- Nigerian fashion brand Winston Leather is making luxury fashion more attainable with its leather goods.
- Its founder, Winston Udeagha, runs his family’s leather making business in Kano, Nigeria.
- Most of Winston Leather’s purses retail for $200 or less.
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A good handbag can make or break any outfit. No matter how many you have, you can always find a reason to need a new one.
For designer Winston Udeagha, founder of the African fashion brand Winston Leather, leather handbags aren’t just a statement fashion accessory — they are part of his heritage. Speaking with Insider, he said that he descends from a long line of leather suppliers based in Kano, Nigeria, a city in the country’s northern region known as a capital of leather manufacturing.
Udeagha learned the craft of leather making from his father, who learned it from his relatives.
“For literally hundreds of years, this leather has been the most sought after. It has to do with the breed of the animal as well that thrives in Nigeria because of the climate, the food, and the vegetation,” Udeagha told Insider.
When Udeagha founded Winston Leather in the early 1990s, the company was mainly supplying leather suppliers to fashion brands like Ralph Lauren, which then sold their products at luxury price points, he said. European brands like Louis Vuitton also source leather for their handbags from Udeagha’s Nigeria-based company.
Most of Winston Leather’s handbags range from $55 to $200. Udeagha said he wants fashion-conscious consumers to afford luxury items — especially people in his community who manufacture leather but don’t own it themselves.
He recalled a time watching a news story about a family of cocoa farmers living in Ghana, and he said none of them had tasted chocolate despite growing the ingredients that make the gourmet treat for consumers in Western countries.
“A lot of Africans don’t own high-quality leather products. It’s the same thing,” Udeagha said.
As Udeagha worked to expand his business in 2020, protests sparked by the death of George Floyd caused a movement to support Black-owned businesses across multiple sectors.
That year, Udeagha’s company reached a new audience after fashion historian Shelby Ivey Christie and Udeagha engaged in threads on Twitter about the luxury industry’s reliance on leather makers in Kano, and Christie tweeted about her own Winston Leather bag.
Christie, who’s known for sharing Twitter threads on the origins of popular garments and the creative influence of the African diaspora in the industry, told Insider in an email that she came across Winston Leather when researching West African tanneries and their connection to luxury fashion brands.
“It’s important to me to always be showcasing how Black people have always had a hand in the fashion ethos and industry. Their business was a prime example of this,” Christie said.
In June 2020, Winston Leather received its highest sales in its 30 years of business, Udeagha told Insider.
Udeagha said he hopes to contribute to a changing conversation around how luxury is defined, and how traditional definitions of luxury fashion can be limiting to Black creatives who are often barred from such circles.
“My idea of luxury is to be able to express yourself through fashion or other products in a way that is unique to you,” Udeagha said.
“There are too many ways that we get divided. I feel as a Black person that I’ve been excluded from a lot,” Udeagha said.
Udeagha said he hopes Winston Leather lets all people access high-end fashion.
“I insist on including everyone, anyone who likes fashion [and] who wants luxury,” he said.