Our Folklore: Founders of Nigerian Brand CLAN on Empowering Women Through Fashion
Three sisters, Teni, Aba, and Tiwa Sagoe, are the inventive minds behind the modern and distinct ready-to-wear brand CLAN. Having learned the trade of the fashion industry from their mother Deola Sagoe, creator of the highly coveted Nigerian brand Deola, the sisters found their natural inclination for fashion design when they were young girls.
Growing up, the Sagoe sisters watched their mother become successful in the fashion industry despite the naysayers. In this, they learned the importance of hard work and dedication in the face of adversity. By helping out their mother (or giving unsolicited advice) backstage at fashion shows and in her workshop, the sisters developed a trained eye for color and design.
At the time CLAN launched in 2011, the three women were all in very different places in their careers. The oldest sister, Teni, who works as the designer and creative director of the brand, had just decided to abandon her plans of becoming a corporate lawyer in hopes of a more satisfying career, one that she believed could help her serve others as well. She then realized that in fashion design she felt she could better fulfil her social responsibility to demonstrate the beauty of Nigerian culture and empower women through clothing.
Meanwhile, middle sister Aba was taking a gap year from business school and traveling between Lagos and the UK. As a result, she found herself able to focus her time solely on the development of both brands, CLAN and Deola, and continued to do so after graduating and now serves as CLAN’s head of corporate services. Tiwa, the youngest of the three, was only 14 years old when the brand was founded. She had always loved art and painting and when starting college decided to attend University of Arts London for textile design. Upon graduation, Tiwa brought her unique, contemporary view of colors and knowledge of textiles to the brand, working in fabric development as well as the director of retail and commercial operations.
The mission of the CLAN brand is to create minimalist yet elegant designs with an unexpected creative edge for the modern woman. The Sagoe sisters are elevating women with their vision to empower and encourage them to break societal norms through their label, which celebrates the commanding beauty of simple and sophisticated designs. Together they produce innovative and quality designs that are unlike anything else on the market and will see their customers through every important moment in their lives, and change the narrative of African and Nigerian design at the same time.
In this episode of Our Folklore Teni, Aba and Tiwa Sagoe of CLAN tell us about working with family, designing for all women, and the female energy behind the meaning of CLAN. Listen to the podcast here, and on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and read excerpts from the interview below.
Teni Sagoe, co-founder and creative director, CLAN
“I can be inspired by a place, like a city or maybe nature, I can be inspired by values like black excellence or women empowerment, and I can also just be inspired by something classic, like movies I have watched. It’s so random honestly, I design from a place of liberation to liberate my mind, and hopefully also while doing that liberate someone else and help them tell a story.”
“The way that I had seen my mom do fashion, I felt like there was no way that anyone could tell me that it wasn’t capable of generating revenue and of being even a lucrative business, so I feel like that is something that stuck out to me.”
Aba Sagoe, co-founder and head of corporate services, CLAN
“We all kind of studied different things; Tiwa went down the more artsy roots, Teni studied law, and I [Aba] studied business and what’s really interesting to see is our very different backgrounds coming together to create a mosaic of something that is weirdly in tune with each other but also extremely distinct from each other in terms of our approach to the brand.”
“When we talk about needle-crafting and specializing and distinct techniques, we are really talking about those techniques that a lot of them have been passed on by our mother to us, and also a lot of that has been picked up by being backstage working in the office and behind the scenes at the shows from the age of eight till now even.”
Tiwa Sagoe, co-founder and director of retail and commercial operations, CLAN
“‘The Revival’ is a revival of black excellence, that is what it is supposed to speak to so we named all the pieces in the collection after districts in Nigeria because we dedicated the collection to the soil.”
Words by Reann Philogene