If you’re a young African living in the Western world, chances are you’ve grappled with questions that imply Africa is a country. Or maybe eating food native to your homeland feels like a time travel to your childhood. The spring line for Pop Caven, a contemporary line of apparel, encapsulates those feelings into colorful T-shirts emblazoned with Fela lyrics, cute slogans like “I Love Jollof,” and images of indigenous hairstyles.
The line was created by Doreen Caven and her sister Joan. We spoke to Doreen about the inspiration behind the line and what led her to a career in fashion design.
Tell us a bit about you and how you decided to break into the world of design.
I am Nigerian, the 5th born of 6 children. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to America as a teenager. I was a Biology Major in College, and also minored in African Art. I had a huge passion for Fashion and during my gap year decided to start a Fashion Line with my Younger sister Joan and my best friend, Ozzy. We called it Cranberry and it was for the girl who loved the movie “The Heathers” and imagined herself as the Carrie [Bradshaw from “Sex and the City] in her group of friends and basically saw life through an ultra glamorous lens. We had some buzz going and it was extremely rewarding pursuing my passion but I received my admission letter to Dental School and it was super impossible to juggle both, so that dream was lost.
So how did you eventually start the line if you decided to pursue dentistry?
My journey to being a Dentist ended abruptly two years later when I stopped fooling myself and decided to be courageous and take a leap of faith. Why did I choose Dentistry in the first place? I have Nigerian parents [laughs], enough said. Fashion was not an option, at least then. I decided to get a masters instead in Epidemiology, which I graduated from in 2012. During that period I ran a Fashion Blog with my sister and two of my closest friends. We called it “The4acesdate” [laughs]. It was originally about our dating lives but people asked us so much about what we wore that we decided to make it a Fashion blog, it became hugely popular especially among Africans in the diaspora and it was a joy to connect with so many people like us. The goal of the blog was to get enough followers that we would be able to launch our businesses with it as a safety cushion.
I, my sister and our friend Ozzy started our casual wear brand in 2013, we called it Caven Etomi, our last names combined. Late 2015, Ozzy decided to pursue other venues and my sister and I continued the brand as Pop Caven, leading us to this very moment.
(Joan and Doreen Caven via instagram.com/doreencaven)
How do you describe Pop Caven and the products you offer?
Pop Caven is the voice of the African in the Diaspora who loves Art, Culture (African & otherwise), retro nostalgia and is always down for a good time. We make products that are fun to wear and usually have a message that is great to share. We have so far been blessed enough to connect with so many people around the world who love an item of clothing so much that they are willing to have it at all costs. It’s extremely humbling and it is so worth it to keep designing new products that are super exciting to our market. We launched in 2013, with very art heavy designs and now with Pop Caven we are heading towards embracing not only just Art but Popular culture. We want our tees to say what we have ALWAYS wanted to say, and represent us boldly even without speech.
What inspired you to start the company and what is your role?
We were inspired to start the brand because we realized that there was a gap in the market for a casual wear African brand. We wanted to be the storytellers of the young contemporary African. Through our eyes via our social media, our images represent Africa in the way we actually are, and not the way the world wants to imagine us to be.We try to convey that in our clothing, our lookbook/campaign images and even through our models.
I wear many hats in the company, same as my sister Joan, who is my partner through and through. We are creative directors, designers, art directors, photographers etc haha. We have a studio where we make some of the shirts, and for more complex printing styles we outsource. We basically do most of the work, it’s a very small company structure at the moment and we are extremely hands on in how the brand is represented.
How did you come up with the name Pop Caven?
Haha, this literally happened in December 2015! Our best-friend Ozzy wanted to go in a different direction with her life.It was a bitter sweet time because we loved our team but believe that changes are necessary in everyone’s life. We decided to look upon the change in a positive way. To make it so much more dramatic, at that very same time our domain name was expiring and we had 24 hours to retain www.cavenetomi.com or renew it. We didn’t have any option but to come up with a new name immediately! We brainstormed a couple of names and just looked around our office and realized we had so many Pop Art pieces we had designed for our brand and just decided to go with Pop Caven! Super simple and super us.
Describe the Pop Caven customer.
The Pop Caven customer is stylish, aware and cultured. A lover of fashion, but it has to mean something as well. They are present in the happenings of the contemporary world, but still appreciate cultural references from the past. The Pop Caven customer wants to connect and shares images of what they enjoy frequently on their social media. The Pop Caven customer simply represents an African in the West, who has amassed culture from both sides of the world and is an active participant in both. The Pop Caven customers wants people to see Africa in the way they see it. The good with the bad, just like anywhere else.
What can people expect from your latest collection?
This collection is really aimed toward the Africans in the West. We wanted to do a collection that had phrases and sayings that we can relate to as African people who have lived outside our specific countries. A tee that can get you a wink and a high five from a fellow supporter of the message. Our aim really was to be able to have great items that are fun to wear but also have a message that teaches non Africans a bit more about us.
Check out more of the collection in the gallery above!
*Edited for clarity.