Winston Udeagha, founder of Nigerian-based leather and fashion accessories brand, Winston Leather, was watching the news one day when a light bulb went off in his head. The story was about a family of cocoa farmers living in Ghana that had never tasted chocolate despite growing the main ingredient that makes the popular treat for consumers in Western countries and even in Africa.
“Just think about all the chocolate that we ate as kids; Mars, Bounty, Dairy Milk, etc. They are all imported from Europe. The plot twist is that the cocoa comes largely from Africa… In my thought process, I had an epiphany. While I was talking to my African counterparts about this, I realised my hypocrisy in all of it,” he said in a 2019 social media post.
“I was guilty of the same thing. I was so proud to mention that my father’s company (God’s Little Tannery) was the company supplying leather to Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. Yet, in my wardrobe (and his), I had all these high-end luxury leather Gucci, LV, etc. We were importing right back.”
“I decided I had to emancipate myself from this mental slavery. Never had it been more apparent to me that indeed ‘change begins with you.’ This was the inspiration for Winston Leather…I am emancipating myself (and hopefully Africa) from mental slavery. So every time you wear a product from Winston Leather, every time you walk in one of our shoes … you’re literally walking out of mental slavery (or at least helping in the process)”
Winston Leather, a subsidiary of God’s Little Tannery, produces leather and leather accessories like handbags, shoes, belts and wallets using techniques Udeagha learnt from his father, who in turn learnt it from relatives. The leather and the products made from it have caught the attention of luxury businesses and lovers all over the world.
Udeagha attributes this to the quality of the leather itself. “For literally hundreds of years, this leather has been the most sought after. It has to do with the breed of the animal that thrives in Nigeria because of the climate, the food, and the vegetation.”
In 2020, Winston Leather began to enjoy a new kind of attention. It was the year of the BLM protests, sparked by the killing of George Floyd. Fashion historian, Shelby Ivey Christie reached out to Udeagha, and together, they released Twitter threads on the luxury industry’s reliance on leather makers in Kano state, with Christie showing off her own Winston Leather bag.
In June of the same year, Winston Leather received its highest sales ever.
Recently, pictures of Beyoncé wearing an Anima Iris pink waist purse made from Winston Leather popped up on the internet, and while it is still too early to say how this will translate to sales, it is clear that it will make an impact.
Even though his eyes are on the international market, Udeagha is careful not to let his gaze stray far from the continent. “A lot of Africans don’t own high-quality leather products,” he says, which explains why his leather accessories are moderately priced. Most of Winston Leather’s handbags range from $55 to $200 so that fashion-conscious consumers can afford luxury items — especially people in his community who manufacture leather but don’t own it themselves.
Udeagha also hopes to contribute to a changing conversation around how luxury is defined, and how traditional definitions of luxury fashion can be limiting to Black creatives who are often barred from such circles.
“My idea of luxury is to be able to express yourself through fashion or other products in a way that is unique to you,” he stated. “There are too many ways that we get divided. I feel as a Black person that I’ve been excluded from a lot.”