Before attending his first-ever fashion week event, Ebuka Omaliko never imagined working in the fashion industry or launching a fashion label. However, the designer's unexpected introduction to fashion happened in 2012, while in college, when a friend convinced him to apply for an internship at Lagos Fashion Week. At the time, Omaliko was a freshman studying for a pharmacology degree at the University of Lagos. "My first interaction with fashion aside from dressing up was [with] Lagos Fashion Week," he tells Industrie Africa. "Fashion was never my dream." However, over the next three years, the self-taught designer would continue with seasonal internships with Nigeria's foremost fashion week organization before finally launching Maliko in 2015, an artisanal footwear and accessories label prioritizing community, workmanship, and ethical practices.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in Anambra State and Nigeria's capital Abuja, Omaliko says curiosity and fascination with sandals motivated him to launch Maliko. "I love sandals, and I wanted to explore the idea of making some for myself, so I designed a pair, and people loved it. They asked me to design for them, and that's how my interest in shoes and craftsmanship developed." The lessons he learned from his hands-on experience at fashion week working in various departments like logistics and backstage during shows helped forge his path and clarify his vision. "Working at Lagos Fashion Week prepared me for the industry," he notes. "It wasn't just about the shows. There was a fashion business series, educational programs, and a platform where I could network."
To bring his vision of bold and enduring designs to life, Omaliko sources fabrics in the city where he resides, Lagos, working with materials like recycled leather and Aso Oke (a local handwoven cloth) to produce collections that challenge traditional silhouettes. The heels, for example, are molded into rounded or bell-like shapes with elaborate embroidery. Designed with a timeless sensibility, from the fabrics used to the methods applied in the production process, his limited edition shoes are made in architectural shapes that offer a distinct and modern alternative to traditional footwear. Omaliko approaches each design from a technical angle that champions wearability without compromising creativity. Mules, handwoven sandals, and patchwork boots come in bright colors and sometimes even feature quirky details like ruched straps, buttons, or leather embellishments. On the other hand, Omaliko tends to favor straightforward and structural cuts in monochrome or color-blocked tones for his handbag line. Crafted from leather, the range includes multipurpose totes with decorative stitching in exaggerated proportions.
“My brand is more than just making shoes. It also showcases the power of the human hand.”
Working with a team of local artisans spread in different parts of Nigeria, Omaliko's innovative approach to design and strong values on sustainability, craftsmanship, and social responsibility have resulted in collaborations with Orange Culture, Bloke, and Emmy Kasbit, all labels with the aligned values of challenging the norm and advocating for individualism. Tradition, too, is a substantial element in the label's growth as he applies indigenous crafting techniques in his production to honor and preserve Nigeria's artisanal heritage. "My brand is more than just making shoes. It also showcases the power of the human hand. Sometimes a shoe goes through five or six different artisans before completion, so production is intense," he explains, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, craft, and how his collaborators work rigorously to achieve the highest quality standards.
Moreso, Omaliko finds inspiration in the environment and his immediate surroundings. "When I'm designing a collection, the first thing that comes to my mind is the message I'm trying to convey," he reveals. "My last collection explored albinism, which was strongly inspired by my mother who has the condition." Music also plays a vital role in his creative process, and according to Omaliko, not only does it uplift him, but music also "makes everything clearer". "I listen to music as much as I work," he declares. His taste ranges from classical to African traditional music.
Jols Sandals. Photo: Courtesy of Maliko
Tally Slippers. Photo: Courtesy of Maliko
Gil Boots. Photo: Courtesy of Maliko
As a designer with no formal education, Omaliko's journey has been a learning process of finding new ways to experiment with fabrications and handiwork techniques. He follows his intuition over seasonal currents and believes in the power of research to achieve what he refers to as a timeless aesthetic that draws from history while still appealing to today's conscious consumers. "It's not about following trends," he asserts, "it's about whether or not our pieces can stand the test of time." As an eco-conscious designer, he has also had to be resourceful with the materials he creates with. This commitment sees him devoting a lot of time to studying new and skillful ways to manipulate fabrics.
When asked about the footwear industry in Nigeria and the challenges he faced at the beginning of his career, Omaliko says he struggled to find local or regional footwear designers to follow or look to for inspiration. "I didn't know of any local labels that were doing what I was doing when I started, but there are a couple of interesting brands doing well now like Shekudo," he says.
Omaliko's goal is to inspire young African creatives who, like himself, did not have the opportunity to attend fashion school. In addition, he would like to continue telling stories that represent his culture as a brand. "Taking Africa to the world," he says. "It's about the impact of the work for me." Now that he's part of a group of promising African designers spotlighting artisanship and helping to shape the future of Nigeria's footwear industry, he's setting his sights on growing his label internationally.
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