I first came across furniture designer Yinka Ilori's work at the African and African- Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD) exhibition a couple of months ago. His use of bold colour and pattern drew my eye. I later learned that Yinka specializes in upcycling discarded furniture. Passionately against the unnecessary waste of consumerist culture, Yinka is doing his bit, one piece of furniture at a time. Today, the London-based designer and entrepreneur shares his story.
What’s your passion?
Wow I have a lot of things I am passionate about, where do I start. I am passionate about furniture design, fashion design, and interior design! The list could go on but those are the top three.
What inspired you to get into design?
What inspired me to get into recycled furniture design was the waste of today’s modern society in the Western world. I was just fed up of seeing good furniture thrown away for no apparent reason when in my eyes, it was in good condition and just in need of a little clean. It came to a point where I would be on the bus, in a cab, or even walking and I would see discarded furniture near bins, local estates and near the roadside. Seeing all this got me really frustrated and wondering what’s wrong with our consumer society today. We no longer appreciate and value what we have, when there so many people who would value the things we throw away.
It was then that I was inspired to set up my own design consultancy yinksdesigns. Supported by the Princes Trust, I started collecting discarded furniture and re-designing it into something new, quirky and innovative – giving every old piece of furniture a second life and new function. Since then I have specialized in re-designing discarded furniture; collecting old furniture, dismantling it and then reassembling it into a new piece ready for use again.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
Bizarrely enough, my biggest obstacle has to be negative comments from people who never really believed in my dreams and didn't think I was serious about designing recycled furniture and starting my own business. At times these negative comments did get me down. If I say it didn’t, that would be a blatant lie. I always used to tell myself: either you sit down and let the comments affect you or you get up and make your dreams become a reality.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
I overcame the negativity by working like a maniac everyday for 6 months, perfecting my business plan in conjunction with the Princes Trust who provided me with funding. I also had a great mentor who helped me with my plan before I was given the funding. I remember applying for the funding – I was so nervous. It was exactly like Dragons Den only the panels were a lot nicer!
Looking past the negative comments from people who didn’t believe in me has made me stronger because all the hard work I put in is now slowly paying off. Taking the step to join the Princes Trust and start my own business has changed my life and my business is growing. People are talking about my work from London to New York and that makes me smile. It's funny because those who didn’t believe in me now want to collaborate.
What has your greatest achievement been?
To be honest my greatest achievement has to be where I am today, all thanks to God, my parents for believing in me, friends, The Princes Trust and the AACDD. Having my own business is a vision I always had when I was at university studying for a BA in Product and Furniture design.
Fellow students always used to ask me what I was going to do after uni and I would say "set up my own design consultancy called yinksdesigns". They would say "ok" but they never thought I would take that big step. Most students had already decided they wanted to be teachers or go into careers that had nothing to do with what they'd studied, because the industry is competitive and they didn’t think they would make it. However, I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and what route I needed to take to get there. Having my own design consultancy was my vision and that’s all I knew.
Looking back, I have come really far and sometimes I have to slap myself and be like, "yes, it’s happening now, you have your own business!" It's very very hard running your own business but I am doing something that makes me happy and that I am passionate about. I have achieved a lot of things such as exhibiting at New Designers, 100% design and the AACDD Exhibition. Without a business plan, the Princes Trust and belief in myself, I would not be where I am today, and that’s the truth.
Where will you be in 10 years?
I am still thinking about next year! In 10 years time I see myself married with kids. No, I'm joking, let me change that. I hope to own my first retail shop somewhere in West London, North London or Shoreditch so that my furniture can be accessible to a wide range of people. It would be nice to have a retail shop that has a workshop space because at the moment I work from home. I would also like to branch out to Nigeria as the demand for my work is gradually increasing day by day. I don’t feel I am ready to do that now as I still have so much work to do here in London.
How does Africa inspire you?
Africa inspires me to work hard and strive for success. The sky’s the limit.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Follow me on Twitter (@yinksdesigns). I'm always there – I think I am addicted! Follow me to keep up to date with all my current shows and upcoming exhibitions in the run up to Christmas.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/years?
Yes yes yes. I will be showcasing and selling my work at the Princes Trust Christmas Fayre on the 29th of November 2011 in Central London and Old Spitafields Market. Full details of the time and location are being finalised and will be confirmed soon. The Princes Trust Christmas Fayre is not a public event so if anyone is interested in attending come please RSVP names to yinkalr [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk or send me a message on Twitter. The BIG exhibition I will be doing next year is the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York in May. I will be collaborating with talented textile designer, Julie Dugbatey – it’s going to be great! That’s all I’m saying. To keep up to date with me and all these exciting events please just follow me on Twitter!
Get in touch with Yinka if you have any unwanted or damaged furniture so that he can rehabilitate it and create something beautiful. Aside from Twitter, you can onnect with Yinka on Facebook and check out more of his work and the story behind the pieces shown above, on Flickr.
Photos courtesy of Yinka Ilori