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Young Designer: Tobi Onifade

Tell us about yourself, growing up, family background, education and all

My name is Oluwatobijulo ‘Tobi’ Onifade, I am a graphic designer/Illustrator, bead maker and teacher. I am the first out of 3 children. I was born and raised in Lagos. I attended CTC International School and Grange School in Lagos. After my secondary school education I went to Bellerbys College Brighton UK and proceeded to the University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art for a degree in Graphic Design. I majored in Illustration. According to my parents I’ve always been creative, if I wasn’t making toys out of fabrics and cartons I was making beaded jewelry or painting something. Towards the end of secondary school, I realized that even though I loved patterns and motifs, there was a growing interest in Typography and Illustration.

Tell us about your recent venture

Akun Joke is a Jewelry line. Akun, in my native language Yoruba, means coral beads. Ajoke is my third name. Akun Joke translates to Joke’s beads and special coral line.


Please fill us in on your rise to fame and how did it all start

I graduated in 2013 and the plan was to start Masters immediately. However there was a last minute change in plans so I came home to serve. I decided to focus on SAED whilst serving and took part in 3 different trainings, one of which was bead making. I have always admired the art of jewelry and bead making so learning it was exciting. I trained with one of the designated NYSC SAED centers – “Her Excellency” and I noticed that I always got commended on the weekly projects/assignments given to us. I also had friends complimenting my works and even placing orders. It was still a hobby then, but I guess it dawned on me that it could be something more when I was nominated to take part in the NYSC interstate zoning competition alongside others (Baking, fashion, Shoe and Bag design, Electronics, etc). My Zone came first and we were also given the opportunity to showcase our other works, the reviews were good and then my parents, siblings and 2 good friends of mine suggested that I take it to the next level. It took a while to make that decision but here I am now. I am really grateful to God for the people he used to encourage me.


What other areas of your career are you looking to explore

I know there is a saying, “Jack of all trades master of none”, well I believe in the field of Art, one can be a jack of all trades and master at some.  That’s the beauty the Creative Arts.  I am a trained illustrator, Graphic Designer, bead maker and I also have a passion for Surface Design, which I hope to take to the next level very soon. Surface Design is very versatile and is applied on various media, from fabrics to furniture, ceramics and so on.

What has been the high point of your career?

Being able by God’s grace to carve out a niche for Akun Joke and seeing everything fall in to place was a bit scary initially but it’s been a terrific journey.

What has been the lowest so far?

With regards to Akun Joke, no low moments, challenges, yes but nothing major. Although, sometime last year I made big plans for further education unfortunately it did not happen. At that point it was devastating because I had to put a lot of things on hold but God came through and I realized it was just a setback and nothing more.

What are the plans for the future- short term goals, anything new?

I would like to do a short course on Jewelry design and establish my line as well as pursue and explore opportunities in Surface Design.


What does it mean to be a young creative?

A student of mine and I were having a discussion a few days back, and she goes “ no offence Ma but low key I believe one has to be slightly crazy to be an artist”, whilst admiring a particular artist work. I remember saying that it has nothing to do with craziness but the liberty to express oneself in a way unique to you. And that’s what I believe means to be a young creative, being able to express oneself in anyway without reservations or restrictions.

What inspires you?

As a child of God I receive inspiration from Him and almost everything from Nature to Architecture, Metal works and so on. Colour is a dominant factor in everything I do.

Is there anyone in your field that you admire?

There are quite a number of people that are into jewelry/bead design in Nigeria and they all inspire me in many ways, but I really admire Cookie Lee, president and co-founder of Cookie lee Inc. an international jewelry magnate. She got into this field as a hobby as well, something to take her mind out of her demanding job and schedule, but she had a greater purpose in mind which was family oriented and this hobby helped her to fulfill it. She was able to leave her job and flourish in this business and most importantly have time for the people that mattered. Her story is inspiring.

In this article:
Myles Igwe
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