Plain Tiger Spotlight: Shekudo

All Eyes on Africa

By Renee Fortune

I recently watched a TED Talk on how having fun can actually be good for your health. It opened my eyes to the creative potential of having fun and the magic that can come from doing happy things – whatever that may mean. Connecting with Akudo Iheakanwa, the founder of Shekudo drove this message home in a very real way. 

Shekudo was established in Australia in 2013 by Akudo Iheakanwa and her best friend. During these formative years, when two friends were trying to juggle full-time jobs and part-time studies, Shekudo was a fun project – something beyond the bounds of how serious life can sometimes be. The pair made clothes for friends, predominantly using recycled denim. And there was an inkling that they were on to something. 

Shekudo went through many twists and turns over the period of 3 years. But in 2016, when Akudo moved to Lagos, Nigeria, she took the conceptual framework of Shekudo with her and decided to make it happen. 

The move into the shoe production space was intuitive. Nigeria only had a handful of small-scale artisans who were producing high heels for women, with most of the country’s supply being imported from various parts of the world. There was a gap. There was a golden opportunity. And after some research and building a creative network in Lagos, Akudo set out to make a name for herself as a shoe designer and manufacturer situated at the heart of Africa. 

In 2016, there was only Akudo and 1 shoemaker running the show. Today, Shekudo supports a team of 25, made up of artisans and administrative staff who work from home and in satellite shops across the city. Shekudo has crossed continents, with customers in the Netherlands, UK, and Australia.

I can’t resist calling Shekudo creations ‘foot and shoulder candy’, not only because they’re irresistibly colourful, but because they embody that same sense of fun and playfulness that inspired the creation of the brand back in 2013. 

If you’re new to the traditional craftsmanship techniques of Nigeria, Shekudo will make a fascinating introduction to the world of Aso-Oke. Loosely translated as “clothes from the up-country”, Aso-Oke is a fabric traditionally crafted and worn by the Yoruba tribe, which originated from the south-west region of Nigeria. Aso-oke is made using a hand-woven technique, using threads made out of cotton. Akudo and her team of artisans create this fabric using a narrow strip loom that is powered by foot. The use of dye is avoided and if the fabric needs to be rinsed, it is done in a small bucket of water. This makes for a very low-impact production process, that makes use of off-cuts and wasted fabric, and leather from various parts of the world.

As Akudo explains, “each Shekudo shoe passes through the hands of no less than three artisans. The team forms a production line, starting with the person who makes the heel, to the person who weaves the fabric, to the embroiderer who adds the finer details. That’s what’s so magical about each piece – it’s created by human hands, and each pair of hands has a story. Shekudo shoes are made for women who want to know those stories – who want to know more about the talented artists of Africa.” 

For Akudo, there has never been a better time to build an African brand. It is, in many regards, the next frontier for development and progress and change. And who better to lead the charge than sustainable fashion brands who are driven by a mission to revive the values and principles that were long forgotten and overshadowed by the advent of mass production? This is the ‘why’ behind Shekudo – to build an artisanal hub in Africa, that Africans can be proud of and share with the rest of the world. 

As she explains: “It’s a brand for people who have tapped into life’s potential and tuned into themselves. It’s about fashion and aesthetic but it’s also about an outward expression of soul – the African soul.”