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Innovative Designer, Lara Cookey, Talks Her Brand

LARA OLADUNNI

Starting Nojiart

When I picked up my canvases, acrylics, charcoals and pens after a hiatus of over 20 years, I was painting for personal enjoyment. Through the process of painting, a transformation occurred as I reconnected with a long-lost form of expression. The response to my paintings was so positive; I got offers to buy them. The response to my paintings took me on a path to creating art that interfaced with everyday life. The reawakening of my artistic abilities opened up a desire to explore different modes of expression. I began looking at the intersection between graphics, digital and fine art. My digital drawing skills are entirely self-taught, and I found that it enabled me to create magic almost at the speed of spontaneous thought. This was followed by the inspiration to print one of my designs on a silk scarf so that the art could be enjoyed in a more versatile way, and Noji Art was born. 

The Brand Name

The brand name is derived from my maiden name which is Onajide as you know the ‘A’ is pronounced like an ‘O’ in this Yoruba word, I decided to make it NOJI. My family have been artists and creative people for generations, and the name Onajide means “Renaissance of Art”.

The Story Behind The Designs

My environment inspires me, and as a keen gardener, I have brought my appreciation of the beauty of the earth to my designs. I use these also to express bold femininity in the African woman, about a third of our current portfolio has elegant women wearing gele. We celebrate women everywhere and invite them to join us in enjoying the elegance that the gele bestows on the wearer. 

Working With Silk

When I started, I realised that there were no players creating scarfs of this quality as an object of beauty in themselves. Certain vital features make up the anatomy of a luxury scarf like the purity of the silk, the finishing of the edges and the quality of the printing. For example, speaking of the finishing, ours always come with a hand-rolled hem, and scarf lovers who also patronise Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton, have given us positive feedback about our product. 

Outlet

Our first bricks and mortar outlet is at Fourteen36 Mall on Sanusi Fafunwa Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. 

Expansion Plans

In addition to being stocked all over Nigeria, we would like to expand to other markets and be stocked in all the major fashion capitals of the world. Our production capabilities are well-honed now, and we are confident in our ability to scale. 

Luxury Retail In Nigeria

The luxury market is growing. It is encouraging. What we are watching with interest is the affordable luxury market: where quality and value proposition carry equal weight.

Target Market

Stylish, directional individuals who believe that accessories are a powerful mechanism to express who they are.

Next Big Step

We want to travel more with the brand and are open to exploring collaborations with other brands and outlets. Apart from our product lines, we have worked with international brands like Delta Airlines, Stanbic IBTC and The Wheatbaker on bespoke commissions whether t for corporate gifting or internal use.

Business Environment

The major challenge for us is that the economy has slowed down, and many businesses across board are competing for the same customer.

We have been able to manage challenges by refining and communicating our value proposition and creating new product lines which address needs in a specific manner. For example, our product lines have been expanded to include garments like kaftans and T-shirts as well as men’s accessories. Some of the motifs in the men’s long ties, bow ties and pocket squares are the gangan (Talking Drum) and Danfo buses. We changed the packaging for the shawls and brought to market satin lined pouches made from the ancient craft of hand loomed Aso Oke fabric. 

About Lara Cookey

She is an innovative designer, fine artist, blogger and award-winning entrepreneur. After a foundation in art and design, she graduated with a B.A. Honours in Interior Design from Middlesex University, the U.K. starting work as an interior architect. Subsequently, her diverse design capability is showcased in the range of products she has designed and brought to market. She used her skills honed in the designing and detailing of wooden elements in Interior architecture and created a unique range of playground equipment and learning materials.  More recently, the lifestyle company Noji Art Design.

Her passion to educate children with culturally relevant items for learning through play has produced a body of work which won her the ‘Top Ten Recognition Award’ at the Pan African Women Invent and Innovate (PAWII 2005), and the UNCTAD/Empretec ‘Women In Business Award’ in 2014. After surviving breast cancer, Lara returned to art, which she found therapeutic, and the Noji Art wearable art brand was born. 

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