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Architecture Firm Spotlight #01: Olubunmi Adeyemi of Afrominima
May 6, 2021 at 1:30 PM
by Vaishnavi More
afrominima olubunmi adeyemi.png

Studying design in both South Africa and London, Lagos Business School alumni, Olubunmi Adeyemi is an internationally acclaimed designer, interior architect and also happens to be blazing a new path for the relatively younger African design industry. He takes great pride in synthesizing a new, minimalistic design style with African roots, compounded by all he has learned in the 12+ years he spent wisely being buried in work and other projects.

Archslate: Tell us a little bit about what is Afrominima.

Olubunmi Adeyemi: When Afrominima started as a style, over 10 years ago, I started my design journey. As I began pursuing it, I realized that I needed to create my own style; the way I see design. So I combined the word Afro-centric and minimalism. I realized that the term Afro-centric was a concept I didn’t connect with because everyone connected “Afro-centric” with African Prince and African fabrics and Zulu days, Zulu dots, Tigers and Lions.

As I started doing deeper research on different types of cultures, their designs, ethos, I found out about the Scandinavians and the Japanese, different sorts of styles and design movements, the Bauhaus and all these cool movements out there. I realized that coming from an African point of view, we do not have our own design language. A better way to phrase it is that we do have design languages, although nothing is really defined. Over the years, culture has played a vital role in Arts and Design. African identity has evolved which means that Afrominima is contributing to an existing artistic movement that connects history with its protectorates compounded by intuition. We create work that is distinctively on call yet conceptually complex. I also realized that I could use Afrominima to express different mediums of design. It could be in art, graphics, industrial design, architecture, it could be in interior design. Essentially, it's a design language.

Photo: Olubunmi Adeyemi, Afrominima

Afrominima largely emphasizes traditional modalities which happen to be our own modern representation of what design is today. Another factor that we pay attention to is sustainability, which is something that connects culture and design. In these times, due to the issues of global warming, sustainability is something that is really the key to a new world. Afrominima considers itself part of the movement for the sustainability of cultural identity as well as inclusion in design. Not just looking at design from a European or an American perspective, we do have a lot to offer from the continent. Bear in mind that Afrominima is not the solution to everything, rather it's one of the solutions. For we also consider ourselves a social enterprise. We try to empower people with the use of local design, we look for local artisans and empower them wherein they can use their craft to get recognition which goes a long way in helping the social economy.

Archslate: Backed by a business background, being a designer, having a social enterprise as well as a studio, and someone who is also creating products, what do you see yourself as today?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: That's a very good question. I try to find my center a lot of times. For that I get my hands dirty; I think really big. I think philosophy. I am an everyday person. I have big dreams. I see myself first as an entrepreneur. That's something I've always been passionate about. I define myself as a founder, a creative director, and a lifestyle entrepreneur.

Interestingly, Afrominima has given me a voice that I can speak in many different ways. I can speak it in literature, food, it's become a lifestyle to me. At some point in time, I would love to do a Ph.D. in Afrominima and try to express my creative work coupled with bold ambition. I do want to set up a Design Museum at some point as well. You’d think I have big dreams, although I'm doing this not just for myself, but for an identity, for culture, and for Africa.

"Combining local craftsmanship and local materials helps in many different ways as it creates new opportunities. Being true to your culture, true to yourself, while empowering local artisans, has its own benefits, now more than ever."

Photo: Olubunmi Adeyemi, Afrominima

Archslate: How has the process of getting clients, collaborating with people, and sustaining the business going for you? Usually creative individuals have difficulties trying to manage these. What does your process look like for sales, getting clients, and trying to contact people for collaborations?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: If I go back a few years when I was at the Lagos business school here in Nigeria, I was fortunate enough to attend a program. This program was instituted by the University of Glamorgan and Lagos Business School. Here they taught us a lot about how talent is not enough. Having business skills is tantamount to creating an enterprise. Having basic entrepreneurship skills is extremely important to running a creative business. One aspect I paid attention to is that I didn’t want to go out and get clients myself. Rather I’d create opportunities for myself. These opportunities in turn attract the clientele I am looking for. That is why I tend to create my own opportunities compounded by my business skills.

Oftentimes in business, protecting your creativity is extremely important. Something we creatives forget too often is that our creativity is our power, it is under our jurisdiction, which creates a need for us to protect it. Moreover having a vision is paramount to being creative. A person can't know it all, but when they focus on what they are good at, everything else seems to fall in place.

Believing in yourself, and believing in your dreams are underrated actions individuals need to take in their work.

“Bear in mind that Afrominima is not the solution to everything, rather it's one of the solutions. For we also consider ourselves a social enterprise. We try to empower people with the use of local design, we look for local artisans, and empower them.”

Archslate: What are some of the biggest obstacles that you see in the design industry today?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: Speaking from my experience - the fact that this side of the world doesn't really have access to the kind of technology we need to produce things in different types of materials is demoralising. However, this situation creates the opportunity for innovation. Innovation coming from my point of view doesn't necessarily need to be connected to technology. Innovation is thinking differently, looking for alternative ways to solve problems. This is something I am extremely passionate about, essentially combining local knowledge of local culture and taking the technique forward.

When I started the Raw Urban Collection which is kitchen tools, tableware, and other items of similar persuasion, it started with my mother having a stick which is called Omorogun in our culture. It is used for making all types of food. I looked at this stick and made up my mind to redesign it, making it more modern as well as more functional. So I went ahead and did just that. I played around with the edges, the aesthetics, and the functionality of it which soon gave birth to the term Raw-Urban.

Photo: Olubunmi Adeyemi, Afrominima . Raw Urban Kitchen and Tableware Collection by Afrominima

Archslate: Tell us about some of your projects at Afrominima that have gained popularity or that you consider to be some of your best work so far?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: By using the ethos and philosophy of Afrominima, I created a lifestyle brand which is called the DA Brand. The word DA means to 'create'. For me, it sort of epitomizes the meaning of what Afrominima is because it's a two-letter word, which is very minimal. In addition, it's meaningless to create. With this brand, we create things, we create products, using the for minimum ethos. That is one of the main projects with which I established Afrominima.

We sell different products from kitchen utensils to art pieces. We are progressing at a fast enough rate to begin creating more products like furniture. The second project I worked on is the collaboration. This collection which was launched in Paris, went on to be a great success. For me Afrominima is a progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Here, I'm still moving forward, I'm still looking for opportunities to do other types of projects. I've done interior design projects as well along with a couple of exhibitions in London. So, for me, it’s a lot of progress, yet I feel like the best is yet to come. I've been fortunate to gain international recognition with some of the work that I'm doing. The sky's the limit.

"We do some great work these days because the world is now extremely accessible. The interesting part is that the local craftsmanship that is going on in Nigeria is flying all the way to Japan, a country known for their design, their craftsmanship, for they saw something great coming from this side of the world."

Archslate: Are there any roles that you're hiring for at your studio or other collaborative projects?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: I’am always on the lookout to work with interesting people. Quite recently I posted on my social media, handing out my email and inviting anyone interested in collaborating with us. I'am always on the lookout for expansion when it comes to working with creatives.

Photo: Olubunmi Adeyemi, Afrominima

Archslate: What are the benefits of using local artisans and traditional craftsmanship in your work?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: That's a good question. I focus on taking local artisans out of their comfort zone and introducing them to something; essentially to a greater purpose. A greater purpose where they tend to empower themselves not just financially but also socially as well as personally. Combining local craftsmanship and local materials helps in many different ways as it creates new opportunities.

We do some great work these days because the world is now extremely accessible. Our work can go anywhere; to Japan, where I recently supplied some of our products. The interesting part is that the local craftsmanship that is going on here in Nigeria is flying all the way to Japan, a country known for their design, their craftsmanship, for they saw something great coming from this side of the world. I don't try to restrict myself. Being true to your culture, true to yourself, while empowering local artisans, has its own benefits, now more than ever.

For Afrominima; the reason why I say we're also a social enterprise is due to the fact that we do our best to empower local people.

Archslate: Do you see a massive disconnect that exists between the talent that is out there in the world and between people who are looking for new talent?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: There is a lot of talent out there, truly a large number! It happens to be a very dynamic topic. However, I believe in finding the balance between practicality and not being too whimsical. The need to know what's happening on the ground, as well as being deliberate in design. Sometimes you get a brief which is quite an interesting one. Everyone is excited. Now when it comes to the practicalities of delivering the project, it takes a downward spiral. Thus, being practical with your approach to whatever it is that you're doing is a smart move to make. Making sure you note down the key things needed for your project and making sure you truly understand the delivery expectation goes a long way in design.

Archslate: Was there anything else we didn't cover which is really exciting that you wanted to share with our audience?

Olubunmi Adeyemi: I am setting up my studio in London. This doesn't remove my identity as Nigerian or as an African; for wherever I go, whatever kind of work I do, I am still representing culture and identity. However, I am very keen on getting into international markets and working with international designers from across the world.

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