National Black Business Month is an exciting time to recognize the Black-owned businesses dedicated to diversity, equality and sustainability for us all. When it comes to home decor specifically, our consideration of those Black-owned resources for our home design not only adds unique value and beauty to our sanctuaries but also supports an important directory of the ethical companies we need to keep growing.
For Nana Quagraine, founder of the home furnishings company 54kibo, the road to owning and operating her own successful business was a winding, eclectic route. She began her career as a metallurgical engineer in South Africa, developing and conducting testing to ensure the safety of materials before broadening her professional horizons in strategy consulting. In 2006, she relocated to the United States to attend Harvard Business School (she graduated in 2008) and then spent the next four years working as a Wall Street investor.
2018 would see Quagraine’s professional path shift again to focus on protecting and exhibiting African artisan heritage. At the time, she recognized a market for individuals interested in having African design in their homes, but they lacked access, sourcing capabilities and direct ties to Africa. She felt compelled to do something about it and launched 54kibo, a sustainable, luxury lifestyle brand that offers consumers global access to meaningful and contemporary African home decor featuring Africa’s most talented, emerging designers.
Named for the same number of countries that make up the continent of Africa paired with Kibo, the highest peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, 54kibo showcases collections of the highest-quality, artisanally-made pieces, in everything from striking wall art and pendant lighting to the most opulent accent tables and area rugs, all carefully sourced and curated by Quagraine herself, by way of her diverse work experience, travel and professional connections.
Originally from Ghana, Quagraine grew up in South Africa, embraced by the countless cultures and subcultures of the continent, each with its own unique practices and systems. Although Africa’s multifaceted history serves as the framework for 54kibo’s brand identity, the company is respectful of its environmental, social, and economic impact on the mainland. The website allows customers to browse and shop by country, filtering selections to places like Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, and it makes ethically sourced textiles a priority—100% cotton fabric from Ethiopia, for example —a commodity that hails from a thousands-year-old industry that Quagraine is committed to keeping alive.
Social sustainability and transparency are also pivotal to the brand’s strategy and core ideas. They highlight the importance of providing an equitable and secure work environment for artisans by making regular visits to factories to ensure training, fair wages and safe work environments remain in place. The site carries a hover tooltip for each product—serving as a type of cultural storyteller—providing details on designers and where the item was made.
When asked what the future looks like for 54kibo, Quagraine’s goal is to position it at the forefront of culture sharing and storytelling with the world.
“People want to get to know each other,” she tells The Zoe Report. “They might not know where to start, or they’re too afraid to say the wrong thing. Many people are simply unable to travel to those countries. So my hope for 54kibo is to give people the tools, new vocabulary, and new products to experience the world differently, particularly Africa.”