Over the last decade, the demand for African ethnic Ankara has surged because of its’ uniqueness in style and symbolism of Afrocentrism. In this interview, Ibukun Ogundipe, Founder of one of Africa’s largest Ankara brands shares how she uses Senero to tell a different African story.
Good day, please tell us about yourself, your brand and how it started.
Hi! My name is Ibukunoluwa Ogundipe, fondly called Ibk. I come from the Western part of Nigeria, Ogun state. I graduated with a first class from Covenant University where I studied Computer Science (2011-2015) ; I’m currently working as an Intern at Microsoft. I started my Ankara crafts business (selling Ankara books, Ankara accessories and Ankara bags) – Senero, as a hobby at first. The whole Ankara frenzy just started then and each time I saw a picture of a product, I’d break it down in my head trying to figure out how it was done. Senero is actually spelt ” Señero ” and it’s a Spanish word for outstanding, unique, unequalled; which is what my brand represents.
My first product was made in my room : a hand-sewn Ankara bag and a pair of old slippers I revamped. I spent the whole day making it and when I was done I knew I wanted to make even more. When I got back to school, I told my friends about it and that was how Senero started. Right now, I’ve gone past selling Ankara made products to training others interested in this craft. I’m really glad I can empower others with this skill I have. When I’m not working or making Ankara products, you’d find me listening to music, writing about topics I’m passionate about or volunteering at non-profit activities.
Everyone wants to be the spotted one in the crowd and everyone wants to be unique, I believe Ankara worn properly could create this effect for you, my market is as large as I am able to convince the public to stand out and support Afrocentric.
Several African economies are shrinking and declining into recession. In this light, there has been a paradigm shift for several companies to source materials necessary for production locally. How do you source for your materials and how local are they?
The Ankara itself is locally made fabric which I buy from select trusted vendors in the market, I would have loved for the other materials I use to be locally made also but these basic products come with defects that cannot be ignored, a simple example would be the foul smell of locally made glue. In the nearest future I hope that all the materials I need would be readily and locally available.
Working with Ankara is quite different and unique. It is different from the conventional fashion designing because it is not the regular combination of colors, the Ankara scheme is different. How do you blend different styles into one piece?
I’m really grateful to God for a creative mind and hands that can work with them, most times when I start work on a particular product something beautiful comes out. Sometimes I try to do a mix with other materials, like our recent Jean Collection where I combined Ankara with Jean. People really loved how the two fabrics came together.
You run a training workshop and a you tube channel. How has the response been? Is there as much interest in learning the craft as there is in fashion designing or make up?
The response has been great! A lot of people are interested in learning how to make Afrocentric products using Ankara, personally I would not separate the craft from fashion designing, after all it’s the creative ones in fashion designing that find themselves here. Senero has multiple channels for training and public engagement and all these avenues have experienced growth. When I started my Youtube channel (YouTube channel name: SeneroDIY) 3 or so months ago, I never knew we would have close to 150 subscribers without any aggressive form of marketing. I’ve had people I don’t know from Adam comment on how explanatory the tutorial was and how they want to learn more. We just concluded our first training workshop and on such short notice we were able to register many impressions and a handful of final participants. I had to even create another page @ankaraworkshop dedicated for the future workshops we’d be having. Summarily I would say the people are eager to learn. Both young and old.
Many Africans in diaspora and even locally want to identify with the continent by adorning Ankara wears. Does your company have a road-map or plan to meet this demand in the short to medium term (3-5 years)?
Why wouldn’t they? Ankara is cool *smiles* yes it’s what we exist for, locally we are currently focusing on building a strong brand that represents uniqueness, the team and I have come up with a set of products and engagements that we would reveal to the general public as time goes on, our focus now is on delivering quality to our local customers. Then, from there we can start looking into attending to the needs of the diaspora even though we have made sales overseas in the past.
Funding is integral in business. How have you been able to fund your business?
Charity begins at home and so does funding, most of the capital we have worked with has been from the revenue gotten from sales, personal income and the generous acts of friends and well wishers, as we work on delivering value to our customers we would seek other means of funding to meet even greater demand.