Meet the Maker... Adetola 'Detola' Laseinde, Detola and Geek
In my Meet the Maker series, I profile makers across the creative industries, chatting to them about their lives, backgrounds, passions and the stories behind their businesses. This month, I talk to Adetola ‘Detola’ Laseinde, of award-winning home interiors brand, Detola and Geek. Read on for the inspiration behind the name, and to learn more about Detola’s ‘lightbulb’ moment…
"We're like two peas in a pod; it's always been the two of us," smiles Adetola Laseinde - although most people call her 'Detola'. I've been chatting to Detola for the best part of an hour and, despite never having met her in the flesh, it feels like I'm catching up with an old friend. For those unaware, Detola is the owner of homeware brand, Detola and Geek, and it's by talking to her about her son that I learn about the story behind the brand.
"Coming up with a name is one of the hardest aspects of starting a business," Detola tells me. "I still have my notepad with the various ideas and guises, scribbled down on paper!" Eventually, she figured, why not use her name? "Growing up, everyone would call me Detola," she reveals. "It's a bit of a pet name." But, rather than add a generic, obvious ending, such as 'homeware,' 'lampshades' or the likes, Detola wanted something a little more personal. "Geek represents my son," she smiles. "His nickname has always been 'funky geek' because he has always been a funky character; a bit of a geek." For some reason, 'Detola and Geek' ended up in amongst the scribbles in Detola's notebook - and it stuck.
Detola hasn't always made lampshades, however. Born in Leeds to Nigerian parents, Detola is one of the lucky few who have been afforded dual-nationality. "I'm British/Nigerian; I'm lucky to have two passports!" she laughs. Growing up in Leeds, Detola was exposed to Nigerian culture, specifically Ankara, on a daily basis: "A lot of our parents came over to the UK to study, and would have friends around them who threw the best parties," she explains. "I remember, quite clearly, in Leeds that women would wear skirts made from Nigerian Ankara, or they might be dressed head-to-toe in Ankara." And when Detola and her family moved back to Nigeria, the vibrant fabric, often associated with Africa due to its tribal patterns, featured even more heavily in her day-to-day life. "I have always known of Ankara since a young age," Detola says, continuing, "In Nigeria, it is so accessible and affordable; it's a staple of the country's culture, the norm."
"I remember, quite clearly, that women would wear skirts made from Nigerian Ankara, or they might be dressed head-to-toe in Ankara..."
Detola studied at the University of Ilorin in the Nigerian state of Kwara, but her degree might come as quite the surprise to her customers. "I studied economics, and minored in accounting and finance," she tells me. "My father was an accountant, but I refused to study it on its own!" Back in her student days, Detola's father always wanted her to come and work for him during the summer holidays but, she always thought, 'No! I'm not coming to work for you!' Her father's persistence might just have worked though as, upon moving back to the UK post-university, Detola embarked upon a career in "surprise, surprise" accounting. "My working career has been in accounting," she explains. "I used to live in London, but moved to Letchworth Garden City over ten years ago. Working in London, and commuting from Letchworth, was too much of a struggle."
It was after one-too-many instances of falling ill that Detola decided to re-assess her work/life balance. "I've always had such a passion for interiors and colour and, being Nigerian, I've always loved African prints, such as those seen in Ankara," Detola tells me. "I've always had the Ankara prints and fabrics at home, and I kept on thinking, 'What should I do?'" On Detola and Geek's website, Detola writes that the decision to make lampshades was 'a lightbulb moment' and this is something she confirms to me. It was after a brief dalliance with interior design, which "didn't work out" that Detola became serious about lampshades. Despite having "no clue how to run a business" Detola taught herself how to make lampshades. That's the thing I love about Detola; she is very much a 'do-er' and very much a 'maker'. One of the things I come to learn about her is that, if she doesn't know how to do something, she takes it upon herself to learn how to do it.
"When I first started [Detola and Geek], I did not know how to sew," she laughs. "I remember having a sewing machine growing up, but my mum never taught me." And, despite confessing to having no prior business expertise, Detola's positive mindset has allowed her to expand her business beyond making lampshades. A quick look at her website shows that she now sells cushions, tote bags and stationery, as well as running Lampshade Making Workshops. But what are her plans for the future, I wonder? "I'd love to do more collaborations," she tells me, continuing. "I think collaboration is so important. A lot of the time, collaboration isn't about the exchange of money; it's about the exchange of ideas."
This idea of working in harmony with other people is one that is important to Detola. "I really do believe that there is enough space for everybody," she affirms. "I prefer not to think of similar businesses as 'competitors' and, because of that, I try to do my own thing; to stay in my own lane." For Detola and Geek, Detola tries to source Ankara prints that are a little less common; prints that get her customers talking. "I have some Ankara prints that my mum blessedly bequeathed to me before she died," she reveals. "If I'd have known that Detola and Geek would become my path in life, I would have gone back home before my mum passed and brought back all of the fabrics!"
I get the impression that Detola is really happy with where she is right now. Making, creating and, most importantly, sharing the very fabrics that featured so heavily in her childhood is so far removed from the humdrum of accountancy, and Detola is the first person to vouch for that. "Being creative is a way to express myself," she offers. "I've always loved colour. Even when working as an accountant, I'd be wearing bright red suits. Why should you have to wear blacks and greys?"
Detola's colourful outlook on life is so infectious. From her warm, vibrant personality to her tendency to put on a bright pink jacket in the middle of winter, when everyone else is wrapped up in black, colour and creativity is a massive part of who the small business owner is. "It's like another part of me; it's how I see the world, and I love sharing that with other people," she beams. Perhaps we all need to take a leaf out of Detola's book? After all, the world would be a much more colourful place...
Detola's wonderful, Ankara lampshades are available to buy online at http://www.detolaandgeek.com and Etsy, as well as in-person at Greenwich Market. Keep up-to-date with Detola by following her on Instagram @detolaandgeek.