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Check Out Emeka Ukaga’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emeka Ukaga. He and his team share their story with us below:

SENTI is a Phoenix-based male fashion brand pairing West African design inspirations with modern silhouettes. SENTI borrows from and iterates on the rich West African design tradition while also modernizing it for a global market of consumers.

SENTI is developing a unique modern West African style that is recognized the world over and which in turn influences design traditions in markets around the globe. Founded in 2019 by trained engineer and architect Emeka Ukaga, SENTI—which is the Igbo word for “saint”—strives to be the ideal in design much as saints are regarded as the pinnacle of human virtue. For more information, visit www.sentidesigns.com.

SENTI, born out of love and deep appreciation for West African design and textile traditions, is a fashion line bringing those traditions to a global audience. SENTI is the attire for the modern man living and working in cities around the world. Taking elements, patterns, and designs, that are authentically West African, SENTI is reimagining and introducing them to a larger audience to wear and appreciate.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
SENTI was founded at the end of 2019 just as the pandemic began sweeping the world and impacting many industries such as the global fashion industry. Much of the brand’s initial work and the building were done during this turbulent time which provided both challenges and opportunities.

The shift to online and digital/remote working and networking meant it was way easier to make important connections, learn about the fashion business, and put together the initial collection for SENTI. The pandemic really brought to the forefront of many peoples’ lives what was readily important and what was taking time but not serving their lives.

SENTI founder Emeka Ukaga found himself with a lot more time and began funneling this towards building the business, fostering deeper industry relationships, and setting up production partnerships overseas in West Africa to produce designs for his brand.

During this time, like many others, SENTI experienced many difficulties whether it was shipping delays due to the supply-chain shortage, less time spent with family and friends, and fewer business opportunities due to drying up capital.

Nonetheless, SENTI spun these challenges into opportunities to make their brand more resilient, efficient, and sustainable which has proved to be a formative base as the world began to open up and business began growing again.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
SENTI as a brand is helmed by Nigerian-American designer Emeka Ukaga. Trained as an architect and civil engineer, Ukaga borrows heavily from his West African roots in order to produce the fabrics and silhouettes for his brand.

Sourcing fabrics predominantly from West Africa, SENTI is extremely mindful of ensuring that the clothing SENTI produces remains true to the legacy that has come before it. Additionally, everything from the logo, and branding, to the textile printing of the brand also borrows from West African design, art, or logographic motifs.

SENTI makes frequent use of the visual artform of Uli in its work and Ukaga has made this a key pillar in the design of his clothing. The logo for SENTI is based on the Uli design for the kola nut. To understand the significance of this, one would have to understand the importance of Uli body art and the kola nuts in Igbo society.

“Used in cultural traditions of the Igbo people, the presentation of kola nuts to guests or in a traditional gathering shows goodwill.” —Wikipedia Additionally, Uli is “the curvilinear traditional designs drawn by the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. These designs are generally abstract, consisting of linear forms and geometric shapes. Traditionally, these are either stained onto the body or painted onto the sides of buildings as murals.

Uli is not directly symbolic but instead focused on the creation of a visual impact and decorating the body of the patron or building in question.” —Wikipedia. SENTI, at its most fundamental level, is a West African and Igbo brand. But its stated goal is to take these honored traditions and share them with the entire world.

“Much like our ancestors have done for years, SENTI hopes to break the proverbial kola nut with all those who wish to experience and share in the West African design tradition with us.” —Emeka Ukaga, Founder.

Speaking about the brand, Brian Hill, the Executive Director of Phoenix Fashion Week stated, “I am really impressed with the growth and vision of SENTI in such a short time inside our Emerging Designer Bootcamp. Our entire team is excited for their official brand launch in May,”

We’d love to hear what you think about risk-taking?
Risk-taking is a key part of life as a human being.

We may not face constant life or death scenarios as our ancestors did but today, with each and every decision we make during the day, we consciously or unconsciously are weighing the risk and return on investment of all our decisions. This is true whether we are getting behind the wheel of our car or investing our life savings into a new business idea or opportunity.

In my life, I have tended to be strategic in the risks that I take but when I take the leap I usually have always gone all in. When I was in college, I started a tech startup with two of my best friends from high school and a friend from college.

We spent nearly 5 years working on this company that was striving to provide data-driven solutions that would allow charities and non-profit organizations to make analytical decisions to increase volunteer and donor retention. This investment in time and resources was actually the reason I moved to Pheonix after I graduate from college as a few of our investors had wanted us to move to this part of the country.

Without having ever spent a considerable amount of time out here, four of the company’s members took the leap and moved our lives and families out to Phoenix.

I believe that most great rewards in life sit on the other side of great risk. That does not mean that one should carelessly pursue risky decisions but without taking great leaps one will miss out on some of the greatest opportunities life has to offer.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
SENTI Designs (@sentidesigns), CK Ukaga (@ukagaemeka), Sai Kappaguntula (@brownbeta24), Serkan Atrek Studio (@serkanatrekstudio), Blok Photo Studio, Rio Wiley Stinger (@riowiley), Ethan Turner (@emajec), and Kevin Tran (@ricedaddy_kev)

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