Interview: Moyi Moyi

Moyi Moyi is the new Swedish bag brand on the block – taking sustainability seriously on every level. Behind the brand is Jenny Nordlöw, who in addition to working full time also designs and manages the brand with its production in Nigeria.

The idea of Moyi Moyi started when Jenny lived in Nigeria a year ago. She had moved there with her boyfriend to work for a global media company as the digital startup market is rapidly growing in Lagos, Nigeria. When she was there she heard about the leather industry and the great knowledge Nigerians have of it. But since Nigeria has oil many other sectors tend to cease. Jenny describes how they import both shoes and bags from China to Nigeria, even though they have both the leather and the knowledge of how to use it to make leather goods.
– I thought it was a shame that they export the leather to Europe instead of using it themselves, says Jenny.

The birth of Moyi Moyi
But then Jenny met an artisan, Obi Ononye, who was very talented at making bags and had been doing it for decades. She asked him to make a bag for her and it turned out so good she felt that “this could really be something” and at the same time she also saw a possibility to affect both economically and socially in Nigeria.
– The possibility to combine my interests for fashion and design, with my interests in the digital and e-commerce sphere – and at the same time contribute to social impact – feels amazing, says Jenny and continues:
– I see myself not only as a fashion entrepreneur, but also as a social and digital entrepreneur.

All the leather used for the Moyi Moyi bags is purchased at the local markets in Nigeria.
– That way we can revive the local production.

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Together Jenny and Obi design the bags and then Obi sews them. He has his own company with the help of his wife and three sons, and Jenny buys the bags from him. Most of the sales are online and the brand has a few retailers. When Jenny still lived in Nigeria she did a lot of sketches for different sample models since the design process is a little bit more complicated now that she’s relocated to Stockholm.
– We skype, whatsap, text and e-mail each other and send pictures back and forth until it’s right, so it works well for us.

The logistics aren’t too difficult either. Jenny’s boyfriend, who also is involved in Moyi Moyi, still works in Nigeria and therefore travels to Lagos for one week every month. He overlooks the production and takes care of the logistics back to Stockholm.

The brand was named after a Nigerian delicacy made out of beans.
– Not because it was good but because it sounded beautiful, Jenny laughs.

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Producing in Nigeria
Jenny is careful to point out that she isn’t producing in Africa because it would be cheap, if she wanted it as cheap as possible she says she’d be in Asia. She tells she wanted to produce in Nigeria because they are talented and have great knowledge and also because she can make a social impact on the community by doing so. And she says that Nigeria isn’t the easiest country to produce in.
– It’s hard if you come from the outside. There’s little to no tourism in Nigeria so you need local knowledge and there are also cultural differences when it comes to working together.

Something that’s grown to be a part of her message with the Moyi Moyi bags is to break prejudices about a certain kind of design people expect to come from African countries. Her bags are as Scandic as they can be in the design, with no excess details or hardware, clean lines and raw edges. Although she has added an “African touch” – the bags are delivered to the customers in textile bags, which are bought from a man at the local market.

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Sustainability and social consciousness
For Jenny the sustainability part is important, and not only on one level. For her the production has to be sustainable environmentally, economically and socially.
– It’s what motivates me, that I can make a change. I would never start a brand if it didn’t have “a deeper meaning”.

Jenny describes how she wants to be transparent with her production and open about the challenges of producing sustainably. Indeed, in the beginning she wanted to produce bags out of vegetable-tanned leather, but there wasn’t any available at the local market. Now she is looking at producing in other African countries as well, if they can make bags out of vegetable-tanned leather.

For Jenny it’s also important that the journey from the producer to the customer is short. She wants to have personal contact with the customers when it comes to special requests and feedback rather than having a retailer in between.

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The design of the bags
The designs are timeless and very minimalistic which also has its idea in the sustainable thinking that is evident in Moyi Moyi. The bags are supposed to be worn by anyone, both men and women, at any age and for a long time as well. The bags are made in black and brown cow leather without hardware and with raw edges. The leather is thick and the insides are unlined.

The inspiration for the designs has been drawn from vintage bags and the bucket bag model was inspired by a bag Jenny’s friend had. Jenny also finds her inspiration in the Scandinavian fashion scene, where she likes the simplicity and timelessness of the designs.

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The future of the brand
In the future, Jenny hopes to be able to collaborate with organizations and bring out the story behind her bags even more. She also wants to make producing with vegetable-tanned leather a reality and keep her production in Africa. She hopes to make new classic models and expand the digital experience in the online shop.

But one of Jenny’s biggest hopes isn’t something that has to do with the actual bags she’s designing, it is to be able to really affect the community by founding a trainee program where the knowledge of the craftsmanship would be passed down in generations to come in order to not disappear.
– It would be a dream to see the knowledge preserved in the future, she says.

moyimoyiMaterial samples and the textile bag the leather bags are delivered in.

Photography: Nanna von Knorring

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