When you talk about furniture making to an average Nigerian, what naturally comes to mind is picture of a lower class citizen with shop in a street corner, helping people fix and make furniture for everyday use. Furniture making in Nigeria has been seen as a profession left for the lower class, who are popularly called carpenters.
All that is changing, and furniture making is gradually evolving into an enviable profession in Nigeria. Tosin Oshinowo is one of those making it happen, giving that business of ‘carpentry’ a makeover. The renowned architect who designed the Maryland Mall in Lagos founded Ilé Ilà (House of Lines), a unique lifestyle furniture line where each handmade design is given an African identity.
In this insightful interview with her, she revealed more about the brand, entrepreneurship and her architectural career.
Founders Africa (FA): Tell us a little about yourself
Tosin Oshinowo (TO): I completed my Architecture Education at the Architecture Association London and also hold a Master’s Degree in Urban Design from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. I’m a registered architect in federal republic of Nigeria, and have been the lead Architect at cmDesign Atelier (cmD+A) since 2012.
I’m a founding member of the ‘African Alliance for New Design’ (AAND), a think-tank that explores the value of design for the current generation of creatives on the continent.
Prior to setting-up cmD+A, my experiences have been shaped by working in leading international practices like Skidmore Owing & Merril’s LLP London and the Office of Metropolitan Architecture Rotterdam, where I was part of the team that designed a proposal for the 4th Mainland Bridge in 2008.
In 2017, I started my furniture line, Ilé-Ilà, a brand celebrates my approach to architectural design – minimalist, clean and culture-rich.
FA: Tell us about Ilé-Ilà
TO: Ilé-Ilà which means ‘house of lines’ in Yorùbá language is a lifestyle furniture-line designed and hand-made in Lagos, Nigeria. We design period-conscious furniture with a contemporary African content.
FA: What inspired the idea for it?
TO: I really stumbled on the idea originally. I have a friend who used to use Asò Oké to make hand bags, and I was in the early days of starting my Architecture Practice – cmDesign Atelier. We did some interior jobs where we had to make furniture and I just started exploring the idea of using Asò Oké to upholster because of its resilient properties, and through a process of design development, we are here.
FA: Since kick-off, how has the response been from Nigerians?
TO: It’s been very well received. I initially expected it to be appreciated by the international community, but locally we have been very well embraced. In Nigeria today, we are culturally in a place where we are looking inwards for inspiration.
FA: What inspires your designs
TO: I have had a slight dis-jointed design evolution concerning our direction at Ilé-Ilà. Initially, the discovery of using Asò Oké in particular to upholster was done on a traditional Victorian arm-chair but my design aesthetic as an Architect comes from the modernist movement which celebrates the tectonic of materiality with clean lines. So the direction of the line-chair and now the Àdùnní chair is true to my aesthetic principles.
FA: What are the challenges you face running this line of business, and how do you overcome them?
TO: The biggest challenge at the moment is getting the cost of production down. I have a carpentry team that work in a factory space we have set up but because we don’t have means for more advanced machinery, production takes much longer than it needs to and costs more for labor.
FA: Tell us about your successes since launch
TO: Since launch early this year, we have sold about 100 pieces.
FA: Tell us the story behind your foray into entrepreneurship
TO: To be honest, I stumbled into a business out of just enjoying creating beautiful chairs. I have been very fortunate to be providing an item that the market actually desires. And from this strength, I am ensuring we put in the required structure to sustain it as a business and make profit.
FA: What has been your most exciting moment since you began House of Lines?
The most exciting experience so far is getting orders from people who are not family and friends. This is the true test, people seeing your product and wanting it because they like the product. It should be about the product.
FA: Are there future plans for the company?
TO: Add more design options to our product range. Explore the option of both national and international reach.