
I would describe my work as modern African luxury, as our products and textiles are of the highest quality and cater for a discerning customer, who knows, understands and appreciates this African pioneering spirit.
There is no African aesthetic, as the continent is so diverse and versatile, but my work is inspired by the West African way of life and I am influenced by my own Yoruba culture, from South Western Nigeria.
Our products are clearly influenced by this culture, but as we use string colours and combine the patterns with traditionally British or European furniture and soft furnishing forms, they complement various design styles. From modern minimalist to antique and Mediterranean schemes.
D233: You were born in Germany to Nigerian parents. What are your first memories of Nigeria?
ES: I remember visiting Lagos for the first time and I was overwhelmed with the colours, the intensity and the strong smells. A total contrast to Germany, where everything is orderly and calm.
D233: How do you bring both your Nigerian and German influences into your work?
ES: My work is heavily influenced by both cultures and that’s what makes it so versatile. The patterns and colours are mainly influenced by my West African experience, but the way I work and build my business is very much influenced by my German upbringing.
D233: You have mentioned that you were surrounded by Art growing up. Are there specific artists you are inspired by?
ES: Due to my fathers work, he was an art historian, I was heavily influenced by art. But as it goes for many children, I wasn’t particularly interested in art. My passion was always with interior design and fashion.
But once I left home, I found my interest in art, which must have been nurtured through my upbringing.
These days I love artists such as Nelson Makako, Chris Ofili and of course Yinka Shonibare.
D233: What lessons from your editorial career did you bring into starting your company?
ES: I worked in TV and print journalism for almost a decade before starting my company, so I knew what journalists want from a brand. I had a good understanding of styling shoots and writing press releases that captured the attention of journalists. And I also learned about branding, as I came across so many brands that had a strong brand identity that captured my attention.
D233: Tell us about your mission “To Bring Color to Life”.
ES: I love colour! In every aspect of my life. After working in fashion for many years, I felt there was not enough colour. And once I turned to interiors, I encountered a similar problem. So it was nautical to come up with the mission ‘Bringing Colour to Life’. And clients come to me even today, to ask how to incorporate colour into their life. So I wrote a free downloadable Colour Guide, with some easy steps on how to add more colour to your home.
D233: You attribute your design inspiration to your travels to West Africa. What aspects of being there speak to you? Are there specific places you enjoy visiting?
ES: I find inspiration in the most unusual spaces. For example, I have an obsession with mid-century architecture in West Africa and in particular fences. That was the basis for my Falomo collection.
But I also find inspiration in nature and flora and fauna. For example, my first collection, the Aburi collection, was inspired by a visit to the Aburi gardens in Ghana.
D233: Seeing your Aburi collection and being from that area of Ghana myself, I am curious about what led to that collection.
ES: I was in Ghana for a wedding and wanted to do something different. My friend told me about the gardens but warned me that the area was quite run down and that I may not like it.
We had the day off, so I decided to take my husband and kids there. It was a very overcast day and the tiger we drove up the mountains, the foggier and greener it became. It was absolutely breathtaking; the view, the greens and the energy.
When I walked up the palm tree-lined road into the gardens, I fell immediately in love with the place and knew my next collection would be dedicated to this place.
D233: What is your process in creating a collection? Do you have a favourite?
ES: Staying true to my motto ‘Bringing colour to life’, I always start with the colours of the collection before I start the designing of the prints. So you could say the colours are the most important part for me. Then I think about a theme, as every collection has to tell a story to bring it all together. And once this has been done, I start sketching or use sketches that I have previously done.
It is quite a time consuming and intense process and I have to be in the right space to design a collection.
Does a mother have a favourite child? Of course, there are designs I like more than others. But every collection reflects a period in my life and is as important to me than the others.
D233: What influences your choice of fabric selection? Are there fabrics you enjoy working with more?
ES: Our main fabric is a cotton Half Panama, followed by a cotton Twill for curtaining and then our newly launched waterproof polyester, which is suitable for outdoor use.
Our fabrics are all suitable for contract use and can be used in domestic, as well as commercial interiors. That is the most important factor for me.
D233: Are your products geared towards the residential market or commercial market?
ES: My products and fabrics, in particular, cater to both markets.
D233: For people going into textile production, what is involved in the process from idea to product and what are the things to look out for?
ES: You have to have a unique product and a story to tell.
Then you have to be able to bring your ideas onto paper or onto a digital form and understand about sizing and repeat patterns.
D233: Are there thoughts of having your own factory? Would there be a benefit of going that route?
ES: No, not at all.
D233: From your London-based studio to breaking into the international market, what went into that journey?
ES: It was quite straight forward. A great quality product, knowing exactly what I want, a pioneering spirit and perseverance.
Also a belief in myself and my products and constant prayers for guidance and support.
D233: Aside from your products, you also undertake interiors projects. What kinds of projects do you do, and do they involve custom productions?
ES: I undertake interior projects but am very specific on what I take on. My main focus in the textile and soft furnishings business. I only take on interior decoration projects, nothing that involves structural changes or development, as I am not a trained interior designer.
Yes, we work with great upholsterers and have worked on simple custom made sewing solutions, to headboards and large sofas.
I generally work with people who want me to utilise my knowledge of colour and the African inspiration in their home. Someone who can create something modern and luxury African.
D233: Are there other trades you collaborate with?
ES: At the moment it is solely interiors and home furnishings. I had a fashion accessory line but decided to focus on interiors only.
D233: I really enjoy visiting your website because it’s not just about your products. You write about design and other designers like yourself which, evidently, comes from your editorial background. What do you draw from your writings?
ES: I love writing and see it as my vocation not to only focus on my own products, but also on other brands and ideas that inspire me and that I learn from. I want my site to be a destination site, but need an extra pair of arms to make this all happen.
D233: Do you have any defining moments in your career?
ES: Every day, whether good or bad, getting to my studio and continuing my mission of bringing colour to life and changing the perception of African design.
D233: With the current state of the world with the global pandemic, what do we as designers extract from it going forward?
ES: I can only speak for myself. I have learned a lot about myself in this period. As a designer, you have to be fearless and focus on your creativity and intuition. But if you are running a business and want to be profitable you have to put your CEO-head on and make decisions that may not be in line with your designer approach.
I have learned that everything can come to a stand still and that if you keep your mind and options open, something new may be just around the corner. You just have to see it.
I also learned to take things easier. Even if I am passionate about my business and its mission, this is not life-changing, but my personal relationships and health and relationship with God is at the centre of my life.
D233: What is next for you?
ES:Continue doing what I am doing, designing, living modern African luxury to its fullest and bringing colour to life. Oh, and I launched a business course during the lockdown, which was unexpected but great! I will continue to are this part of my offering, helping female creative entrepreneurs fulfilling their dream and setting up a profitable business.