Banke Kuku is a British-Nigerian textile designer. She moved to the UK when she was eight and now lives between London and Lagos. Her first job was working on textiles for the fashion house Jasmine Di Milo, where she was called the “Queen of Colour”, and in 2011 she set up Banke Kuku Textiles. She has collaborated with Duro Olowu and Swoon Editions, designing interiors and clothing fabrics. In 2014, Forbes named her one of 10 female entrepreneurs to watch in Africa and her designs are stocked globally.
Why did you choose to go into textile design?
I’ve always been fascinated by textiles. I used to knit and crochet with my mum when I was young. At first I wanted to study fashion, so I did my foundation at Central Saint Martins [college in London]. I specialised in fashion, fashion communications and textiles, but I didn’t really understand textiles before starting the course — I thought it all merged into fashion. When I started studying textiles, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
How would you characterise your style?
I would say it is a modern take on traditional Nigerian design. I always like to tell an African or Nigerian story, and try to modernise traditional techniques, like adire, which is a Nigerian dyeing technique. Because I grew up in Britain I am also inspired by British culture and fabrics, so I try to merge the two cultures. My Aso collection is a good example: the stripes represent the stripes on a traditional Nigerian fabric called Aso-oke. They are woven over a western damask.
Name your top three influences
I am inspired by things around me: Nigerian culture and stories. I always try to bring a positive light on the negativity that Nigeria sometimes gets in terms of alleged government corruption and the fraudulent behaviour you hear about. And I love British fabrics: my paisleys, herringbones and tweeds.
What has been your favourite project?
The Delta Collection, I think. It is my classic collection, which launched in 2013 [available at Wolfandbadger.com]. It is a story about the [oil-producing] Niger Delta region told through my Delta print, which is an oil spill reflecting in the sunlight. My inspiration for it came from a photographer called George Osodi. I also did a collaboration with Swoon Editions for it. We did a chair featuring the Delta print in black and white, which was shown in Marie Claire, Vogue and a lot of other spaces.
You say you spend half your time in Nigeria. Do you go with a plan each time?
I always go with a plan. Currently I’m trying to work with some traditional artisan adire dyers to get inspiration for my new collection. I plan to visit Ogun State, where they are based. I want to work with them to make something modern that will appeal both to Africans and westerners. It can be quite tricky sometimes when they like to stick to their traditional motifs, but I try to work with young designers who are trained in the traditional way but are more flexible. I do think it’s important to preserve the original processes, though as a curious designer I think it is also good to play around with them from time to time.
If you weren’t allowed to, who would do a fabric design for you?
Interior designer Kit Kemp. I love the way she uses patterns and colours.
Is there anyone in the design field that you particularly admire?
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
I would say antlers — though maybe they aren’t so bad because they shed naturally. I’m more opposed to things like ivory where the animals are killed in such horrific ways.
What is the strangest project or request you’ve had to work on?
I do get some requests for designing prints for unusual objects for textiles, like mouse pads.
Photographs: Jide Alakija; Banke Kuku