Cotonou – Benin might be a small, low-income country but that does not mean that its people always keep a low profile or lack what it takes to move mountains. Music superstar Angelique Kidjo dreamed big and went on to conquer the world, putting her country on the map of stardom.
Another artist is on the rise, this time around not in music but in handicraft. Judith Akplogan is the expression of Africa redesigning its culture and identity though the art of handmade decorative stuff.
Her products, designed with an imagination of Benin’s cultural diversity and inspired by a millennial touch, are superb and inspiring. Those who bought her items speak highly of her, while others are just speechless, except for saying that a star is rising in the clouds of Benin and Africa’s handicraft.
Born on 14 May 1993 in Sèmè-Kpodji, 30 km east of the commercial capital Cotonou, Judith is a former nurse who lost hope after the clinic she was working for closed down. “I stayed at home for a while, thinking what to do next,” she told Daily Afrika. “I was disappointed for losing my job and I made a decision that the nursing career was over for me.”
“I tried many things, including catering, that didn’t work, and I ended up going for handicraft training in the capital Porto-Novo,” she explains. “Once I put my foot in there, I knew that I was destined to become an artist and not any other artist, the one whose talented expression will inspire society and get people talking about my work.
“I remember very well how in the beginning our trainer used to laugh at my designs. She wanted me to stick to what she gave us to do. But I thought they were odd and old, so I wanted to do more than that by breaking a few rules and going beyond to bring out something fantastic.
“And I can now safely say that I have succeeded because not only because my customers appreciate my creativity and like what they see.”
Globally, the handicraft sector continues to grow year after year, having reached a market value of US$526.5 billion in 2017, and forecast to increase to $984.8 billion by 2023, according to Research and Markets. On a regional front, North America is the leading market accounting for majority of the global share.
Over the years, the global handicrafts market has experienced a shift from ethnic designs to contemporary patterns coupled with the increasing adoption of handicrafts by the elite society, PR Newswire reported on its website. One of the primary factors catalysing the growth of the market is a strong demand from offices, hospitals and hotels.
Moreover, the market is also influenced by rise in travel and tourism as tourists often collect souvenirs, particularly handicrafts, from the places they have visited.
Judith’s products, including bags, ties and chains, leave a sweet taste in the mouths of tourists and cross-border traders from various parts of Africa. And they continue to crave for more. The elite society has also caved in, ordering stuff from time to time.
Like her counterpart Angelique Kidjo who proved that one does not need to be born in a poor country in order to shine, Akplogan continues to dream big and intends to take on the continent and the world, in the quest for big bucks, glory and stardom.
“I want to travel all over our dear continent, including in places like South Africa, where the handicraft sector is well established and is taken seriously more than here in Benin,” she said. “I want the people of Africa and the world to see my products and appreciate my talent, and help me reach the skies.”
But to get there, Judith has to overcome various challenges that she is currently. facing Lack of funding and access to markets, low prices, and lack of workforce and marketing budget, among others, are some challenges that she is battling with.
“I desperately need support to help my work move forward and conquer the world,” Judith concluded.