100 Female Champions of African Design

Interior design that is. This month has been just amazing. I always love March, primarily because it is my birth month (March 12) and the birth month of my home country’s republic (Ghana, March 6th). March is also special because it is Women’s Month. This year, March had the added bonus of being the reflective period of Lent. International Women’s Day (March 8th) sparked a global reflection on how far we have come on gender equity and how long we still have to go (i.e. #metoo).

I, for one, have been inspired by the celebratory content that has been unleashed this month honoring the unknown women around the world doing amazing things in relative obscurity as compared to their male counterparts. Inspired by Okay Africa’s 100 Women campaign and all the wonderful work that is ongoing to uplift women around the world, I started on a personal quest to identify and celebrate 100 female patrons of African design.

While fashion remains at the forefront of our minds when we speak of ‘African design’ (whatever that means), today I highlight the sheroes of product, textile, furniture and interior design in Africa. If I tell you I did not struggle to find one hundred women working in non-fashion design in Africa, I would be lying. It was hard. But this reality made me realize how much each of these fempreneurs need support, need to be more vocal about their business ventures as I recently discussed in a Twitter Chat on women in business and their voice and agency in a digital world. It is imperative that journalists not continue to circle around the same old names. Similarly, as consumers, when we ask ourselves wakanda home we want to inhabit, we must be willing to do the research and support our rhetoric with our naira, CFA francs and rand.

Without further ado, move over Ousmane Mbaye, Cheick Diallo and Bibi Seck – it is time for the ladies!

Definitive Guide to 100 Female Champions of African Design

1/Vanessa Agyemang (UK/Ghana) – fashion model turned product designer, her brand Cooper Dust London offers handmade luxury lampshade with deep cultural significance.

2/Moji Akinde (USA/Nigeria) – after nearly a decade working in fashion, the creator of Ile by Fehinti launched a homeware brand to capitalize on traditional textiles from her home country.

3/Nina Alami (Morocco) – a US transplant to Fes, her studio The Artisan Project produces quality throws and carpets with a punk rock twist.

4/Fabiana Alcojor (Kenya) – one half of the husband and wife duo behind Seedling Kenya, she produces lighting based on the union between man and nature.

5-6/Saba & Selamawit Alene (Ethiopia) – co-owners of St. Georges Art Gallery, their retail outlet has expanded from Addis Abeba to Virginia, USA, always pushing forward local artisans and Ethiopian carpentry and art.

7/Osaru Alile (Nigeria) – a serial entrepreneur, this happy-go-lucky interior designer has no less than three brands under her belt including CC Interiors, Eterior Spaces and newly launched Pan African Interior Design (PAID) Summit.

8/Adiskidan Ambaye (Ethiopia) – a sculptor, furniture designer and a mixed media artist, her products continue to mesmerize the art lover community in Addis Abeba.

9/Chrissa Amuah (UK/Ghana) – this seasoned surface and product designer is the founder of platform Africa by Design, and produces distinct furniture spiced with traditional Adinkra symbolism.

10/Natalie Anderson (Ghana) – acclaimed interior designer for corporate clients including Vodafone, her company Design Express has captured the art incorporating African touches in commercial spaces perfectly. More on her journey here.

11/Senanu Arkutu (Ghana) – owner of styling firm and retail shop DAAR Living, this entrepreneuse is Accra’s go to resource for global home décor pieces and a favorite of author Taiye Selasie. See more here.

12/Jordan Awori (Kenya) – interior design consultant and writer, she has graced the pages of several publications including Home & Living East Africa doling out advice to decoristas not fond of following the rules.

13/Yemi Awosile (UK/Nigeria) – this designer produces vibrant patterns using innovative multimedia print techniques include sound waves.

14/Ranti Bamgbala (UK/Nigeria) – this acclaimed ceramist’s porcelain, terracotta and clay vessels take you on a joyful luxurious voyage.

15/Leonie Badger (Ghana) – a young, dynamic interior designer and founder of Studio Badge quickly became known for a stunning range of eco-conscious tableware.

16/Johanna Bramble (Senegal) – acclaimed textile designer working to carry on the Manjack weaving tradition in the country.

17/Emmanuelle Courreges (France) – representing brands including EbeneSand and Eva Sonaike, her website Lago54.com bridges the gap between producers and consumers for the European market.

18/Nike Davies-Okundaye (Nigeria) – the undisputed queen of Nigerian art and batik, she owns the largest art gallery in West Africa, and launched the careers of many local furniture designers.

19/Aissa Dione (Senegal) – a go to for luxury fashion houses like Hermes, this textile designer and hotelier has become a standalone institution in the African design world.

20/Anna Djigo (Cote d’Ivoire) – the creator of e-gift shop Hybrid, retailing designers such as Faty Ly and Johanna Bramble, she also serves as GM for the Koffi Diabate & Associates architectural firm.

21/Clarisse Djionne (France/USA) – founder of luxury PR firm and gallery Weendu Design started 3 years ago, she now boasts an impressive roster of designers including Hamed Ouattara.

22/Otovi Dosso Ovoo (Togo) – creator of pottery brand African Corner she has held exhibitions across West Africa for her one of a kind feminine vessels.

23/Sandrine Ebène de Zorzi (Congo-Brazzaville) – minimalist designer extraordinaire, her brand Ebene Sand demonstrates the long-lasting superior command of woodworking in Central Africa.

24/Jade Folawiyo (UK/Nigeria) – a multi-media artist that produces everything from textiles to lighting products has been celebrated for her copper plated Uno pendants.

25/Reni Folawiyo (Nigeria) – this fashion and design powerhouse launched the signature David Adjaye vision that is Alara as an exhibition hall and retail store, now a landmark of Lagos’ Victoria Island.

26-27/Audrey & Josephine Forson (Ghana) – the current heads of family run furniture business Tekura, their astonishing carpentry is inspired by traditional Ashanti and Fante cultural symbolism.

28/Enam Gbewonyo (UK/Ghana) – find out more on this multimedia textile artist turned curator, and founder of the Black British Female Artist (BBFA) collective here.

29/Christine Gitau (Kenya) – the creator of Craft Afrika and the annual Afrika Handmade Fair, she helps to develop a consumer market for locally produced homewares and furniture in Nairobi.

30-31/Simone Guirandou & Nicole Louis-Sidney (Cote d’Ivoire) – this owner-curator duo are the patron saints of African contemporary art, promoting the works of local designers such as Jean Servais Somian and Issa Diabate.

32-34/Fée, Catherine and Megan Halsted (South Africa) – the founders of brand Ardmore work under the ideal of Ubuntu and are known for their products’ safari luxury vibe.

35/Sandra Hill (Kenya) – after a career working in the aviation industry in Kenya, the self-taught founder of Simply Sandra launched a career in hand-painted surface pattern design.

36/Elizabeth Hutchinson (Kenya) – owner of eco-friendly firm Tread and Sisal, she takes upcycling of old rubber tires to the next level.

37/Sarya Jamal (Sudan) – launched under the brand Pieces of Me, this former medical professional and self-taught artist, creates hand-painted upcycled furniture that are instant fan favorites.

38/Sadika Keskes (Tunisia) – creator of the eponymous blown glass home décor brand Sadika, she almost singlehandedly revived a dying tradition in her home country.

39/Marie Stella Konian (Cote d’Ivoire) – a recluse designer based in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire she is a multidisciplinary artist that recently ventured into furniture design with her acclaimed Biakouklou pouf.

40/Banke Kuku (Nigeria) – this luxury label has become synonymous with fluid designs reminiscent of a dream sequence all the while inspired by current challenges and triumphs of her native Nigeria.

41/Faty Ly (Senegal) – learn more about this luxury plateware ceramicist who incorporates 24 karat gold into her work here.

42/Lesego Maloka (South Africa) – producer of soft furnishings and rugs, she founded Pone Creatives  inspired by her South African heritage and identity and love of her grandmother.

43/Swaady Martin (Multinational) – born in Cote d’Ivoire, the queen of tea accompanies her luxurious drinks for the gods with opulent dishware and lifestyles accessories in her brand Yswara’s signature rose gold and copper.

44/Tapiwa Matsinde (UK/Zimbabwe) – as a critically acclaimed author and curator, she is one of the original promoteuse of contemporary African design through her blog Atelier Fifty Five and book Contemporary Design Africa.

45/Nkuli Mlangeni (South Africa) – founder of rug and textile company The Ninevites, she bases her designs on Ndebele patterns which earned her the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) award in 2017.

46/Thabiso Mjo (South Africa) – she is the owner of Mash T. Design and producer of the Tutu pendant which was nominated as the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA) in 2018.

47/Nada Moukarzel (Ghana) – of Lebanese descent but resident in Accra for two decades, she founded shopgallery La Maison which unites products from Tom Dixon with that of Moroso’s M’Afrique collection.

48/Myriam Mourabit (Morocco) – winner of Morocco’s Best Design Awards in 2013, she is now a well-respected ceramicist often opening her personal home to exhibitions of her esteemed collections.

49/Mpho Muendane & Maki Nakata (South Africa/Japan) – award winning textile designers and founders of Maki & Mpho, these powerhouse ladies are bringing afro-asian infused design to local craftsmanship.

50/Aissata Namoko (Mali) – her weaving cooperative Djiguiyaso is a social enterprise employing over 100 women producing gorgeous soft furnishings from traditional bogolan, tie-dyed with indigo.

51/Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe (Tanzania) – with over 1.1 million Instagram followers coveting her style, she is owner of Molocaho, the premier furniture manufacturing house in the country.

52/Cathy O’Clery (South Africa) – in addition to being a renowned design consultant and editor for publications including World of Interiors, House & Leisure and Elle Decoration, she is the recurring curator for Design Network Africa, Decorex South Africa and 100% South African Design.

53/Titi Ogufere (Nigeria) – her endless CV includes President of the Interior Designers Association of Nigeria, CEO of her own interior design firm Essential Interiors, magazine publisher, and founder of Nigeria’s Interior Design Excellence Award (IDEA), the African Culture and Design Festival (ACDF) and Made by Design, a luxury home and hospitality fair.

54/Moyo Ogunseinde (Nigeria) – esteemed architect behind gems like the Radisson Blu in Lagos, she co-founder virally popular kitchenware brand Aga Concept.

55/Ify Ojo (Nigeria/Canada) – as owner of Stèlà Tеxtіlе Dеѕіgn, she provides a unique take on the new generation of African print fabrics, with her line designed and digitally printed on silk and satin.

56/Diana Opoti (Kenya) – this social media influencer launched Designing Africa Collective in 2017, a retail boutique features brands including Imiso Ceramics and The Ninevites.

57/Tosin Oshinowo (Nigeria) – this architect turned furniture designer launched her colorful yet minimalist brand Ile Ila (meaning of House of Lines in her native Yoruba) in 2017.

58/Pascale Revert (UK) – as the owner of 50 Golborne in London, Pascale represents many well-known designers including Cheick Diallo.

59/Zizipho Poswa (South Africa) – one half of the star ceramics team behind Imiso, her studio is known for stunning  one of kind collector clay art with a futuristic edge.

60-61/Tracy Rushmere & Heidi Chisholm (South Africa) – these are the founders of lighthearted tongue in cheek textile and product design brand Shine Shine, best known for their Obama print.

62/Bongiwe Somi (South Africa) – as the Unit Head in charge of textile design at Ivili Loboya, a modern wool processing plant, she leads the creation of quality wool and cashmere apparel and home products.

63-64/Hourria Sammari & Nawal Merabet (Morocco/Senegal) – with a focus on preserving local hand weaving techniques, their label Tisserand Dakar has become a buyer favorite at international design shows.

65/Eva Sonaike (UK/Nigeria) – her eponymous label influenced by her Nigerian heritage produces poufs, wallpapers, textiles, lampshades and kitchenware and has been featured in Essence, The Daily Mail, Vogue and Marie Claire Maison.

66/Doron Shaltiel (UK/Swaziland) – as founder of social enterprise Quazi Designs, she employs hundreds of female artisans, and enamored the world with her paper mache faux concrete lighting and homewares.

67/Mimi Shodeinde (UK/Nigeria) – the creative mind behind brand Miminat, this Heriot Watt educated interior architect and product designer produces exquisite furniture reminiscent of Zaha Hadid.

68/Nana Spio-Garbrah (Ghana) – pssst, that’s me…read my story here.

69/Dounia Tamri-Loeper (Morocco) – offering majestic contemporary lighting infused with traditional Maghreb themes, her products have delighted audiences around the world.

70/Phillippa Thorne (Swaziland) – a social entrepreneur and lover of handicraft, check out our profile of her business Gone Rural here.

71-77/Women of Ikea Africa Collection 2019 – Selly Raby Kane (Senegal), Renee Roussouw (South Africa), Mariam Sherif and Hend Riad (Egypt), Bethan Rayner (Kenya), Paula Nascimento (Angola) and Sindiso Khumalo (South Africa) are all contributing to what is likely to be one of IKEA’s most iconic collaborations.

78-79/Wacy Zacarias & Djamila Sousa (Mozambique) – as co-founders of Karingana Wa Karingana Textiles, they launched their brand to combat the reality that the bulk of so called African textiles are manufactured in Eastern Asia.

80/Evelyne Zalwango (Uganda) – she has been an inspirational SME in her community, developing her business from nothing to employing 30 staff.

81/Jeanine Zogo (Cote d’Ivoire) – restaurateur and furniture design promoter, her concept store Kajazoma both in Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroun puts all pieces for sale and remains a big hit among the high society of these two capital cities.

82/Isabelle Zongo (Cote d’Ivoire) – blogger and incubator focused on promoting African contemporary art and design online, Isabelle’s blog turned foundation ORIGINVL is a go to resource on the design scene in Francophone Africa.

So there you have it 82 female champions of African interior, product and furniture design. Sorry, what was that? Oh, you were expecting 100? Because I am here to do ALL the work for you?

Let’s try and see if YOU can name the remaining 20 from a country NOT listed (such as Benin, Eritrea, Somalia, Namibia, Algeria, Mauritius, Botswana, Guinea, Cape Verde, Rwanda etc.). Let’s continue to share knowledge and promote our sisters.

Can we get to 100? Give me my last 20 designers in the comments and include a link to their website for a chance to win a prize from this brand also doing tremendous work to support women.

 

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for this great article. I want to add Zawadiarts, Washington, D.C. to your list.
    We have a mission similar to yours and have focused on home decor for the last 26 years. We continually search for designers of quality items that we can feature in our Gallery. There is a strong diaspora interest here and we would like to be included in your conversation. We would also add Nasozi Kakembo to your list. We are particularly interested in small furniture at this time and will try to contact some of the designers you mentioned. Making those connections without traveling to the particular country has often been a challenge.
    I would mention that there is a great need for more outlets for these wonderful products. Creators are often justifiably lauded but the boutiques and galleries that carry those goods are a significant part of the chain. We’ve carried Faty Ly and Aissa Dionne for many years now and would like to include more African artists.
    Again, thank you for this much needed article and keep up the good work.

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