This month's Meet the Maker, Detola of Detola & Geek came to lampshade making later in life, using her passion for African textiles as her vehicle for a new self-taught career.
Building her business from making lampshades that pack a colourful punch to celebrate her Nigerian heritage, she cleverly uses a variety of lampshade shapes and sizes to show off the bold and beautiful patterns to their max. We catch up with Detola and find out more about how Detola & Geek started, how she sees lampshade making as a science and what she thinks it takes to build a strong, successful lampshade making business.
Hi Sam, how are you doing?
How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
Am quite well, thank you. I am prepping and deciding on which African print fabric designs to make into lampshades for my upcoming Christmas Maker markets and fairs.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?
I first of all I study the design and texture of the fabric to try and work out what style, shape, finish
etc will work best and appeal to my customers. I am actually quite geeky and look at the whole
process of lampshade making as a science. Sometimes it just hits me straight away and I get
Other times it may be a case of thinking outside the box, searching the internet, magazines and
personal photographs or even my travel adventures that have inspired me. I will then decide on
either introducing a new style entirely or how I am going to add some “extra factor” (for want of a
better word) to make the end result stand out more.
How would you describe your style?
My creative style is a mix of my African cultural roots in the form of African wax prints and traditional textiles, from being a British born Nigerian, infused with Western influences. As a result people get those African vibes mixed with a bit of retro, mid century modern chicness.
It’s clear from your shades, cushions, bags and other products that you love to show off
the patterns from your cultural roots. Why did you choose to make lampshades?
I started my maker journey much, much later on in my adult life. Having been to university many
many moons ago and worked with many different organisations in different industries over the
years. Due to ongoing long term health issues, as well as being a divorced single mom, I had to
find my own 'real-life' work balance that fit in with my needs. I dabbled in a few different things
as you do. In fact, I wanted to become an interior designer/stylist when I ventured out on my
I love my African textiles to death and am a sucker for all things interiors, so I had a real life
'lightbulb' moment to literally make and sell lamp shades. I bit the bullet and taught myself how to
make vibrant and bold African/Ankara handcrafted lampshades. I initially named my Etsy shop
'Ankara Lampshades' to let the world know what exactly I was gonna be flogging to them
😂…..being a new business venture. I have since rebranded to what everyone now knows
as Detola & Geek.
From the moment I sold my first lampshade order online and it got to Canada safely in one
piece, I exhaled & knew I was on the right track. So here I am today with an expanded range of
lampshades carefully curated by me in my home studio in Hertfordshire.
Also, where did the name Detola and Geek come from?
The first half of my brand name is actually a derivative of my full name, which is Adetola. When I
was growing up in Leeds, some of my Aunties used to affectionately call me ‘Detola'. As I grew
older some of my closest friends started calling me that too. So I've always been called that.
The second half is derived from the nickname I gave my son when he was younger - Funky "Geek".
(And no …. he doesn't answer to that anymore as he is an adult now! Lol).
When did you start making lampshades?
I started making lampshades to sell in 2013. I am a self-taught designer/maker and there were no
lampshade classes or workshops near where I lived at the time when I decided I wanted to sell
my own handmade lampshades.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
It’s always about the African textiles for me, as everything I make is centred around their design
- pattern, colours & all. Lock me up in a shed full of these fabrics and I’ll be as happy as Larry.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
Hhhhm, because I have different makes from the one-of-a-kinds, limited editions to the regulars,
I’ll more or less say the drum style of lampshade is what most people go for. It’s also kind of like
a 50-50 split when it comes to the inside lining choice of standard white lining & the other
options I offer.
We couldn’t help notice the you really experiment with different shaped shades. What’s
your favourite shape of shade and how do you match them to the fabric?
In terms of shape I would definitely say the drum style as I find it the easiest and quickest to
make especially when I have a lot of orders to fulfil at the same time. When it comes down to my favourite drum styles - I love making the double-sided/ lined ones as well as the tiered lampshades.
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
I’d say first and foremost you’ve got to have passion for making lampshades as running a
business has it’s highs & lows. It’s never going to be a smooth road.
Have your own USP/niche so that you stand out from other lampshade businesses. Don’t be a
copycat - there’s room for everyone and enough customers to go round.
When are you at your most productive?
I have always been an early morning kinda person. Having said that though, there is no set
schedule or routine when you run your own business. Every single day is different no matter how
much I plan ahead - something always seems to creep in. So it is not always in my control.
At times I am working late on an order burning the midnight oil.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
A nice cuppa fruit or herbal tea & some smooth jazz or R&B playing in the background, when I
am making. I also switch it up at times to some Afro beats.
Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
Well, I would love to be working at an easier pace so that I have more time to myself. Extra help,
outsourcing some of the monotonous standard work flows and processes and maybe having a
proper studio space to boot. Watch this space!
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
Staying in my own unique lane while minding my lampshade making business. You’ve got to
believe in yourself first that you can do it and have the determination to carry on.
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