BY JEN KENT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
A West Africa native, Amin Konkada moved to Milwaukee — a city he now calls home — seven years ago. “I have family living here, so I thought it would be good for me to be here,” Konkada says of his decision to relocate from his hometown of Benin, a country in West Africa, to Cream City. “I also have an entrepreneurial side, so the family said, ‘The United States would be very good for you, so come here and you can do better.’ So that’s the thing that brought me here.”
In just seven years’ time, Konkada’s entrepreneurial side has flourished. He launched his own home goods line in 2012, formally establishing Konkada, LLC, three years ago, and it recently surpassed 600 sales on Etsy. Each item — from the mud cloth pillows and tablecloths to the Milwaukee-themed lamps and coffee mugs — is handmade by Konkada in his Walker’s Point apartment.
“My main focus is mud cloth,” Konkada says, referring to the African fabric he uses for the majority of his textile products. He works directly with suppliers in Mali and Burkina Faso, both West African nations, to source the fabric. “All of the suppliers are people I personally know,” he adds. “(The fabric) is all authentic and handmade and hand-weaved, hand-painted or hand-dyed.”
Where to Buy Konkada, LLC Locally
» Four Corners of the World,
» Historic Milwaukee Inc.,
» Urban Milwaukee,
» The Waxwing,
Konkada says each mud cloth has a tribal meaning — white signifies purity, for example — and that he strives to pay homage to these cultural representations in his designs. He draws inspiration from more pragmatic sources too, like what the market demands and sheer practicality. “My choice for (using the color) indigo is because of the trend here, but for the other pillows, I like to go with simple patterns that will fit into neutral-colored houses,” he says. “That’s the first thing I think about: Where is the pillow going to go?”
Like many dedicated designers and budding entrepreneurs, Konkada is unable to choose a favorite item from his line. “They’re like my babies now. I can’t really pick one,” he says with a laugh. “I really have fun working on all the projects. They’re all different, and I don’t get bored. Even with the pillows, I always try to come up with new designs.”
Konkada’s sound business sense coupled with his commitment to providing consumers with honestly and authentically sourced products is perhaps the key to his mounting success. He is currently working with interior designers on both the East and West coasts and in Canada, where lines like his are especially popular, and, true to his roots, recently partnered with the Salesian Sisters, who run a Benin-based center that provides training to women in situations of poverty. “They help girls who have been trafficked,” Konkada explains. “(Because of) the condition that they live in, (the girls) run away and then they live on the streets. The sisters take them in and help them. They have classes where they teach them how to sew.” Konkada’s aprons and coin purses are hand sewn by the girls and can be purchased locally at Four Corners of the World on West Vliet Street.
The future of Konkada, LLC looks bright. “It’s still a dream for me to have a full line — curtains, pillows, even furniture,” says Konkada. “I’m working on refinishing furniture right now.” He’s also reupholstering cushions with mud cloth, he adds, and he hopes to have the pieces available for purchase on Etsy and at Four Corners of the World later this year. An even larger project is eventually opening his own brick and mortar shop with his sister, who designs tribal clothing and jewelry. “We’re still working on the location,” Konkada says. Plans to sell his line at select Madison area boutiques are in the works too.
Admirable business growth aside, Konkada remains humble and grateful. He considers Milwaukee home now, and he’s even looking forward to his next Wisconsin winter. “The first year (in Milwaukee) was very difficult. I came in September, and it was already cold,” he recalls. “But winter is my favorite season now. Everywhere is white; I like it.”