Urbanknit: The Art Of Bag Couture
An architect by profession, Dolapo James is no stranger to the world of designs. It started with her obsession of Ankara and other African fabrics. Though it was not a conscious decision to start a company, James is the proud owner of Urbanknit, a company she started over 6 years ago, which specialises in handmade bags, scarves and accessories, using African fabrics. “For ages I have been obsessed with Ankara and the crazy variety we have in Nigeria. Ankara is so chic and the variety is unbelievable. It’s so different and unusual and I just thought, why not introduce it and try to create a fusion, where it’s not just about it being an African fabric but to be able to use it in everyday life also,” she says.
James also uses western fabrics like denim and suede, alongside her favourite African fabrics and has created a collection of bold, vibrant and trendy clutches, pico and zipper pouches, tote bags and scarves.
A daunting pursuit for others is nothing out of the extraordinary for this young Nigerian. James learnt to knit as a child and started making items for her family members which she describes as cheesy. She explains she started making bags “Out of sheer boredom one year while job hunting. My mum had taught me how to knit when I was little and I always liked making things. My family was my guinea pig because I was always making stuff that was awful but they indulged me and never discouraged me.”
James makes it a priority to source her fabrics from Nigeria and other African nations. “All the main fabrics are from Nigeria. Sometimes some are Woodin from other African countries but I pretty much try to stick to using fabrics from African countries.” Her use of African fabrics is one way of letting people know she is proud of her heritage. “It is something I really believe in. Not everything that comes out of Africa is bad, not everything that comes out of Nigeria is bad. It’s almost like a side goal for me. When people ask, where is this from? I don’t just say its African print; I say it’s from Nigeria. Its African, I’m Nigerian and I’m proud. We do make beautiful things and beautiful things do come out of Nigeria.”
James says her profession influences her designs. Hence, the company’s name and motto, which is as interesting as her bag designs. “It started with the scarves and it was a very abstract idea, like urban dwellers, although each person is a separate element and we are all separate entities, we are all knitted together” she explains. “Obviously, scarves are knitted together. So, it’s the urban culture which influences the way you mix and match things that wouldn’t necessarily go together.” She also makes it a priority not to make the same item twice. “I’m particularly insistent that no two bags are the same, meaning whoever has one of my bags, has something that is completely unique. Each bag is a one-off,” she says. She puts this down to her personality and line of work. “By the nature of what I am interested in and what I studied, architecture and the way I’m, I never want to have something that everyone else has. Even if its something that someone else has, I want to wear or use it in a different way, just so it is unique to me.”
Below, James explains the inspiration behind her new line of Pico Pouches.
Belinda: What’s the inspiration behind your new line of Pico pouches?
Dolapo: I wanted to make something small and cute and also to experiment a bit more with Aso-oke
Belinda: Which fabrics did you use on this occasion and why?
Dolapo: The Pico Pouches are made mainly from Vintage Aso-oke and in some cases, Damask. These are often used as the ‘gele’ (headtie) to an outfit and are therefore a bit special. The shear variety available is what makes the collection eclectic, no two are exactly the same which is what we always try to do.
Belinda: Where did you source these fabrics
Dolapo: The Vintage Aso-oke comes from Ondo town, Ondo state, Nigeria.
Belinda: What is it about your culture, heritage and influences that you wanted to convey through this new collection and designs?
Dolapo: The old style of Aso-oke is particularly interesting because they tell their own story. In Ondo, they are known as Etu, Alari and Sanya (Blue, Red and Cream respectively). For example in Ondo, people tend to wear the Sanya at funerals and at weddings. The strips are hand-woven outdoors on wooden looms and have a lovely organic texture and feel. These techniques are disappearing and the fabrics are becoming quite rare. I wanted to bring them to light in my own little way.
Belinda: What should people expect from you in 2011?
Dolapo: New pieces certainly but in particular one that is quirky, casual and fun all at the same time!
Still contemplating what to get your girlfriends for Christmas and if you are a guy, your lady, let Dolapo and Urbanknit help you out. For more designs and colours, visit: Urbanknit Website and Urbanknit on Etsy