Swimwear brand, Òkun Beachwear, is part of a billowing wave of global beach brands entering the market with a unique proposition, by offering a sense of heritage and fresh style inspired by Africa.
Today, men and women are presented with an abundance of designer one or two-pieces styled to suit their aesthetic and functional needs. Despite how long beach and swimwear has been around, the industry is now experiencing a somewhat booming renaissance, particularly in menswear.
According to Global Industry Analysts Inc., the global swimwear and beachwear market is projected to reach $22.7 billion by 2022, thanks to a new outlook on healthy living by increasingly affluent consumers, the surge of affordable beach tourism – which in turn has influenced a preference for beachside holidays – and a desire to keep in vogue with the latest beachwear trends. Moreover, significant growth is expected in emerging markets in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific, with the United States and Brazil capturing the largest share.
Despite the near-ubiquitous presence of large industry players like American Apparel, Diana Sport, La Perla, Speedo, and O’Neill, many more independent players have taken up residency on the industry’s surf turf, shored up by the exponential growth of newly-minted consumers and a plethora of desirable beach destinations keeping the tourism industry afloat. This growth is also being felt in Africa, albeit on a smaller scale, thanks to the continent’s fast-growing markets.
“London-based. Lagos-born. Mauritius-made.”
Dipping into this vast pool is the Nigerian and British-based brand, Òkun Beachwear founded by Creative Director, Bola Marquis.
What inspired the launch of Òkun Beachwear in April 2013, (Òkun means the ocean in Yoruba) was, “mainly not seeing anything African-inspired for men at an international designer level,” says Marquis. The burgeoning menswear brand is a refreshing addition to the market, with its proclivity to avoid the banal clichés often associated with African fashion, to develop an “African aesthetic that is contemporary, vibrant, global, and premium.”
With its zesty tones and bold prints, Marquis offers a stylish reinterpretation of the many cultures on the African continent to inspire each collection. “We take seasonal and continuous inspiration from all across the continent and more than wax prints, which we love. We seek inspiration from artisanal techniques and patterns such as weaving, dyeing, and embellishment.” Okuns’ recent Spring/Summer 2017 collection – Bolgatanga – took inspiration from the handwoven raffia baskets and fans made by craftswomen in northern Ghana by the BabaTree Baskets Collective.
Marquis’ foray into beachwear was an unlikely turn, with a career that began as a Global IT Programme Manager at a multinational firm. During his tenure, he may have developed a global inclination that’s infused into the Òkun DNA. Today, Òkun Beachwear, is available in some of the world’s leading retailers; Browns Fashion and Fenwick of Bond Street in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and international fashion e-commerce sites; Matches Fashion, Farfetch, and Onycheck. Marquis’ collections may also be found in boutiques at beach hotels and resorts in the paradisal islands of Jamaica, Mauritius, Seychelles, Mykonos, and Ibiza.
In just four years, Okun Beachwear has made appearances in the Business of Fashion, the Financial Times, Cool Hunting, and Ebony, not to mention a particular highlight when it entered into the orbit of celebrity. “Having celebrities like Lewis Hamilton and Tinie Tempah wearing your clothes is always a kick, even more so when it’s a surprise,” says Marquis.
To get a brand as young as Òkun to the heights it has achieved today, requires a canny combination of quality and design, shrewd marketing, developing the right network, attending the most relevant trade fairs, and a unique proposition, to name a few.
And like many designers of the African diaspora, Marquis and his brand straddle between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, giving him the added advantage of developing an international presence with roots in Africa. Owing to the brand’s proximity to one of Europe’s fashion capitals, “it’s relatively accessible to get to the main trade fairs with a collection,” says Marquis, who also expects further sales growth to come from the United States and key markets in Africa.
But for all its Afrocentric qualities, the brand’s fabrics are not sourced from Africa, “due to the technical nature of the swimwear fabrics principally, but even most wax prints are produced in Holland or China these days, with notable exceptions such as GTP [print and textile brand] in Ghana,” says Marquis. The issue of sourcing authentic African fabrics is a fundamental challenge among many African designers, one that Marquis hopes to address in the coming years, as the brand seeks to establish its own ethical production base on the continent.
Until then, as Òkun Beachwear searches the African continent for its next inspiration, Bola Marquis will continue to focus on expanding the brands online presence to more actively engage with consumers, while riding the seismic wave that is the menswear fashion market.