The founder of 54kibo has an eye for finding artisanal lighting, wall-art, and furniture—all made across 54 countries—that has global appeal.

By Caroline Biggs
August 20, 2020
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portrait of nana quagraine and 54kibo homeware products
Credit: Courtesy of Nana Quagraine

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

If you aren't already hip to 54kibo, then now's the time to discover it. As a home décor brand with contemporary African designs, the company is making major waves in the world of interiors, thanks to their sustainably-made goods. And even more impressive than 54kibo's selection of home décor offerings is the brand's founder and CEO, Nana Quagraine. She launched the brand with a mission to bring African design to the mainstream design world. "I was inspired to launch our brand because I am driven to share African culture with the world and to keep our heritage alive for future generations," she explains. "I chose design as a medium because of its beauty; its sentiment resonates with anyone. Design is a universal language."

Today, Quagraine spends her days curating the brand's collections of one-of-kind furniture and décor accents including lighting, rugs, throw pillows, kids' items, and more. "Our pieces are built using traditional African design techniques with modern expressions and our design partners incorporate sustainable practices in their businesses and processes," she says. "We feel blessed to be a leader of contemporary African design in the retail space, and we hope to continue growing our community and the global awareness of a design lineage that is beautiful and influential, spanning cultures and generations."

Her Inspiration

Quagraine says the idea to start 54kibo was born in 2017, around the same time as her twin children were born, and that her children served as the driving force to turn her dreams into a reality. "My husband and I were hosting a baby-naming ceremony for our family and friends at our home in Brooklyn, New York. There was so much joy in the celebration of the day, but I knew something was missing. I had a moment when I realized that while my children will be growing up in the United States, it is important that they remember and recognize their African heritage and are able to carry these memories and traditions on to future generations."

Connecting with Colleagues Across the Globe

If you aren't already networking with other like-minded professionals in your industry, Quagraine says doing so could transform your career. "In the fall of 2017, our team began working on the concept for our brand: speaking to designers, curating the collections, building the website, and so on," she explains, "and by November of 2018, we launched 54kibo to the world. Although our operations are based out of Brooklyn, New York, we are connected to designers and their businesses located across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and more." This curation is even reflected in their name's inspiration: Kibo (referencing the highest summit in Africa on Mount Kilimanjaro) and 54 (Africa's 54 countries).

Curating a Thoughtful Collection

Quagraine says that 99 percent of the pieces in the 54kibo collection are handmade and that most items, including the best-selling Woven Necklace Pendant Lighting ($485, 54kibo.com) and the Djembe Side Table ($595, 54kibo.com), are exclusive to them. "Every piece is inspired by African design heritage, incorporating techniques such as dyeing, weaving, beading, and woodwork that are synonymous with African design. Our platform is home to the contemporary iterations of centuries-old techniques as well as personal stories that have traveled from generation to generation."

Sustainable Matters

Quagraine says that sustainability is also key to 54kibo's philosophy. "One of the stories we love to share is about sustainability. We have strong relationships with designers who incorporate sustainable practices in their work, bolstering the economy by providing jobs to their respective communities. As we develop new collections, we continue to partner with artists who keep the health of our environment top of mind by incorporating conscious practices in their work."

A Few of the Founder's Favorites

Though it's hard for Quagraine to pick favorites, she says there are a few 54kibo products that she loves whole-heartedly. "The Woven Mirror Artwork ($275, 54kibo.com) is handmade in South Africa, and is a beautiful reflection of traditional techniques translated through a modern lens. While the Nkyimu Organic Swaddles ($40, 54kibo.com) and Savannah Hand-Crocheted Stuffed Toys ($45, 54kibo.com) are incredibly special to me because of my twins. All of our toys are hand-crocheted in South Africa with no harmful chemicals, and I absolutely love seeing their affinity towards these keepsake items."

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