Fashion can seem glamorous from the outside, but building a successful fashion business, especially out of Nigeria, comes with many realities and challenges. I had the pleasure of speaking with renowned Nigerian fashion designer Banke Kuku to uncover key learnings from her journey in founding the iconic luxury brand, Banke Kuku.
Banke’s passion for fashion and textiles started early. While studying art and design in university, she explored different creative mediums before discovering her affinity for textiles. She recalls the competitive nature of the program that started with over 40 students, narrowed down to 15 to continue studying textiles further for their degree. This set the stage for a career centered around a niche craft of printed and embellished fabrics tailored into stunning garments.
The product that undoubtedly became synonymous with Banke Kuku is her silk pajama sets featuring vibrant African-inspired prints. She cites the origin coming from a custom order. A loyal customer owned one of Banke’s scarves and asked for it to be made into a caftan. After creating one caftan, the customer returned with friends who all wanted their own sets. Realizing the interest around such comfortable luxury sleepwear, Banke began experimenting with developing her own prints on silk to create what became her signature style.
As interest grew, scaling production became imperative but also difficult. Banke credits the lockdowns with helping accelerate her business as people spent more time online discovering brands. Manufacturers focused on fulfilling her orders during a time when many designers had halted production. Guiding her through options for fabrics and sampling, these partnerships enabled Banke to keep pace with demand. Despite challenges like sourcing quality materials locally, maintaining integrity to standards, and inflation causing rising costs, strategic decisions like offering a range of prices across products and limited edition capsules have aided the brand’s rapid ascent.
For all her success, Banke remains committed to advancing the broader fashion ecosystem in Nigeria through collaboration. A lack of institutional infrastructure poses difficulties, but she firmly believes designers banding together can pave the way for future creatives. By lifting each other up, they can slowly build towards a robust industry with local production chains fulfilling orders for international clients.
The path she’s forged certainly inspires, but Banke also hopes her story provides realistic guidance. Beyond the glitz and fame, there are very real struggles to profitability and sustainability for fashion businesses out of Nigeria. Yet she’s optimistic about the momentum growing and encourages aspiring designers to avoid isolation and instead lean on one another because “a good idea is never unique.” For those embarking on their own journeys, Banke’s door remains open to provide advice and mentorship.