• Yinka Ilori, 28, is a Nigerian based in East London, has a BA degree in furniture and product design from London Metropolitan University.

    He uses unwanted furniture to tell stories influenced by Nigerian parables and African materials. Yinka is known for his clean, minimalistic and simple aesthetic with the use of colour and love for Dutch wax. (African Wax prints).

    His exhibitions include: London, New York, Germany and Milan.

    Osumare chair. Image by Perrick Mouton

    Osumare chair. Image by Perrick Mouton

    We step into Yinka’s furniture world:

    How do you tell the stories and what kind of stories do you tell and to which audience?  

    This is furniture that has been thrown away by its user because it is old, damaged or no longer loved, so I save the furniture by giving it another story and narrative inspired by traditional Nigerian parables told to me by my parent while growing up as a child. These are words of wisdom that have shaped me as a young man growing up in society.  The parables touch on themes such as hope, status, race, sexuality and social class. The parables can be shared with people around the world so there is no specific audience, which is the beauty of my work.

    The furniture tells the stories in different elements through found objects that incorporate into my work. These objects are vinateg items that range from lampshades, candles, adornment, colours, dutch wax etc. In addition I play with the elements and the structures of the chair creating minimal and simplistic shapes in a powerful way to enhance the story which becomes a poignant feature of the chair, challenging people’s perceptions and ideologies.

    You have defined your business as bespoke upcycled, turning waste into art. What does this mean?

    This happened along my creative journey as a furniture designer. I started to create furniture in people’s eyes that was a work of art because of the beauty and intricacy of the pieces. Over the years, buyers and other people had described my work as art and have said they would never seat on because it was too beautiful very interesting. As my work developed I started to create furniture that became more un-functional and more people started viewing my work as art.

    When you started your business, what did you start with?

    I started by sourcing old furniture and created my first collection in the back of a garden! After my first collection then I found a studio space in East London.

    Abike Collection

    Abike Collection. Image by Perrick Mouton

    What inspired your first piece and how long did it take you to develop the concept to fruition?

    My parents inspired my first collection which I created three new pieces of work and it took me about 4-5 weeks.

    What were your startup costs and how did you finance the business?

    Starts up costs for me were quite minimal at the time but luckily I received funding from the Prince’s Trust. They provided me with a £3,000 loan which enabled me to start. I used the funding to take part in exhibitions, and create new work for a few years at the same time paying back the loans created from sales, so it fell into place.

    How did you raise funding for you to take your business to the next level?

    I raised funding to take my business to the next level by taking on commissions and collaborations with different clients.

    What was your first point into the world of business?

    My first point into the business world was through working with my mum, she used to run a Nigerian food catering business in London. I used to help her serve the food in parties  she was short of staff, although I can admit that I spent most of the time eating the food!

    How long have you had your partnership with luxury concept store Temple Muse (Nigeria) and what kind of pieces does the concept store retail for you?

    The partnership has gone on for 6 months now and they are retailing my latest collection which launched last year October.

    Why did you select Temple Muse as your partner in Lagos?

    We had been for sometime and we both thought it was the right time to work together and we hope to continue our working relationship and launch more products in the years to come.

    Image by Perrick Mouton

    Image by Perrick Mouton

    Which other stores retail your stock and how do you select your stores?

    My work is currently stocked only in one shop in Nigeria. Also, from London, my store, I sell the pieces.There will be a few more retailers coming in London soon showcasing my new collection.

    How many pieces do you select per store?

    It is usually between 3-4 four pieces of furniture.

    You use two models – business to business and business to customer. Which of these two is the most beneficial to your business and why?

    Business to customer is more beneficial because I get the chance to push my creativity to another level.

    Who are your main clients?

    My main clients vary from lawyers, bankers, interiors designers, art buyers and interestingly I have had some interest from museums.

    How do you create your pieces? Collections per season?

    Collections are created once 1 year. I don’t really have a signature piece. Each piece has its own signature in its own way.

    What are your largest costs? Production or rent?

    Productions costs are my largest cost sure! The most expensive is the spray finishing which is not cheap but at least people comment on the finishing which make me happy all the time.

    Image by Perrick Mouton

    Image by Perrick Mouton

    Your business is currently through brick and mortar. Is e-commerce a plan in the future?

    Yes it is brick and mortar. I really like it that way at the moment because I love meeting people, as it inspires new projects and evoke different conversations deepening on the piece the customer purchases.  Although, I will be looking into e-commerce, hopefully by the end of the year.

    What are the challenges you have faced in this business?

    Challenges I have had to face are managing all your social media! That’s tough!

    What are the challenges involved in exhibiting your work? And costs involved?

    One of the challenges is the costs for: travel, exhibition space, and accommodation and production for work too. The most difficult part is in knowing that there is no guarantee that the exhibition will benefit your business so potentially it could be waste of money but you do these shows to discover where your work fits in the market.

    Are there plans to exhibit in Africa?

    I exhibited in Nigeria last year at A Whitespace Gallery in Lagos. I plan to do some more work in the Africa this year so please look for some information on that too!

    What are some of the lessons you have learnt along the way?

    One lesson would be to take risks because you never know if it’s going will be a good or a bad one!

    In the African and international space, what is the scale of your competition?

    The competition is huge, there are thousands of artist and designers around the world but I differentiate myself by telling my own story in my own way because no one can do that any better than me!  It is seen and lived through my eyes and I will continue to share this through my work beautifully.


    Maryanne Maina is A Kenyan luxury consultant in Africa. MBA participant in Luxury Brand. Management in Paris, France. This story originally appeared on her blog on April 24, 2015. To read more of her stories, follow her blog: maryannenjeri.wordpress.com