Meet the creative designer who went from marketing to the soaring heights of the fashion industry. Award-winning designer, Hazel Eki Aggrey-Orleans, turned her passion into a career, opening her very own London-based boutique and fashion label Eki Orleans.
Born in Germany, from Nigerian descent, and educated in London, Hazel used her own multiculturalism as inspiration for her designs. Having spent 10 years doing marketing in the finance industry, her first maternity leave gave her the opportunity to explore different career paths.
She initially began playing around with texture to make scarves from Kente fabric and Indian silk, and it was only during her second maternity leave that she expanded her ideas, making unique designs and creating her own prints.
The brand combines her middle name “Eki”, meaning “center of attraction” in Benin, and part of her surname, to remind her customers of the exclusivity and beauty of an Eki piece, as it always attracts attention.
Having no tangible experience in fashion prior to her career change, Hazel taught herself the tricks of the trade, researching print designers to help out on her creations.
The Eki Orleans brand was created in 2007, with a first collection complete in 2009, her confidence took a knock when one stylist criticized her designs for lack of depth.
Drawing inspiration from Africa’s vivid and colourful culture, Hazel now uses her designs to tell a story, combining nature, travels and heritage.
Eki uses exclusively silk for its soft, natural and flowy material, making it a luxury brand that has been worn by celebrities including Thandie Newton, Noella Coursaris and Shingai Shoniwa. Although Hazel embraces these opportunities, she aims to dress the everyday woman.
“The first person I wanted to dress was Thandie Newton, because like me she was partially African, she was someone that was out there as an A-List celebrity, but she was also quite grounded. But I would also say that Eki is any woman whether colour, size, age, someone who quietly commands attention, who loves prints and fabrics.”
Each collection holds a unique aspect, inspired by a place the designer visited or a culture. Starting off with the print design, Hazel gradually creates a story and a collection around it. Her past collections have been inspired by butterflies in Mauritius, the underwater world of Sao Tome, and politics surrounding a trip she took to China.
In the midst of preparing for the Spring 2017 collection, Hazel has put together a diffused line of her range. Establishing itself as a luxury but sustainable brand, the new project works on a premise of no wastage, using natural biodegradable fabric and recycling prints and designs whenever possible.
“We’ve up cycled some dresses that didn’t quite work, we’ve created spares out of them and we’re now selling these for under £100,” she says.
Hazel wishes to continue pushing the sustainability and growth of her brand, encouraging other designers to work in an ethical way. She recently gave a talk about entrepreneurship at the London Southbank University where she shared the challenges and mistakes she has made, financially and creatively, and how to keep pushing through the lonely journey.
Now with a well-established brand, Hazel’s vision has become clearer, knowing where she wants to take the brand and pushing it in different ways. Collaborating with other designers helps her share ideas and create designs not just for the runway but for the general public.
She is working with African luxury brands for next year’s collections and working towards putting up temporary popups in different cities. As Eki Orleans expands internationally, in countries around the world, such as UK, the US, Nigeria and Russia, she is bringing the collections to her clients and allowing them to touch, to feel, and to try it on.
Hazel’s passion helped her push through the hardships and financial setbacks of setting up your own company. With no experience, Hazel took on the very competitive fashion industry head on, setting herself apart from the crowd, funding her first three collections alone and not giving up.
“People need to see consistency, they need to see that you’re growing.”
She encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take one step at a time, nothing comes easy and fast, and hard work, drive and determination are key.
Hazel’s success may not have been overnight, but the self-taught designer is making her way to the top and gaining more and more recognition.
Vibrant colour, intricate designs and delicate silk are what makes Eki’s designs unique and timeless. It accentuates femininity and brings out the colourful silky goddess in every woman.