Wednesday 22nd of March 2023

Nairobi, Kenya

Meet Frank Aghuno Creative Director Of the Blindingly Brilliant Brand Fruché

The first time I saw Fruché was at Lagos Fashion Week 2018. I was sitting in the second row, slowly fading as I battled the onset of catwalk fatigue when the relatively unknown designer showed his SS19 collection.

I sat up.

Fruché is undeniably one of the most exciting new designers to come out on the scene and the collection was a stylish interpretation of the modern Nigerian women, the metropolitan muse who infuses her heritage with her contemporary taste .

The collection was inspired by Bini women and the embellishments were representative of their rich culture. The brand’s  Creative Director Frank Aghuno explained, “Powder blue to represent water, feathers to represent the bird of creation, burgundy from the traditional…velvet wrappers tied by Bini women.” Since then, Fruché has continued to delight with their colourful creations.

Word by Ntianu Obiora

A Story Worth Telling

Frank Aghuno has been creating since the tender age of 11, cutting up his mother’s wrappers and hand-sewing his own pieces. Self-taught in every sense of the word, Frank is a sum of all his experiences. He says, “I haven’t had the privilege of attending fashion school yet. Most of my knowledge comes from doing a lot of research and mentorship from Mother, a former fashion designer.

My school being on strike while studying finance at the University of Lagos really pushed me to start something. My cousin taught me to operate the machine and from there I bought fabrics and made my first collection with just N5000. My twin brother Dricky Stickman painted the backdrop for that collection and my younger sister and classmate were my models. We put it up online and luckily for us Bella Naija posted it.

The collection was well received and we got a lot of offers to purchase the pieces. I was very naive but thankful I was doing something I loved.”

Fruché, a combination of Frank’s English name and one of his Igbo names, Uche, is a stunning combination of Nigerian craftsmanship with a feminine sensuality that is luxuriously modern.

Frank explains, “Over the years I’ve experimented a lot with different techniques and my design process is still very experimental because I am self taught so I do enjoy challenging myself and think of new ways to push the boundaries of design and find different ways of telling our story.

Speaking of storytelling, social media has become essential for creatives to reach out and connect and resonate with their audience. Having successfully harnessed the emotional power of stories, they are finding ways to translate their art through the screen and building a loyal following with just a smartphone and a vision. Frank speaks on the way social media has enhanced his brand and allowed him to reach a much wider audience but stresses the importance of talent above all else.

Social media is important these days but I think the first thing you need to have is an excellent product. The internet is the world’s first introduction to your brand and it is easily accessible to consumers all over the world. Budding designers should take the time to learn and find out who they are as designers.

What makes your work unique? Research is important. The internet was my teacher growing up. I was obsessed with the late Lee McQueen. I still love his work so much and was inspired by his designs, his process and his career trajectory.

Restoring the Balance

Being a relative newcomer on the scene, Frank is more than happy to pay homage to the women who paved the way for the industry to be what it is today and women who have personally inspired him on his design journey. “I am very much inspired by Deola Sageo, Maki Oh and Lisa Folawiyo. These women have been at it for years and show no signs of slowing down. I love their drive and creativity.They’re pioneers of our industry and they contributed tremendously to the rise of African fashion and have put a global eye on the Nigerian fashion scene.”

I try to discuss topics like feminism, gender inequality, sexuality and the environment because I truly believe my purpose isn’t just to make clothes but to tell stories of progressiveness even within our culture

Talking about who the Fruché woman is, Frank describes her as “free spirited, adventurous, and full of depth and committed to living her best life.” Frank is impressively vocal about what that woman represents and how he tried to infuse his personal politics into his designs.

“With each new season/ collection I try to discuss topics like feminism, gender inequality, sexuality and the environment because I truly believe my purpose isn’t just to make clothes but to tell stories of progressiveness even within our culture. Our ancestors from precolonial times had so many practices and beliefs that are misconstrued to be “western culture/ influences” when in fact our people have engaged in these practices for eons.”’

Frank touched upon Nigerian culture and how what we perceived to be Western influence was actually steeped in our own beliefs of divine feminity and the power of female energy. Whereas many may claim ‘feminism’ has come along to ‘spoil’ our traditions, in essence, it may just be restoring a long upset balance. For Frank, you cannot divorce feminism from Fruché as it is at the heart of everything he designs.

“Feminism plays a huge role in my life and brand aesthetic. I’m very inspired by my mother, who is a vocal feminist. She never subscribed to the traditional gender roles. I think it all stems from watching her from when I was a child. There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism. Feminism really is common sense, it’s women asking to be treated justly and as equals, girls given the same opportunities as boys. Literally your fellow human being saying give me my right to freedom.

I think once society grasps that women just want to live freely everyone would see feminism not as this big scary word but as a driving force for greater justice. We have two shirts from our last collection that says “Freedom is my birthright” and this is what I truly believe.”

For Frank, subscribing to these beliefs is the key to the future success of Nigeria. For him, empowerment means hope and that hope is something we hold on to in the hope of creating a better future not just for young women but for the next generation collectively.

The Fall and the Rise of Design

The common theme between Nigerian designers is their collective frustration at a system that appears to work against them at every opportunity. Logistically, producing in Nigeria is a double-edged sword and one that often spells the end for young designers. “I think that moment of wanting to give it all up comes once a week.

There are so many challenges you face here as a young designer that most don’t go through in other parts of the world. If there were more internationally renowned fashion schools, production houses and constant electricity, manufacturing in Nigeria wouldn’t be as tedious.”

Fruché is undeniably one of the most exciting new designers to come out on the scene

Throwing yet another spanner in the works is the current COVID19 pandemic which has seen the world brought to a standstill and causing entire industries to reevaluate their purpose, value and how they fit into this new normal. For Frank, the one good thing that will come out of a post-COVID world for designers is the onus on sustainability, something that African designers have been championing forever.

“I think post-covid we will start to see a shift in the global fashion industry, even now designers are looking at more sustainable ways to produce, making less but paying workers more. I think the luxury market would do even more work to ensure that there is less consumption and less impact on the environment. Nigerian and African luxury designers have used sustainable practices for years.

I don’t know a single African that throws away or burns perfectly good clothes all in the name of brand preservation. For years our ancestors have passed articles of clothing from generation to generation. One could say sustainability is a part of our culture. Post- COVID, I think fast fashion brands have a lot to learn. Workers need to be paid fairly and sustainable practices need to be adapted at all levels of manufacturing. The less we produce, the less waste there is.

Nigerian luxury brands for instance would never produce 100 – 200 pieces of the same article of clothing. We use our local adire, aso oke, akwete, akwa ocha fabrics which are basically couture techniques that we’ve learnt to make from our forefathers. It’s about creating jobs but most importantly it’s about conscious production and appreciating our own culture.”

The world having its eye on Africa, specifically his brand, is not something that is new to Frank. Thanks to its profound debut, Fruché has attracted a considerable amount of international interest, something that Frank hopes to leverage on for future seasons.

“In the coming seasons we will be looking at international showcases and retail options. With sponsors on our side I’m sure we can make this happen. Hopefully we can continue to tell our stories and inspire the new generation. Currently, our pieces can be found at The Folklore, Industrie Africa, Ditto Africa and  Zazaii  but in the future, the sky’s the limit.”

Content courtesy of Bella Naija

Exclusive Interview With Gulsun Ahmed, CEO Of Igulsun Leather

Igul Leather creates elegant and stylish leather pieces that can be purchased in Kenya. We sat down with Gulsun Ahmed, the founder of Igulsun Leather for an exclusive interview on what drives her as a designer.

How did you start your journey in fashion?

Gulsun Ahmed: I have always loved fashion, carrying lovely bags, wearing lovely shoes,  dressing to my level best. So I realized, what is the one item that women can’t live without…handbags.

What type of handbags? Being a member of Fashion Agenda Afrika, many women were saying that leather bags are scarce.  That was the time that I was thinking of what can I do? Yes, I want to do something in fashion but which line? Do I want front-line, accessories, handbags? Then I said leather. What can I do? I love designing, I love being creative then I went into leather and of course, the market needs leather.

Did you go to school? Where

Gulsun Ahmed: I schooled here and abroad being mixed race here and there. I have an international background and I did learn marketing and sales.

Where do you source your leather from? Kenya?

Gulsun Ahmed: No.

Where is your leather from?

Gulsun Ahmed: I choose my leather from Iran.

Why Iran?

Gulsun Ahmed: They have the best leather and I use buffalo leather. It’s the only leather you can be able to get in, customize and stitch it comes out perfectly.

Have you ever been to Ethiopia since I hear that they also have leather?

Gulsun Ahmed: Yes, but the logistics and customs are a bit expensive that I can say, and to be able to do business with Ethiopians that connection is not as easy as people think. They’re a bit rigid in their market.

In the future, would you want to use leather from Kenya if it was possible?

Gulsun Ahmed: Honestly, yes, I would but I’d prefer if we could have manufactures and stitchers. People who can give me an exact design of a bag, that I want apart giving me rugged leather. I want a perfect handbag, perfect stitchings, perfect cutting, threading, that’s what I want.

 We do have good leather but we don’t have good manufacturers to produce the designs that people want in the market. So, it forces us to travel to China, Iran, the West to come up with fantastic designs and sell locally and again that is very expensive.  If i can produce this bag in Kenya probably I’ll sell one bag for even 80 dollars but since I have to travel, flight, accommodation, customs, then the costs shot up.

I agree that we don’t have many industries, usually, the come up and collapse like Rivatex.

Gulsun Ahmed: Again, the cost-effectiveness of building these factory/company. The reason as to why people come up and collapse is that you come up very excited but you realize that the market can’t afford you. It’s not that the market can’t afford you but where you purchase your products is far, your entire raw material is outsourced and imported so everything goes up.

That’s when you realize that most people don’t have the grit. You consume your entire capital to produce a certain thing then it stays in your shop or in your house so that’s how some fashion houses come and some even disappear. it’s pathetic for most designers to keep up because most people want to be trendy but they don’t look at the cost.

If I can go to LC Waikiki and get a bag that almost looks like leather and I can get it for 3k or 5k then why do I need to go for a genuine leather handbag at Ksh 18 000. The consumer expenditure is different so we fashion designers want to give the best but who are our consumers.. unless you’re really targetted in marketing to know your consumer then you’ll survive.

Can you tell us the process behind designing one handbag?

For me to get my entire dispatch, it took me 4 months for six designs. Reason being that there was a lot of trial and errors to the point that, the blueprint should fit how the handbag should look like exactly. So the guys had a tough time since it was my first time dealing with them being a foreigner and also the language barrier. Again language barrier, if it was done in Kenya then we would not suffer.

Can you break down the process a bit more?

I go choose my leather, choose my colour, choose my accessories, what type of metal do I want, I produce my blueprint then from there boom stitching continues. So in the process, I tell them exactly how I want my handbag to look like so most of the time since I’m not doing bulk.  Bulk is way faster as compared to a limited quantity which is more expensive.

How old is your brand?

Gulsun Ahmed: I am one month old but I’m doing well. I’m very grateful and delighted that it’s been one month and I’m a young fashion designer. Igul Leather is very new out there.  My customers are really appreciating it and every single day, everywhere I carry my bag, people notice my leather and my stitching.  I’ve had quite a few people from abroad that have requested for my products via DHL. So yes I’m doing quite well.

Do you have any advice for any fashion designers interested in the leather industry?

Gulsun Ahmed: Always be sure of what exactly, you want. What you’re trying to indulge yourself in, you can say accessories, leather but that’s not where your passion lies so you’ll give up so soon

Don’t imitate anyone. It’s hard work producing something that belongs to you. I’m actually in the process of patenting all of my designs because they’re mine. Don’t go buy something and then brand it. Do the hard work, people will appreciate your brand based on your creativity and ownership and that’s when you’ll enjoy the fruits of your brand.

You’ll be so happy with your brand, no-one can adapt it, take it or copy it. You have every right to sue them.

One more thing, when it comes to capital be very careful about it how you raise it. Don’t be someone’s slave out there to take money to be able to start your company. No, find means and ways to grow your capital so that you can have independence in your business.


Follow Igulsun Leather on Twitter @gulsoun 

Content Courtesy Of Nairobi Fashion Hub 


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