Tayo Shonekan is a ray of sunshine on a grey afternoon that is threatening to get even darker. As soon as her face comes up on the screen, the first thing I notice is a huge grin that immediately puts me at ease and one that she clearly shares with all her customers and tries to bring into her lifestyle pieces.
“I don’t know how to explain it. I call this place [the studio] my happy place and that is how I want customers to feel when they come here and when they buy a piece. It is kind of like an inner joy that you can’t explain or express, and the more you get a piece of Aimas you are happy. That’s mainly the feeling, the joyful feeling. And I get a lot of feedback and they always say how they love it and how they use it all the time. It really does bring me a lot of joy.”
A joyful feeling wasn’t necessarily what she had in mind when Tayo stared Aimas back in 2003. “I was still living in the UK after I got married. Shortly after, I became pregnant with my first child, and I remember at the time, I was wondering- when I started doing my research on creches and nannies- I found out that childcare in the UK was very, very expensive. If I was to get any form of childcare, I would literally be using whatever money I was making to pay for it. So I just thought to myself, there is no point; let me just stay at home and look after my child. It was while I was at home, and I was thinking, ok, what can I do instead of just sitting at home and that was really when the idea of Aimas came about.”
But she did not immediately think of sequined and bejewelled throw pillows for her first product. “Aimas started off as a t-shirt brand. So the idea was what can I immediately do? And I thought t-shirts, of course, everyone is familiar with t-shirts, everyone wears t-shirts. But then I was thinking, if I’m in England, everybody knows what a t-shirt is and everybody wears a t-shirt, what am I going to do that is a bit different?” This was how the idea of the image of an African woman became the signature of every Aimas piece.
Why the African woman? “I wanted to be able to really express a little of my background, a little bit of my culture, a little bit of my heritage. And to present it in a way that was palatable to the world. So we’re bringing it to everyone, and we did not want to bring it in a way that only Africans would relate. We wanted to bring it in a way that everybody could relate to it.”
How did Aimas transition from a t-shirt only brand to a lifestyle brand, one that churns out some of the most unique and artistic throw-pillows in the world today? “When I started, I did t-shirts, but I also did accessories, and they were more my thing than the clothes. We had things like neckpieces and hairpieces: I even made some bags. And of course, just as a natural progression, when we decided oh, we want to be a lifestyle brand, we said, ok, it would really be nice to have home accessories, lifestyle accessories, and that was how the throw pillows came in. Now, anyone can take an African print and make something. But for me, I said no, we have to still be able to give our pillows the Aimas touch. So, the way the throw pillows are is the same way our t-shirts are. It has the image of the woman hand-printed and embellished as part of the signature style of Aimas.”
The Aimas throw pillows are made using either cotton or silk which are carefully sourced by the team to make sure they pass the brand’s standard. Next, they are sewn by the workshop tailors and then taken to the printer who swing-prints a previously hand-drawn image of the African woman onto the pillow. The pillows then make their way back to the workshop where they then go through the embellishment process which involves artisans applying every bead and sequin by hand. Once it’s done, they fill it up.
“As you can imagine, they are fantastic conversation starters and are very, very popular. The feedback that we’ve received has been phenomenal. People love them. A lot of people use them as showpieces, they put them on chairs and they don’t want people to sit on them cos they are decorative pieces. They are perfect as the ultimate gift and for your home as well, they are very nice and vibrant. When they are in your home, they just make you smile.”
Tayo tells me she has never seen them being used for anything other than chair furnishings, but “what I do know is that they are actually used for functions, like in places where they can be seen and admired.” Like all her pieces, the throw pillows are for anyone who sees themselves differently and wants to express themselves in a distinct way. “We don’t like to follow the crowd, and I believe that is one thing that draws people to the brand because they know that when they purchase something, it speaks to them in a way that allows them to express themselves, not like they are following everybody else.”
What should we expect from Aimas in the future then? “We’re looking to expand our offerings for the home accessories. So we are looking to do small furniture items like lamps and decorative items. Nothing big, just more accents. We are also looking to do mugs and little crockery that would have the signature woman on them. These are the ideas we are considering for our home range.”
Does this mean that Aimas will be ditching clothes in the future? “No, we are not moving: it’s all-encompassing,” says a laughing Tayo. “We are doing it all together. That is why it is a complete fashion and lifestyle brand. You come here and find things for your body, you find things for your home, you’ll find things for your kids, you’ll find things for your friends. That has always been my vision for the brand: a place that you can come and find a bit of everything, almost like a treasure trove. So it’s not like we are moving away from one to the other, we are doing all of it together.”