We need to document our cultural heritage – Onunkwo, activist

Christine Onwuachumba

Ini Obinna-Onunkwo runs Little Weavers, a business where she showcases her passion for kids and love for African heritage.

It is an Afro-centric couture brand for toddlers and teens. It is not just a business, but also a cause to rekindle and strengthen society’s interest in African culture and heritage.

Daily Sun spoke to her recently, in Lagos:

How did you start your business?

I started my business with N50,000 and one machine. I had to sell some of my things. In this business, when we talk about success, we need to create a vibrant community and creative platform.

When I was starting out, there was a lady who owned a machine and asked if we could do a business together, I responded in the affirmative. We hit off immediately.

We had to put things together and, whatever Little Weaver is today, that was how we started. It takes a community to build a business.

What informed your decision to start this cause?

It started with a need. I had recently resigned from the financial sector. I made African clothes for my children and people admired them. For most parents who have not seen ready-to-wear Afro-centric clothes for children, that was an opportunity for us and we grabbed it.

In trying to work the business life and trying to understand the essence of the brand, working the business life opened my insight to a lot of places and things. I had to research on them.

Understanding the essence of the brand was bigger than I had expected. Over time, I realised that we needed to change our cultural perception. I realised that our people did not appreciate our cultural outfits. Secondly, we don’t celebrate ourselves.

The mini-mi parent-child cultural clothing is trending now. What is the essence?

It is trending but I don’t think that is enough because it is more of the usual trend, social media thing buzz. You are just twinning with your child and friends click on the button to like it and it ends there. We should go further than that.

Why don’t you make it a lifestyle? Visit people’s homes and open the closets of their children, you would discover that they have more urban western clothing than African attire. The truth is that, if you want to dig deep into this essence of our cultural heritage and get these children to appreciate it, it must start with the adults.

Why did you take up the promotion of African heritage through your fashion brand?

Heritage is about culture, the people, the values of the people and getting to know your identity. You should be proud to pass it on to the next generation.

We have a rich cultural heritage. All we need is to document all the historical facts so that we can pass on to the younger ones. The question is, how much of our African heritage do we have? How much of our African heritage has been documented? How much do we actually imbibe into our children?

Unfortunately, most people have lost their sense of cultural heritage. I am also a guilty party. We have been badly influenced by western culture and have lost the essence of who we really are.

If you travel out, you find out that most of the Europeans erect monuments. What are they for? They are memorabilia of who their ancestors were. That gives them a sense of identity. They identify with these shrines. They can trace their backgrounds as far back as 500 years ago.

If we understand the essence of our heritage, and know that it is important, we must build on it.  We are doing it because, tomorrow, this generation will pass, what will our children say? They should be able to trace their ancestral backgrounds.

What is the magnitude of western influence in African fashion?

There is a lot. We have lost a lot of things. Buba and iro, real aso oke, we don’t wear it anymore. The Igbo and even my people, Ibibio, have a unique dressing pattern. Fashionistas now say there is something call trend.

It is okay to try to wear, but it is not okay for you to try to forget. If I know how my people dressed and I can put things together around me to make it work and give it that traditional, real semblance of my culture, why wouldn’t I?

Western culture has only succeeded in modifying everything and brainwashing everybody. Why don’t we sell our culture so that we can be identified with it? We see Arabians clad in their white because they do not want to lose the essence of who they are. They designed waistcoats for themselves, but they didn’t lose the essence of who they are. Why can’t we too do the same? The western influence has destroyed the fabric of our culture and society. Nowadays, what is ours doesn’t seem normal. How do we get back then? We have to start from our community, get people to understand why we are doing this and where we are going.

What are some of the challenges you face in promoting your brand?

My major challenge is the issue of cultural perception. If people change their cultural perception, we will have more people patronising us.

Again, I think many people think that the task of making clothes for kids is a joke. Quite often, you would hear people ask why don’t we make clothes for adults as well. Yes, we can but our focus is on children. People feel it is a waste of time doing things for children, and we need to change that perception.

There is no skilled labour. We need skilled people who are passionate about the job, and the right tools. If we have them in the value chain, the industry will do well.  We depend on imported clothing because of our poor finishing.

Another challenge is the branding aspect of it. If I am done with creating cultural perception with people I know that are willing to buy my goods, and my finishing is on point and I don’t have someone to promote the brand, the job is not done.

Do you have any connection in international markets?

There are certain criteria we need to bypass to be able to engage in these international markets.

In every country, you must have a body that carries the emblem of what you want to preach to people and spread that gospel beyond borders. So, when you are in an association, that represents the values of the business, then they should be able to carry you along.

We need to get government to help with finance and infrastructure.

How do you promote this African heritage?

We have to work with the social media because that is where the audience is presently.

We also have to take into cognizance as a business and as a brand, utilise all the social media platforms and push it from there.

Our theme is heritage. I want to pursue the inclination of getting people to embrace African heritage and get children to wear ankara top on Friday.

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