Roots Décor chest and wall panel

African artisans look for new outlets in America

NAPLES, Fla. — Across several countries in West Africa, skilled artisans are handcarving furniture and accent pieces, passing down and preserving skills that are slowly being wiped away by mass production.

As the founder of the newly established Roots Décor Co., Iman Abubakar is determined to not only preserve these traditions but introduce them, along with West Africa’s cultural heritage, to a new and wider audience.

Roots Décor, which is based in Naples, Fla., offers highly carved mahogany wall panels, rocking chairs, chests, consoles, armoires and picture frames. The wood is sourced from the roofs of 80- to 100-year-old colonial buildings that are earmarked for demolition. They are made in a factory in Lagos, Nigeria. Each piece, depending on its size and intricacy, takes about one to three months to produce (their artistry is highlighted on Instagram.) Retail prices range from about $250 for a picture frame to $7,500 for wall décor.

“We try as much as possible to make sure they are one of a kind,” Abubakar said. “We can try to reproduce a piece, but it is never exact because each piece of wood is unique.”

Roots Décor chest and wall panel

Roots Décor is also committed to empowering local communities. “We get underprivileged kids and kids from local communities that need help,” said Abubakar. “We get them enrolled in a training program where they shadow experienced artisans. After the one-year training program, they can stay or go off on their own.”

Abubakar arrived in Naples in March, where she has family members, after two years of preparation and planning and just ahead of the first furniture shipment. Her initial plan was to get into furniture showrooms and work with furniture retailers and then return to Nigeria to focus on vocational training and production. “As much as it is a business, that part of it is very important to me,” she said.

But she soon discovered that this heavily carved style of furniture is a little out of step with coastal Florida, although she is confident that it is a look that people in other regions of the country would like. “This is rustic design. However, you can always use it as home accents in a more modern setting,” she said.

She has changed direction and is now reaching out to designers and selling directly to consumers online. She hopes to exhibit at High Point Market in October and might consider Las Vegas.

She is also planning a private gallery exhibition in London in August and a larger one in November with Nigerian-born painter Lanre Olagoke, who was recently awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by King Charles. His studio and gallery are located on Regent Street. Olagoke, who overcame drug addiction to become a successful artist, founded the Art-Alive Trust which works with vulnerable young adults to develop their artistic skills.

Roots Décor is partnering with Art-Alive to provide vocational training programs.

“We believe this partnership will create lasting positive impacts on the lives of young vulnerable individuals in Nigeria, helping them find their place in society through the power of arts and craftsmanship,” Abubakar said. “We are excited about the possibilities this collaboration brings.”

See also: Discover Ngala Trading’s newest tabletop designs

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