Interview 54kibo: The Height of African Design

Lamp by Modern Gesture

APiF: Please introduce your brand.
Nana Quagraine: 54kibo is a new lifestyle brand and e-commerce destination for a carefully selected array of contemporary African design for home, children, and accessories.

We’ve been working on the concept for 54kibo since late 2017, with the site launching late 2018. 54 is the number of countries in Africa – Kibo is the highest summit on the continent, on Kilimanjaro – to us, 54kibo symbolizes the height of African design.

APiF: What motivated and inspired you to start 54Kibo?
Nana: While I now live in Brooklyn, I spent time commuting (yes, commuting!) between Brooklyn and Johannesburg for four years while working in infrastructure finance based in South Africa. During that period my husband and I were decorating our home in Brooklyn, and I found so many beautiful and unique contemporary African design items in South Africa that I wanted, but they were incredibly difficult to source in the United States.

Knowing that there was such a wide universe of talented product designers in Africa that much of the world couldn’t easily access, 54kibo was created to showcase the breadth of contemporary African design. We do so by curating, procuring, and enabling more direct, easy access to design consumers and talented product designers.

APiF: What is your professional background?
Nana: I’m a former engineer, strategy consultant, investment banker, and infrastructure fund manager with a no longer secret passion for design. Starting this business has certainly enhanced my appreciation for the determination, hard work, hustle, resilience, relationships, experience, and talent required to achieve success as an entrepreneur.

APiF: Any fave or new interior designers you would like to share with us?
Nana: Part of the fun of starting 54kibo has been meeting interior designers – we’ve been so awed by the incredible talent of a number of the interior designers we’ve recently collaborated with especially those we’ve connected to through the Black Artist + Designers Guild. Seeing Beth Diana Smith, Kesha Franklin of Halden Interiors, and Bailey Li’s vignettes (they had to create room concepts using donated items) at the recent Housing Works’ Design on a Dime fundraiser, was so inspiring to us – we wanted to move right into their concepts!

Accessories by Eva Sonaike

APiF: How did you like the ‘Africa’ collection Oeverallt from IKEA – exposure or exploitation?
Nana: We love the collection and honestly think it was great exposure – and additional validation for the market’s interest in contemporary African design. It has been intriguing to see the enthusiasm shared by many as articles about the launch have been circulated among friends and shared back with us. At the end of the day, we want to help create a market and platform for an incredible array of product designers that already exist – this collection was an excellent platform for the designers included, and for opening the world’s eyes to the beauty and breadth of contemporary African design.

APiF: What’s your tip for new businesses/start-ups?
Nana: Cultivate a learning and problem-solving mindset – figure out the right questions to ask and find the most relevant experts in each focus area. It is also incredibly valuable to be flexible and nimble in your approach to your business as you may find yourself having to pivot unexpectedly. We made one significant pivot early on that brought us down a path that we were ultimately grateful for. Aggressively manage risks but assume you will succeed – build your team and systematize processes from day 1 to save time and effort down the line and easily make things more scalable as your business evolves.

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