Ifebuche Madu is the founder of Afrikstabel, one of Nigeria’s fashion designers favourite textile company. With designs that have unique stories, she speaks to the Guardian Life about her journey away from the runway to behind the scenes, and her passion for sustainability, and her love for true African textiles.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did it all start?
Long story so get ready (laughs). In 2016, I emerged the winner of Dare To Dream Uniport fashion designer, of which one of the benefits was to showcase a collection. But I think it really started when I was posted to Ondo state to serve. As a lover of everything African textiles. I used the opportunity to explore and learn first hand, the knowledge embedded in local artisan craftsmanship and possibly build a partnership with such communities for future collaborations. I learned a lot in terms of the different crafts each community engaged in, the economic viability of the vocations to their livelihood and the challenges they face in the production and marketing of the products.
I met a local artisan, Iya Tolu, who was reputed to be the best Aso oke weaver in her community and she shed more light on the poor state of the artisans as she attributed it to low patronage of their products by locals as it is too expensive for them and no access to a broader market due to illiteracy, lack of internet accessibility, no loan or grant to support mass productions for a bigger market and above all, poor entrepreneurship skills.
Then I thought to myself, “our culture is dying, our heritage is fading away, they are abandoning their skills and if nothing is done, this originality, aesthetics, attitudes might disappear from us”.
You used to showcase on the runway. Would you say that this enlightenment contributed to it?
Actually, yes. I stopped because I had to redefine my business model; it became more of the impact and the people than just the business. I decided that my company is going to be more about the people that make the textiles. So I changed my business from being into fashion design to a textile company in order to harness artisans potential to create sustainable textiles for fashion and interior designers.
Hmm, why are sustainability and the preservation of our culture so important to you?
Our culture made us who we are. If you remove our culture and traditions, we will have no trace or origin as a people. You see, our textiles are our legacy and we need to protect, appreciate and cherish them.
Today a lot of Africa’s traditional textile weaving and dyeing, for instance, are not easily accessible, but in the hidden hinterland of small artisan workshops and markets, too obscure to be visible to the broader trade and too lowly regarded when they are seen.
They lack the systems that come with broader industry participation and as result are not easily scalable to meet the demands of today’s commerce-driven textile & fashion eco-space. And that is why I created Afrikstabel to close those loopholes.
You are largely into Adire export. How are Adire textiles perceived internationally?
The fact is that Adire textiles are gaining momentum globally as seen at the major fashion runways both locally and internationally. Notable celebrities (Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Jada Pinkett) have identified with these textiles. With this, you can understand that there is the recognition and acceptance regarding true African prints. And most importantly, Africans in the diaspora are trying to reconnect with their root and fashion is playing a major role to make that easier.
In what ways do you give back to society?
We host free trainings on the art of Adire textiles. Also, we partner with artisans in different communities in Nigeria, making sure that they stay in business and earn an income. Bringing jobs to these communities has had a tremendous impact on the families and the communities at large.
When you are not working, how do you unwind?
I enjoy watching films.
Describe yourself in three words
God-fearing, go-getter, reserved.