Origin Story

We started THIS IS US with a simple mission, to show that Nigerian made can be of a very high quality that people at home and abroad can be proud of. We wanted “Made in Nigeria” to be synonymous with the best value, in the same way that “Made in Italy”, “Made in Japan” or “Scandinavian design” are recognized globally as a high standards for people to benchmark against. 

In the beginning, before THIS IS US was even an idea, Oroma was working on a white shirt collection, playing with things like raffia and exploring production in places like Turkey. At the time she was working at Ermenegildo Zegna’s flagship store in Lagos, and inspired by the quality of garments sold in the store, she was playing with the idea of a suite of white shirts that people could wear on different occasions. From work, to play, to going out, to staying at home. You could say this was our Uniform wear collection before uniform wear. Oroma is a lifelong fan of black and white. And the idea of white shirts all the time sat well with her design aesthetic.

Unfortunately, or should we say fortunately, Oroma got knocked up, we got married and she had to have the baby in America, so the shirt making idea was put on hold. When Oroma got back to the white shirts idea, traveling to Turkey to produce seemed impractical because of our young child and work demands. So she started asking what was available in Nigeria. She began visiting textile mills in Lagos, markets, and speaking to people in the fashion industry; asking questions about what was available? What was made here? What was great quality?

In those exploratory days, the two of us would spend evenings discussing some of Oroma’s findings. We would lament the challenges of finding great quality. It was a very developmental time as well. As a couple, we were setting up our new home, working with artisans of various backgrounds to build furniture and home fittings. Every step of the way seemed to be a challenge because no one seemed to value the work of their hands. No one was creating from a design, and they were all in a hurry to deliver shoddy work. 

We should mention though that our painter, Yomi, was the one bright spot. Although a fish head who was drinking half the time, he took the job of house painting very seriously. He was meticulous, and he and his team painted without interrupting the flow of our home. We had a very troublesome wall with awful damp from poorly installed tiles on the front of the building that held rain water. Through multiple experiments, we worked with Yomi to finish the wall with a cement like material that absorbed the damp, while still retaining a unique textured grey finish. There’s a lovely family photo of Oroma and Roland in front of that wall shot by the artist photographer Kadara Enyeasi for Oroma’s birthday. 

We missed the days from our childhood when products were made well. Osione particularly remembers a chair which has been in his family for over 30 years. He would doubt this memory, but there’s a photo of Tolu, his brother as a baby sitting on the chair in his family home in Benin – they left Benin in 1992 when he was 6. Do the math!

The chair is a simple design, burgundy upholstery, with curved wooden legs. Osione’s parents have moved a couple more times since that photo, and the chair still sits in the corner of their room. That chair represents the promise of “Nigerian made.” It was made well, and it has stood the test of time. It is great quality, proudly made by a Nigerian, using materials from Nigeria. Osione asked his dad once about the chair, and his dad said, “Oh yeah, there was a time when you had really great carpenters and furniture makers in Benin; I think there was a program they were all part of.”

Our search for great quality “Nigerian made” led us to Osogbo, when one day, Oroma had the idea to create marble print - black and white and grey. She was starting to veer off from the white shirt collection. Maybe because she wasn’t finding the super fine cotton she wanted the shirts to have. Whatever the case, she began  researching ways  to make the marble print, and she had a conversation with our good friend, and founder of Post-Imperial, Niyi Okuboyejo. At the time, Niyi was using adire dyeing techniques to create his own textiles, and was working with dyers at the adire dyeing Village in Osogbo, founded by legendary artist, Nike Ekundaye-Davies. 

Niyi introduced us to his master dyer, Yemi, and we drove from Lekki to Osogbo to see if he could help us achieve the marble print. Oroma believed that if you waxed the fabric and then cracked it, you could place it in a dye solution, and the dye would seep in through the cracks creating the marble print. Yemi was intrigued and open to trying it. 

Still on our mission to find Nigerian made, we had asked Niyi before going to Osogbo if he knew of indegenous Nigerian fabric, and he said we should speak to his dyer about Funtua. Before we left Osogbo, we asked Yemi about the fabric, and he took us to the market to buy a couple yards. “This is Funtua” he said. “Why is it called that?” we inquired. “That’s the name they call Nigerian cotton in the market.” We loved it! Here was what we had been looking for. Nigerian made. It was nice. Not the finest cotton, but it was good. We felt it was special, and wanted to share it with the world.

We spent our drive back gushing about the fabric and all the possibilities it held. That night, Oroma wrote in her notebook, “This is Funtua, Nigerian made cotton”. That would be the message we had for the world. We don’t remember exact details now, but we spent more time talking about what “Nigerian made” could be, that’s how we came up with our mantra and the name “THIS IS US”. It all just flowed out…

We create value. We believe in the work of our hands. We use local resources to serve local communities. We imagine experiences and design possibilities. We work together. We celebrate what we have and create what we don't have. We are proud of our products. We are proud of our people. We are proud of our nation…THIS IS US. 

Riffing off her white shirt designs, Oroma had the idea to make a new kind of t-shirt, one that was both your classic white tee, but also ours, you know, loose, like our buba or like the danshiki. She went to work on prototypes using the Funtua we had gotten from Yemi. And Osione went to work on a design we could screen print on the shirt. At the time, Osione was super obsessed with Erik Spiekermann’s Meta typeface, and was using it in all of his graphic design work, so he wrote “This is” and “Nigerian made cotton” in Meta. But “Funtua” was something special; that one needed its own typeface, something that stood tall, so he created custom lettering to capture that feeling.

We were super proud of ourselves and what we had created and we spent the next few months making different versions of the shirt, sharing it with friends and family. The more we created, the more confident we became about what we had discovered. We started dyeing in Osogbo; Oroma saw something in the indigo, so we made shirts that were a plain indigo, with “This is FUNTUA, Nigerian made cotton” printed boldly on the front in one version, and discreetly on the back in another version.

Before long, we started to ask more questions. Questions that would lead us to discover that Funtua is a place in Northern Nigeria, where cotton has been grown and milled since the 1970s. And we would discover Nigeria’s cotton production history, which was at one time top in global production. We would hop on bikes around Kano, learning about leather production and indigo dyeing; and revisit the city over and over again to discover new techniques and design fabric with local crafts people. 

All of our adventures would lead to more discoveries and inspire new products like our uniform wear, our sister's collection OMIZU, various capsules and collaborations, and our made in canvas accessories. 

We take our time to design and redesign, always asking how we can elevate Nigerian design, so that the products we create represent who we are, our heritage – where we are coming from – but also all of us today, in the way that the clothes we wear and the products we consume are useful for making our lives richer whether we are at home or abroad.