Amidst the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic also came the opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to devise creative ways to utilize and showcase their talents while generating income. Contemporary artist and fashion designer Abiola Haroun was among them. Profoundly deaf, the West African native says her company, Afrotika, fully came to fruition in 2020.
“During the pandemic, I had lots of free time due to being secluded and also working remotely,” said Haroun. “This allowed me to sit down and reflect on the things I wanted to do and had never done due to lack of time. Throughout the pandemic, I created multiple pieces of artwork and clothing. I was amazed at how much one can accomplish if given the time. The pandemic taught me how to use my time effectively. I was able to filter out the activities that were time wasters and focus on being productive.”
Based in Baltimore, Aftotika sells African-inspired art, clothing and accessories created by Haroun. Through the company, Haroun aims to empower deaf people in developing nations, and says she uses African fabrics purchased from Africa and donated fabric remnants from Africa to promote eco-friendliness and sustainability.
“I’m a very visual person,” said Haroun. “I pay attention to everything I see. Sometimes a simple leaf, its texture, color, and shape, can be an inspiration for me. I love asymmetry and odd shapes — I have no interest in perfection. There’s beauty in distortion. My designs also draw from West African culture, as I was born in West Africa, and I add a modern twist. My artwork and clothing can be embraced by anyone, regardless of their race or culture. I want people to see that African art and clothing can be fun and modern.”
Haroun says funds generated from Afrotika’s sales are donated to The Andrew Foster AfriDeaf Foundation– a non-profit organization geared towards promoting the education of deaf children and young adults. Haroun says she serves on its Board of Trustees.
“I’m deaf, so it’s my passion to witness the success of deaf children in developing nations,” she said. “This way, deaf children in Africa have access to school supplies and technology, placing them on the path to becoming successful members of their societies. What’s more, I just established a scholarship for outstanding deaf college students from developing nations who are enrolled in American universities — the DevNation Scholarship. Business and philanthropic organizations or individuals are welcome to donate to the scholarship.”
Haroun says Afrotika has also partnered with major Africa-based clothing and accessory designers to provide the best of African-made, which allows them to engage in the company’s fundraising efforts and gain a foothold in the USA. She says her son Matthew serves as the company’s CFO and handles logistics.
The writer, editor and published poet says she migrated to England at an early age then to the United States as a teenager. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and has worked as a chemist for various biotechnology companies. She also earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Baltimore.
“I’ve been an artist and fashion aficionado since I was a child,” she said. “I was always surrounded by art, design and style. As an adult, I spent many years creating art solely as keepsakes. However, as time went by, I realized how gifted I am and that there are tons of deaf children in developing nations who are not as privileged as I am; many don’t have access to the quality education I’ve received. Hence the birth of Afrotika. It allows me to create and to also give back, which is a win-win scenario.”
Haroun says her dream is to hold a gallery exhibition at a major art gallery.
“If you’re passionate about something, keep doing it, keep believing in yourself and don’t give up,” she said. “It might be hard at first, and you’ll encounter challenges, because running a business, or whatever you aspire to do, and having a disability creates many obstacles. But obstacles are meant to be overcome, and consistency pays off.”
For more information about Afrotika, which also holds pop-ups around Baltimore, visit https://www.Etsy.com/shop/Afrotika or the company’s Instagram page, Afrotika_Arts.