Eva Sonaike: Bringing homes to life
The scarcity of designs, textiles and accessories with vibrant colours that celebrate African aesthetics is the motivation behind Eva Sonaike’s unique brand.
Launched in 2009 in the UK, Eva Sonaike’s unique African-inspired products have been stocked at Selfridge, Liberty and Fenwick and can be found in stores in countries including, South Africa, France, the USA, Hong Kong, Australia and France.
Eva describes her interior designs as ‘a look of luxury modernism with a high dosage of colour representing Africa, especially West Africa.’ Though born in Germany, the joy of finding her heritage in Nigeria greatly inspired the fusion of all the cultural influences Eva wanted but could never find, into her own products.
Today, Eva designs and sells soft furnishings including rugs, cushions, wallpapers and a fabric range. She has collaborated with a wide array of interior decor specialist bathroom experts C.P. Hart and the design course Domestika. Sonaike occasionally offers interior design services to private clients and has another exciting but top-secret collaboration due in 2022.
The journey to creating lovely interior designs did not start as Eva’s top career choice. Her first career was as a journalist on German national television. Eva studied a BA in Journalism at the London College of Printing, an MA in Fashion Journalism at the prestigious London College of Fashion and worked with German national television across different networks. The interior design expert then spent another six years as Fashion Editor in print editorial such as German Elle, In Style and Focus.
Whilst refurbishing her London Docklands apartment, the shift from fashion to interiors happened. Eva found it difficult sourcing and acquiring luxurious homeware with the rich taste of African design she desired. This lit a flame and set Eva on designing her own fabrics for cushions. Here, a business venture was born.
‘My husband and I are both of African descent, and we aspired to high end, quality products to our taste but there was not much on the market that I found appealing. I created a really small collection of cushions for my flat and when my friends all loved them I started to think maybe I could start a small business on the side,’ Eva explains. ‘In hindsight, setting up a business was a very brave thing to do. I was young and had quite a stable career in journalism and was really busy, enjoying my job but I wanted to work more creatively.’
BUILDING A BUSINESS
While Eva was ‘enjoying’ her six months maternity leave, the journey to research her new business idea started. ‘As I journalist I knew how to research, which was invaluable as I had to find out everything myself.’
She sourced a printer to print her designs and a factory to make up accessories. A business contact introduced her to the buyer at Selfridges who put in her first-ever order.
‘We knocked on so many doors and I got more rejections than acceptance,’ Eva said whilst recounting the highs and lows of her business in 2009 through 2010.
Her tenacity was rewarded with listings at Liberty and Fenwick as well as boutique shops but as Eva goes on to explain, ‘then the style aesthetic changed to “British floral” and I had a really tough few years, trying to keep the business afloat. I was doing everything myself from blog writing to marketing to designing to sourcing and managing production. I think many people would have given up. It was much more challenging back then in terms of finding information and getting exposure. There were no Instagram or social media to speak of so you had to really work hard to get your work seen.’
Eva added, ‘I knew I wanted to be an international brand and to see my products globally and I knew from my experience as a journalist that trade shows were key. My first show was the ICFF in New York in 2012. It was a really interesting learning curve. I flew out there by myself and set up everything on my own but it was worthwhile because I had a very successful show and ended up being stocked in lots of boutiques across the US. In 2012, I went to Maison & Objet in Paris – my dream show – and that was a really significant way of reaching a global audience.’
Her instincts indeed stirred her right as her catalogue now features fabrics, wallpapers, pouffes and luxurious rugs, closely identical to the original DNA.
‘Inspiration for new collections is always from West Africa. For me, it’s the most inspiring place. I didn’t grow up there but I still consider it home to a certain extent. When I go “home” I feel my most authentic self. There is so much inspiration. It is full of positive energy, color, design, movement and I still feel passionate about taking this inspiration to the world stage,’ Eva added.
EVA’S BUSINESS NUDGETS
Tell your story with confidence
‘I was 32 when I launched my business. Back then I didn’t have the confidence levels to reach out to certain press and buyers – I had imposter syndrome – whereas if I could turn back time I would reach out to everyone.’
Stay true to your signature style
‘I never go with trends, I do what I like and it works. You need to be aware of trends for marketing and in language you are using, but I think you should never compromise your authenticity; you should always try to be true to yourself. When it comes to my design I have a very clear style. As a designer or creative you go through phases but my signature style of an African story will always be the same.’
Control growth of your business
‘I think it’s really important to control the growth of your business and to never compromise purely for financial gain. I’ve got a really great team. We are a team of three and we are really close. My superpower is my eye for design and color but, like most business owners, I spend 80% of my time running the business and 20% working creatively which means I always have so much energy and ideas for the designing. I’m really happy with my product selection right now and your stockists are a great confirmation that you are doing the right thing.’
Never stop learning
‘You need to build a deep understanding of your industry… I’m still learning all the time about my field. I had no business background and had to teach myself everything the hard way but I can now consider myself a businesswoman.’
Transform your passion into a business
‘The most fundamental thing is to have a passion for whatever you are creating – to live and breathe it. I am extremely passionate about what I am doing; I read about interiors in my spare time. If you have a love for a subject there is never a switch off point.’