A conversation with Eve Nnaji of EVEN Designed

While anticipating and prepping for Eve's pop-up showcase at the store, we invited her over to briefly discuss her background in architecture, how she made the plunge into the design world and what the expectations for her pop-up on Saturday should be.

Eve is a recent architecture graduate who just moved back to Lagos and is currently working on the launch of her first product, the 'Even Bag'.

Read all about it.

Yegwa: Tell me a bit about yourself, who are you and what do you do?

Eve: My name is Eve Nnaji, and I would say that I am a designer. I studied architecture and before that I used to paint and do a lot of artsy little things until I got into architecture. I fell into the design world after that, got into product design and launched the Even Bag from there.

Yegwa: hmm, so you say you fell into design, and I know that Nigerian parents always want you to do a “serious” course, was it something similar?

Eve: So I was in college and Geology was my major for a day. This was in Texas, and that was my Dad pursuing me to do something very technical, but then I was in class on the first day,and I just couldn't do it, so I left and went straight to architecture. I had to prove my point to him though, that it was more than just something artistic, and there was way more to it, more depth and that it was even quite technical if you really look at it. From there, when he gave me the okay and stopped disturbing me, I just took off with it.

Yegwa: So this was in the US? How long were you doing architecture for?

Eve: So I was born in Nigeria and I moved to the US when I was 7. I did middle school, high school and then college, where I studied architecture for 4 years.

Yegwa: Okay, so how did you move into design in general and how did that go down with your family?.

Eve: Yeah, when I was young I'd always paint on the dresser and things like that, so when I started going into design later on, it was just like “yeah, she always done these things", so they just let me take what ever lead I wanted to and kinda trusted that...

Yegwa: ...you know what you're doing.

Eve: Yeah.

Yegwa: Okay that’s pretty cool. One thing I've found with a lot of people here in Nigeria is that once you start doing something and they see that you are doing it to a high standard, and they can see a product coming out of it, it makes it easier for them to accept. Talk to me a little bit about the 'Even Bag'.

Eve: So, it all started when I was in New York, and literally everyone I talked to was doing something, and I felt slow compared to everyone. I saw people of my age doing things, and I was like “I should start”. Then picking up a pen, paper, materials and doing something with them made it more legitimate, you know,like a physical manifestation. When you see it in physicality, it's like you can’t stop and you have to see it through. I think that also validated with my parents that I was serious about it. So I took time, showed them all the edits and prototypes, and the more legit it gets, the more excited I get about it.

Yegwa: Okay, I mean what really stood out to me about the bags were the elegance of the design. It’s really simple, but you can see the effect it complex. How long did it take you to develop it? Was the initial prototype anything like the finished product at all? Or were you just tinkering until the end?.

Eve: Well initially it was a chair.

Yegwa: Oh wow!

Eve: Haha yeah, and so the Even bag was a chair. And there was a certain part of this chair which I took apart and was like “this could totally be a bag”, so I took the chair apart and made this part into a bag. It was so rough, basically like paper and string. Then I took a sheet of fabric, and a rope, and started looking at the most simple part of it. I was fine with how it looked, like for me the bag was done, but for everyone else it was like... “ what is it?”

Yegwa: (laughs)...like "it needs to be more finished?

Eve: Like "that’s a bag?" So I started thinking that there are two worlds I'm stepping into right now and I can either stick to the very conceptual side which I love or I can merely try and let people enjoy the bag, which is what I wanted. So I started looking at how I could make it a bag without hiding the concept of it and really just having a way to make it simple so that it is still understandable both conceptually and as a product for people to use everyday.

Even the idea of putting pattern unto it was something that was just hammered into me. Like people wanted patterns, and I was like "yeah, I'll get into that later on, but right now I just want it to be a black bag", but then I put a pattern into it and it was cool and I was like, why not? Like it doesn’t take away, it just makes it more interesting so I'm still dabbling on that balance between the bags.

Yegwa: That’s really interesting. Do you have any plans for feature products? Are there going to be multiple versions of the Even bag that will explore the concept a little bit more, or are you just looking at iterating and creating different products?

Eve: I think initially I just wanted to get the bag out there and focus on everything else, but then the bag became more substantial, like something that can grow, and so it's going to be a product that grows and evolves over time, but threes will be other products asides from fashion -bringing bag the chair- so hopefully I can bring that chair and everyone can see where the bag came from. From there, I'll just go for anything that calls for innovative design, whether it be like graphics or videos or shoes, or even architecture, it just an overall goal of introducing design on all levels. So I bring a product and I'm growing it, and bring another product and I'm growing it, and I keep evolving all these products.

Yegwa: I like how a lot of designers nowadays are trying to do a lot more things cross-disciplinary. I also think there’s more of a movement towards designers trying to bring in their personal stamp to different industries.

Eve: Yeah, there really is. Like my last year graduating architecture, there was this big push for “you studied architecture , you can design anything you want, go for it, don’t be afraid to step out of the firm and do something that pleases you". I think a lot of designers are doing that and starting to see that they can sell independently rather that just under something else, they can be themselves as a brand.

Yegwa: Ah, that was actually going to be my next question, whether you were thinking about doing what most designers do, that is; they design a product and are working underneath a bigger company, or whether you were looking to push on your own thing independently.

Eve: I think its both. Like I'm working in a firm now and I love the collaborations and being a part of something , but I also love me as a brand, and an identity. So there should be no limit at all anymore, if you want to work in a firm, and you want to do your own thing, you can do both.

Yegwa: Okay, so I wanted to ask, would you say right now you are more interested in materials or the approach to making something?

*Eve: I have to say you’ve literally just split me right now. I'm asking myself that same question ... and I don’t know. They are both so interesting and that is what I was looking at with the Even bag, like "do I go for a new way to do it or do I look at the components of it.*" I’m going to have to say I don’t know.

Yegwa: Okay then, we’ll have to come back to that at a later date. So why Lagos, why come back?

Eve: in all honesty, I came back to do my nysc, you know my parents were like “You’re Nigerian, you have to see it, you cant just ignore it“. And so I went for it, I'm here, and being here I'm just like how was I not here?, how was I about to skip this part and just go straight to finding a place to settle. But um, I don’t know, why Lagos is because I was born here, they brought me here and now it's just feels like such a great decision to come back, it's even hard to think about leaving Lagos now. There's so much, way more than I ever thought, way more than is online.

Yegwa: Yeah, most of it is off the grid. I mean the reason I was asking about Lagos, and why come back was that at least I was hoping to lead it into something. I guess personally there seems to be a lot of craft out there in Nigeria as a whole and there is so much to discover just by moving around, and I've been very interested in the idea of designers and makers relocating outside of Lagos to work. I mean, they can come into Lagos to sell, as there’s no question that this is the largest market here in the country, but working elsewhere and sort of knowing “My factory or my workshop is in a different location, and I come into Lagos to sell", is that something you're even thinking about? Exploring other states, even if you are not going to stay there.

Eve: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it's hard for me to say that I would. I'm thinking I want 'EVEN' in Lagos, and every other place that 'EVEN' can learn from and I would like to go to other places as well. Does that answer your question?

Yegwa: Oh yea, I said three questions but I'm going to cheat and add a 3b. So the third question; Do you think being a woman working in Nigeria affects your process? What's the experience like, have you encountered challenges that you think male designers or makers don’t encounter? I'm curious about that.

Eve: I think the biggest place I would have a different experience is in the market, trying to source and price materials. I can tell that there is a different treatment towards me, one cause my accent...

Yegwa: Ah for sure

Eve: and two are some comments that would be made which I know would not be said to a guy.

Yegwa: Mh, can you give me an example?

Eve: Like um, so this one guy, we were haggling and he gave me a terrible price and I knew it was terrible and when I said so, he was like, "well how about if you give me some other type of deal". I was speechless, and even started stuttering, thinking “what do I even say to this guy?”. I think interaction on the street level, and on the other level where its like selling and buying to customers is different. Thankfully I haven’t found something that stands out, but I think its just because the design world is just so open and forward. Whereas If I were a lawyer, things maybe a lot different.

Yegwa: So the Three B I was going to say is; I've encountered quite a few women actually working in design, and I guess this is following up on what you said about it being very open ,because at least overseas, the impression I have about design and engineering kind of field tends to be dominated by men, but here there’s quite a few women doing things like architecture and they are working. I mean, I don’t know that there are women that run firms yet, or at least that many firms compared to men, (it will be interesting to see the statistics on that) but I'm talking about this a lot because we are thinking about running a series of talks and things later on in the year trying to encourage more women to get into this field a little bit more, because most of the women that are makers tend to be the artists or chefs or cooks or bakers, there is nothing wrong with that, but I was just thinking that it would be really cool to get more women involved in making furniture, making bags and things on that technical level. So all this roundabout and background is just to ask “Are you interested in pushing that sort of agenda?"

Eve: I would love to, cause I think for me it has given me such freedom , you know just because I get to go to the market, and I get to pick things and I get to put it together. So you know when you get to make so many decisions like that, it doesn't affect anyone but your product, and so you are given options and choices and you can create how many options and choices you want and I think for that, women totally need to get into manifesting designs into physicality. I think women have basically moved into the art world very comfortably, there's lots of painters and sculptors and all that and I think when it comes to working with materials,putting things together it's a bit more intimidating ,no one ever thinks that its doable, but it is extremely doable, and on any scale. It's just up to you how you want to do it,and how big or how small you want to do it.

Yegwa: Okay, thank you! I'll just like to get a small statement about what to expect on Saturday.

Eve: On Saturday, I expect people to interact with the bag. It is all about the interaction with the person and the bag. So I would say the best thing to look forward to is physically getting to see what it's all about, half the story is what you do to it. Expect to see some interesting installation, expect to learn more about it, hear from me more about and just… chill.

This Saturday at Stranger, we’ll be hosting Eve Nnaji, she'll be at the store, to demonstrate how she makes her amazing ‘Even bags’. You'll also have the opportunity to get one yourself or order a custom piece.

To get an idea of what to expect, check out her instagram page @evendesigned

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