‘My love for antique inspired my furniture brand’
Demi Owoseje is the Founder and Creative Head at Majeurs Chesterfield, a company that specialises in all types of leather and fabric furniture, including wardrobes, kitchen cabinets and all interior upholsteries. After starting her company seven years ago in London, Owoseje’s zeal to come home arose from her zeal to connect with and add value to her roots. The architect, who graduated from London Metropolitan University in 2011 and was raised in London, in this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, shares her love for creating and reinventing pieces as well as putting up in Nigeria
How long have you been in Nigeria?
I have been in Nigeria for two years now. I wasn’t raised here. I grew up in England and so the country is still new to me. I came two years ago but before then, I came on holidays with my family. I did feasibility studies and we started experimenting the market and investigating what was here in terms of interiors, designs and products. We have a few clients now. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), we have been in business from 2010 to 2011.
How did you venture into furniture-making?
I am a qualified architect and when I graduated, it was difficult for me to find a job. However, I bought a leather sofa for my home in the U.K. and I wasn’t happy with it because it wasn’t what I thought. I wanted to buy a thick piece of old foam but what was delivered was newer. It wasn’t an old antique like I expected and I wasn’t happy, so I kept looking for the genuine piece. When I eventually found the one I wanted, they were too many for my house. I have a flat in London so I sold all of it and kept one, and made a lot more profit. Eventually, I was buying more damaged goods and I started fixing it myself. I would destroy it and would also clean and restore. I would buy an old leather and by the time I finish with it, it has become brand new. I then sell it and make profit. That was how the business started. In England, there is a huge amount of respect for antique furniture; it’s not like Nigeria where people like things new and shiny. So I started attracting a lot of loyal clients and important people through my work and by having these clients including the Prime Minister and Prince Charles, the company grew very fast. We started making new stuffs as well as old; the module was to blend old things with new things to create something very unique.
Your furniture all have buttons piercing through them, is that a signature?
The company, Majeurs Chesterfield, is basically the first and only authentic English design in furniture-making. The very distinctive button work is the British way of making furniture, and it is internationally renowned. So we pride ourselves in this authentic British upholstery. Chesterfield is the furniture I have always loved. It’s my favourite. I love antiques. The older they are, the more beautiful they become. So that stands for my love for Chesterfield, and we name the company after it as our signature look. Majeurs Chesterfield basically is a brand that blends between the old and new. In England, when we say it is old, then it is literally very old. In Nigeria, when we say old, we mean the style, the elegance, the history, but the pieces are brand new. So we blend old and new in terms of style, where traditional meets contemporary and that is what Majeurs Chesterfield stands for.
How has the Nigerian market been like?
It is an interesting time. We are in this computer age. This has made the world a global village. There are Nigerians who knew the brand before I came here. That makes it easier for us. However, social media has made the world much smaller and it continues to make the world even smaller. I make a beautiful piece of furniture, put it online, thousands of people will see it. Basically, that is how we have been able to reach out to Nigerians. Nigeria has a great connection to the computer age. People are more connected than ever before. If I can post something today and 10 customers call to know, I think is because we have very unique products. It is easy for us to stand out.
How do you assess the growth of your business in UK and Nigeria?
It’s a different module. The business module is slightly different in the U.K. It depends on how you look at it. Obviously, the pound is always stronger but at the same time, I think since we’ve been here for two years and to compare my first two years in Nigeria to my first two years in the U.K, the difference is that we didn’t do as much business because the business was just growing. At the same time, we probably had no exposure in terms of what we were doing. We didn’t have much attention. The Nigerian market is bigger. It is substantially bigger than the U.K. There is less competition. It is not as fierce as in the U.K.
So, will you say you are here to stay?
Oh yes! I have come home. I was in London a few weeks ago. I am always travelling because I have commitments both in the U.K. and Nigeria. I love being here. This is my home and it has always been my home. I am very comfortable here. As you can see I have a cold, I hate the weather in the United Kingdom. This is one of the major reasons it was easy for me to come here. I despise the cold. So literally, I live for the summer and I don’t like to come out in the winter. When my family members suggested that I should take my products to Nigeria, that people would appreciate it there, the first thing that came to my mind was: Nigeria? I didn’t know much about Nigeria. How would I possibly begin came to my mind. My second thought was: the weather is really hot.
The weather is amazing. I’ve not lived in Nigeria as an adult; I came as a child during holidays and was not exposed. As a holiday maker, you would not go anywhere, you just go to the family houses and say hello to your uncles and aunts, then go back home.
Coming to Nigeria as an adult, I was free so I could get more experience. The weather was fantastic and social life was wonderful. Nigerians are very interesting and incredibly funny people. These are factors that drove me to making the decision to stay. I am very comfortable here and very happy, too. Yes, to compare Nigeria and the U.K., both are different. I’ve settled here. I will only go to London on holidays or when I need a break, because we all know we need some break from work. I will like to go quite often because all my friends and family are still there. I am here alone here, so it would be good for me to go back and catch up with them.
What do you do when you are not working?
I love to read and I also love seeing Nollywood films. I am not in tune with my Nigerian language and Nollywood has helped me a lot.
What is your favourite Nigerian meal?
I love Ofada rice. I sweat a lot, so I take a lot of water.
What is your message to young women?
Chase your passion; find your real essence within your passion and follow it. Everything within you is there for a reason. God has given it to you and it is your job to find and nurture it.