The Q&A: Joel Lani Founder and Designer Adetoun Ajeigbe
Words by The Folklore Team
Lagos-based accessories brand Joel Lani produces handbags crafted from the finest leather and exotic skins. Under the creative direction of founder Adetoun Ajeigbe, each Joel Lani handbag is put together by hand in Nigeria, turning raw natural materials into stylish and functional pieces with plenty of character.
Ajeigbe left a career in the corporate world to pursue her creative passions, training with leather designers in London and studying in New York. Inspired by her African heritage, nature and inspirational women across all works of life, Ajeigbe has made colorful leather accessories her calling card. From shoulder bags to cross-body styles and clutches, Joel Lani pieces are designed to stand out thanks to Ajeigbe’s use of geometric shapes, textured animal skins and clean finishes.
The designer also puts community at the heart of her work at Joel Lani, sourcing high-quality raw materials locally in Lagos and employing homegrown Nigerian craftspeople to bring her designs to life.
Below, the founder and creative director of Joel Lani talks to The Folklore Edit about what it’s like starting your own brand, her creative process and the most fulfilling part of her work.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I’m the creative director of Joel Lani. We design and make beautiful leather accessories from our factory in Lagos, Nigeria. I’d describe myself as a very bubbly, outgoing, chatty, friendly person.
When did you launch Joel Lani? Where does the name come from?
2016, formally. But Joel Lani has been in existence since 2006. The name is a combination of my son’s first and middle names.
Can you tell us about your experience starting your own brand? Were there any challenges or surprises?
Starting a small business isn’t as easy as people think. It involves a lot of work, especially as you’re trying to put the right processes into place. We’re still growing, we’re still working hard to make sure that we’re getting the process right daily. For me, I learn new things/experiences every day. It’s an enjoyable ride but it’s also a very tasking one – you’re continuously working, continuously thinking and you have to get it right at each point. But the good thing is, when you do make a mistake, you can always go back and put it right.
What I found challenging was that when I started out, I just wanted to be creative person, putting things together and make beautiful accessories. I didn’t realize that with it came a lot of accounting, paperwork, admin and HR, and many other roles that I did not think I would have to do. Often, it’s still something that I overlook and try to balance.
Can you tell us about your creative process? How does a design begin?
We start out by doing a collage or storyboard of different ideas, which could be inspired by nature, architecture, items my children play with, anything that’s around me, really. From the storyboard, I go on to draw sketches and lines of the ones that I particularly like. Then we sit down and create mock-ups of the designs we like to see if it works. After that, we make samples to see if the idea of the bad does really work, after which we decide to go into production, into how many we’re going to make for each design and each color.
Your products are handmade by local artisans, which contributes to the development of your community. Did you always intend to be a socially responsible brand and embrace a slow production process from the start?
Our products are made by local artisans here in Lagos and, yes, that had always been the intention. We particularly try to employ more women than men and that’s because we want young women to be able to support themselves and their families. It brings so much joy to be able to see them happy; when they get their paychecks, it brings a smile to their faces. You feel like you’re bringing a change to their lives.
In instances when we’ve had production issues and considered taking production overseas, we know that if that happens, we’ll be taking away people’s livelihoods. For that reason, we’ve decided to keep it a primarily Nigerian production. So far, that has been working and we hope that it continues to work! It’s not easy and it’s quite difficult, but seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing people who love to come to work every morning makes us feel good as a company.
If you could only carry one Joel Lani handbag for the rest of the year, which one would you choose and why?
It would be the Tote Bag, which I have been carrying for about three years! I choose this because it is beautiful, roomy and big enough to accommodate all my stuff and I don’t have to change it out all the time.
What is next for Joel Lani? Where would you like to see your brand, and yourself, in five years’ time?
I would like to see Joel Lani in department stores and beautiful high-end boutiques around the world. In particular in the US, in London, Paris and Japan.