Owner and creative director, Eva Sonaike graduated with an MA in Fashion Journalism from the London College of Fashion, where she specialised in contemporary African fashion and textiles. She then pursued an editorial career working as the UK Fashion Editor for Hubert Burda Media for six years, working for titles such as German Elle, InStyle and Focus.
Eva, who was born and raised in Germany and is of Nigerian origin, has taken the best elements of those two cultures to inspire her work – her designs draw from the two distinct influences of colourful African clothing culture and European antique and mid-century furniture traditions.
H&G: You are a former fashion journalist. Can you tell us about the transition into designing textiles, and how the experiences of being a fashion journalist impacted your views on design?
Eva Sonaike: I believe that fashion and interiors go hand-in-hand. If you have an eye for one of the disciplines, you will most likely understand the other. I stumbled into interior textiles by accident. I was looking for soft furnishings for my home that reflected my cultural heritage and was aimed at the premium market. As I didn’t find anything suitable, I decided to create my own range. In the beginning, it was just a hobby alongside my fashion job, but after three of London’s biggest department stores picked up my collections, I saw that there was a demand and focused on the business full time. This was 10 years ago, and I have never looked back.
H&G: You are also self-taught. What challenges came with being a self-taught designer?
E: I think being self-taught helps you to think outside the box and approach things differently. I am not only a self-taught textile designer but also a self-taught businesswoman. I had to learn some things the hard way, but this has helped me overcome challenges, adapt and develop a never-give-up attitude. I feel that with an open mind, a positive attitude and a deep passion, you can get through most challenges.
H&G: What inspired you to start your own business?
E: I saw a gap in the market. Everything African-related on the market was either Safari-inspired or wax fabric market brands, that produced beautiful products, but I was looking for premium products, that were suitable for the international interiors market and in line with the industry-specific requirements, such as fire resistance. I always had a passion for African fabrics and interiors, so I combined the two into what is now a household name. I started really small with a collection and a few samples, whilst working alone from home in my spare room.
H&G: What does design mean to you?
E: Design means expressing oneself creatively and for me beautifully so that other people can enjoy your creations. When I create a new design, I always start with the story I want to tell. I research and create a mood board that reflects my vision. The next step is to create a colour palette, as colour is essential to my work. Once this is done I hand sketch everything before colouring and editing the designs in Photoshop.
H&G: Can you tell us about your heritage and how your collections reflect it?
E: I love telling my stories and creating a vision of the Africa that I know and that is dear to me. All my collections are influenced by my heritage. All the names are in Yoruba and the stories are all related to my experiences in West Africa. As I was raised in Germany, my work also had a transcultural aspect. I think I see things differently when I am on the continent. And the way I run the business is very German. Structure and strategy are very important to me.
H&G: You’re part of this Women shaping Design series – how do you think that you have shaped, or are shaping design?
E: I feel really honoured to be part of the Women shaping Design series, as women, in general, inspire me and have allowed me to become the woman I am today. My mission is to create a platform for African inspired design in the global interior industry. African fabrics have been neglected for so long because people don’t know about the beauty and history of our fabrics. Part of my work lies in educating people about the versatility and history of some of our fabrics (there are so many, I don’t know them all). My designs speak to people from all over the world from various backgrounds, which show me that the African design aesthetic is as versatile and desirable as all the other popular textile design styles that have been around for many years,
Who have been the women that have inspired you either personally or professionally and why? My mother is my number one inspiration. She is a medical doctor by profession, but deep down one of the most amazing interior designers and landscape designers I know. She has been taking me everywhere from an early age - from her surgery to building sites, to antique shops.
H&G: How would you describe the ways in which you engage and empower others?
E: I love empowering women, especially black women who want to get established in the interior and design industries, as it is still a predominantly white industry here in the UK. I mentor but also employ women of colour who are talented but get easily neglected here. I think that everyone who has worked with me knows the ‘Eva treatment’. I have high expectations, but if there is potential, I want to see them rise and shine. Quite a few of my former employees have now their own interior design or other companies and we regularly work together. It feels great seeing them reaching for the stars.