54kibo is the premier luxury digital home décor retailer for interior design professionals and consumers.
The brand was launched in 2018 by Nana Quagraine. Nana was inspired after her travels back and forth between over a dozen African countries and her home in Brooklyn, New York.
These travels helped her identify the strengths across the continent that could be exported to the world.
As a black woman, Nana was tired of the existing vocabulary used to describe Africa, blackness and womanhood. After she became a mother, she worried that there are not enough visual symbols, especially in the U.S. to signal to her children that their blackness is valued by society. She wanted them to be proud of their roots and have the same appreciation for Africa and for being a black person that her family instilled in her.
Driven by these multiple experiences, Nana decided to build something that was tangible, something that introduces a new vocabulary for Africa. After exploring a number of ideas over the years, design seemed like a no brainer.
“People globally appreciate beauty. When you see beautiful design in art, fashion or home decor, it is undeniable – it draws you in”, she explained.” The uniqueness and beauty of contemporary African design is undeniable, it invites you to learn, explore its origins, learn something new about Africa, about the diaspora, about the world and hopefully about yourself.”
How would you describe African aesthetic and design?
The 54 in 54kibo represents the 54 countries that are in Africa because every country in the continent has so much creativity and beauty to offer! The African aesthetic is vibrant, unique, and most importantly, visually new and appealing in the home decor category.
Contrary to common knowledge, African design is not limited to tribal designs. It covers a broad spectrum that includes minimalist designs, and colorful, bold, maximalist designs.
Design is driven by people, their daily experiences, aspirations and dreams. With over a billion people in Africa and the diaspora; and thanks to a growing and more demanding middle class with easier access to technology and information, African art and design is flourishing.
African design is adding a flair of innovation to the design world by being truly distinctive in a relatively homogeneous market place. Thebe Magugu becoming the first LVMH prize recipient from Africa, at this point in time is not a coincidence. There is already a pipeline of creative talent in Africa and the diaspora that is ready to be discovered and experienced.
At 54kibo, we’re curating this talent and making it frictionless to shop luxury and uniquely beautiful home decor. For example, we now have a trade program for interior designers, architects and other design professionals which makes it easier to shop from multiple designers from the diaspora on one platform.
This reduces the effort required to research and navigate multiple websites, negotiate terms and navigate logistics, payment systems, customs, quality issues and multiple other hurdles. We received a shipment of the Ile-Ila Alaafia rocker chair today and we’re all still in awe of its bold design and beauty! Now our customers can enjoy this beauty without having to think about and deal with the hurdles.
To what would you attribute the growing popularity of African aesthetics?
There continues to be an explosion in demand for Contemporary African art and fashion in the U.S. and globally. For example when I first saw art by Eddie Ilunga, from Democratic Republic of Congo, three years ago in New York it was selling for $10k, this month his work sold for over $75k at Sothebys.
That is an amazing return on investment. For the home furnishings sector, which is often influenced by art and fashion trends, two years ago IKEA partnered with Design Indaba in South Africa to create a global collection, featuring a collection of prolific African designers that launched this year. We are thrilled to see this, as it is extraordinarily validating for our business proposition.
In general, we now live in a world that is increasingly digitally connected and global; and there is a growing population of consumers with cosmopolitan tastes who are eager to explore the undiscovered corners of this world. They’re looking for the unique, the unexplored.
There is a whole creative world in Africa and the diaspora – some of the world’s most beautiful and least well-known designs – all waiting to be experienced. For black consumers, in addition to the above, our value-add is also representation.
Our first shipment of this exquisite pillow collection from Yael et Valerie based in Haiti, sold out before we could even list it! We’re providing access to a previously overlooked source of beauty, from designers who look like them. Offering a new and fresh perspective of design to all our customers and introducing designers in Africa and the diaspora to the world.
How do you decide what items to carry?
When choosing our items, we look at the quality of each piece, the distinctiveness of the design, the designer’s story and most importantly, consider the needs of our customers and where the piece might reside in their life.
There is so much talent in the industry, it’s hard to narrow down our selection but we have a team with experienced merchandisers who have worked in the home category at major retailers.
We also work closely with leading interior designers in the New York area who help guide our selections. For example, we’ve met a lot of amazing product designers and interior designers through the Black Artist + Designers Guild, founded by Malene Barnett.
This Summer, 54kibo participated in the BADG Transcend space at NY NOW Trade Show. The space was designed and transformed with bold and creative pieces by interior designers Beth Diana Smith and Kiyonda Powell. Their space clearly showcased black design in a modern and beautiful way, which also won them the IFDA award for most Innovative Design.
Where do you see the business in 5 years?
It is ambitious but we want to build a global retail brand. To become the world’s go-to source for home décor with contemporary African design. We currently have over 30 incredible designers on the platform and will be adding more. We have 450 skus listed but this is less than 2% of the products available to us.
So, if customers prove us right and if we can achieve our sales targets in the short term, we plan to expand our products by 5x over the next twelve months. We look forward to continue collaborating with more product designers, interior designers, other retailers, and the media to showcase Contemporary African Design throughout the US, and ultimately, the world.
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