13 Sep I am loved, I am courageous, I celebrate colour.
Ogo and Claire Mkparu are the founders of Akwa Baby, a unisex kids clothing brand they started to promote acceptance and self-love. Here they tell us what inspired them to start their brand and the legacy they are giving their children.
My name is Ogoegbunam Ejimofo Uguchukwu Mkparu. I’m a British-born, First Generation Nigerian, I’m a husband and dad to two small children.
My mother raised myself and my three siblings single-handedly after my father passed away just as I turned 18-monthsold. There was a period of time in my childhood that we spent eight years living in Nigeria and so I had exposure to a typical Western African way of life, and then, when we returned to London I could really see the contrast was palpable.
Here I was living in London at the age of 13, not Nigerian by native standards and not British by cultural comparison. To be honest, we lived in financial hardship but to me, we still had more than some and so I was raised with an attitude of gratitude for what living in the West could provide.
I will admit that a feeling of shame shrouded my African heritage growing up. I wasn’t old enough to question why there wasn’t much positive representation of Black people in British culture, and why the social divide was so acute. Why my name was unpronounceable to everybody and why the physical features of a Black person were one of comic fascination. When an insecurity lives within you that comes from how you look – and that is also felt by everyone else who looks like you too – that’s incredibly tough for a child to process and overcome.
When I reached my twenties I decided I’d had enough of this disparity in my identity. What did it mean to be Black British, and how can I embrace my heritage? I started my own process of self-education. I read books and books about African history, the empires, the cultures and the landscapes, people of note, self-made, successful Black men and women. Over time I built pride in myself and a connection to Black culture that allowed me to embrace the strengths, the resilience and the beauty of what it means to have African ancestry.
It’s my wish that my children grow up seeing and believing positive reinforcement of a love and acceptance for themselves and that they offer that same love and acceptance to all others, regardless of race or background. Akwa Baby was born to spread a positive social message about self love, confidence and the celebration of diversity. We want to promote the belief to our children and to all children that they have unlimited potential and our vision for the company is that all children will grow up in a world where they feel they are valued.
Ogo and I met at a music festival, noticing each other across a crowded dance tent and basically never looked back at single life! Our first daughter, Chia, appeared and she turned the world I’d previously held as a young, carefree working professional into complete disarray (as they do). Nothing truly prepares you for the journey of motherhood and with my experience came the additional considerations of raising a child with brown skin.
We decided to set up Akwa Baby over dinner one night as a newborn Chia fell asleep in her Dad’s arms. We’d wanted to buy her some African fabric clothing so she could be matching with her Nnenna (Ogo’s mum) at an upcoming family event. Buying clothes for Chia on the high street really started to open my eyes. Faced with rows and rows of very traditional, Western prints and colour palettes, I realised that only a certain type of baby was really considered. I wanted vibrancy and a stunning nod to her heritage to show off our pride – but I also wanted it in baby-soft clothing.
We started studying a bit about fabrics from the African continent and read about how the process of producing these prints were often passed between generations, and that the symbols or the line formations you see can also be meaningful messages.
Ogo and I have always been in synchronicity when it comes to knowing how we want our children to feel growing up. It was at this point we had our lightbulb moment about what we could do to not only help build the self esteem of our children but to maybe even help start a movement among all little people!
We created our first print, OBI (meaning ‘heart’ in Ogo’s Igbo language) to carry symbols that represent three positive affirmations: I am loved, I am courageous, I celebrate colour.
“Celebrate colour” to us means: I see and love the uniqueness of myself and the uniqueness of others.
The range has been produced with all Oek-Tek approved fabrics, components and inks in an organic cotton and bamboo mix for added softness. We’re also proud to say there is no plastic between the manufacturer and our customer, as all branded tags, attachments and packaging have been crafted from natural fibres and FSC approved paper.
My story of growing up is in stark contrast to Ogo’s. I was raised in a home counties suburb and, for most of my life, I will admit I was unaware and unconsidered about what it meant to be an ethnic minority person growing up in our country. Meeting Ogo and seeing the pride he carried in who he was and where his roots were laid was incredibly inspiring.
My years spent with Ogo and raising children together have given me new ways of thinking, seeing and approaching the world. Truthfully, in the years before meeting Ogo the topic of race would probably have been an awkward one for me. but now I run towards opportunities to learn and converse and understand and I’m passionate about encouraging other parents to be involved in this important
Five years on and I’m definitely still a work in progress and I make mistakes but that’s OK because I’m trying and I’m motivated and I’m not afraid to help create some positive societal change in this lifetime!