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Leilani Lawani Bringing quality to Nigerian fashion with Koélé


The world of fashion is constantly in a state of flux, and as it evolves we are introduced to creatives who thrive in the #BuyNigerian era. Leilani Lawani is the owner and creative director of Koélé, a bag and sandals company which aims at bringing good quality products to Nigerians. The brand explores different elements of bold prints, texture and bright colours, allowing it to be quite diverse and appealing to a variety of people.

Born to a Togolese father and a Ghanaian mother, Lawani spent over half her life in Cameroon, Nigeria and America. She explains, “I spent years in Cameroon before going to St Mayfield Convent in UK. From there I went to University of Maryland Eastern Shore.”Guardian Life had a short chat with Lawani, as she talks about her creative process and building her brand’s identity.

How did you initially become interested in fashion? Was this the career path you have planned?

It was early in 2015 that I got the courage to start Koélé. I have always enjoyed fashion and would see bags in stores and would think about how I would change them to suit my quirky style. I never once thought I would have a bag and sandals business. Being an entrepreneur was never part of my goals.

How did you start building your identity in the industry?

It has been mostly through word of mouth. My customers like the brand and are constantly wearing the slippers and bags. I rely on their referrals and social media. It is rewarding when you go to events and see people wearing your brand, some will approach me and tell me that they wear the slippers daily because they are so comfortable or that they have given my number to their friends.


Give us a slight breakdown of your creative process?

I usually work best late at night when there are no distractions. I put on some music and begin my creative process. First I have to picture what I want to design. I get inspired by what is currently in fashion, then I tweak it to my liking. I work with colors and textures and use leather and fabric that either complement each other or clash just to create something unique. There are days when I am not inspired and will not design bags for weeks…then there are other days when I come up with various designs and it just flows.


Who are your inspirations at the moment?

Anya Hindmarch. She has created some amazing bags that are fun and unique.


Tell us about major challenges you have?

Hiring of staff, not having a consistent supply of materials and the high cost of production are a few of the challenges that we face.


Do your life experiences or background have anything to do with your work?

Living in multiple countries has moulded me into the person that I am today. I am very open-minded and easily relate to people from different backgrounds and cultures.  I believe this helps me create styles that may cater to more than one group of people i.e. people from different countries, interests and across age groups. Living in America for many years has helped me as a business owner because I learned about customer service being the one important tool to having a successful business. I have a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The customer is always right and I will bend over backwards until my client is satisfied.


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