Nana Kwadwo Osei (Nana K) and Nana Boateng Osei (Nana B) grew up in various places, including Ghana, the United Kingdom, the United States and South Africa. Their father worked for the Foreign Ministry of Ghana as a diplomat and regularly got posted to different countries. While influenced by the places they lived in, Nana K and Nana B are rooted primarily in Ghana and Africa. The constant physical and emotional connection to Ghana inspires a lot in the work they do.
The brothers, however, are very creative but in different ways; Nana K has a keen eye and deep understanding of identity, while Nana B is creative with business and astute with digital media/marketing. Nana K studied Computer Science initially and then Graphic Design, and Nana B studied Environmental Studies and Science.
The Osei brothers came together to start, Bôhten, a luxury eyewear brand rooted in Africa with an affinity for using natural materials. Strong believers in style with substance, they make their frames from reclaimed wood sourced from Ghana and other African countries.
Bôhten currently employs a team of about 25 people globally, based mostly in North America, West and East Africa. The company slogan is ‘We See You’, which pays homage to the community of globally-minded mavericks that embody the Bôhten way of being.
Kuulpeeps had a conversation with Nana K and Nana B about their company and how they built a brand that is inspired by their roots in Africa.
Growing up, did you both envisage becoming entrepreneurs?
Nana B: We might not have known it but we were both outliers in the sense that we didn’t just go through 4 years at university and started working a full-time job. We both had a lot of detours throughout the process that ultimately led us to entrepreneurship. Nana K had been part of an events company that threw Afrocentric parties in New York City, and taught himself how to design websites, logos and marketing collateral. I also started a brand that hosted environmentally-friendly events called Ecolux which worked with brands including Southbrook Winery, Pure Green Vodka, Thann Skin Care and Arc. The Hotel.
Nana K: I’ve wanted to be everything from an actor to a construction worker, haha. Nowadays, entrepreneurship is a career path and a respectable goal for many. For us back then it felt more like something you fell into (or more accurately fell upon you) by virtue of being an independent thinker. The titles come much later, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot; It is double the work and a (seemingly) slower pace of building a career and life. I think we have been particularly fortunate to build something like Bohten because it has allowed us to discover who we really are through the process.
What inspired the name of your brand – ‘Bôhten’?
Nana K: Bôhten is derived from ‘Boateng’, Nana B’s middle name; as a way to reflect our culture, but also taking the opportunity to develop a new identity from its foundation.
Take us through your journey building an eyewear brand from scratch?
Nana B: Bôhten started its journey by producing wood sunglasses. Our very first collection was called the ‘Barklae’ and was a staple wayfarer-style piece for nature and outdoor lovers. We quickly saw the need to produce optical eyeglasses which led us to subsequently launch the ‘Hanson and Exstel’ collection; our first acetate and wood frames. Building from scratch meant there really was no blueprint for us to follow and we just had to figure it out day by day, even now. We’ve used this to our advantage to give ourselves the freedom to try new things. By partnering with production houses and other creatives we experiment with new materials like metal, carbon fibre, acetate and different kinds of wood. The most difficult part of building a company is team building, but by 2015 we decided to begin bringing people on board. In 2016 we launched our first eyewear factory in Toronto, Ontario, as our long term plan was to do more of the development and production in-house in the future. By 2018 we had run a Kickstarter which helped us open our first production hub in Ghana and began learning to prototype in-house. The journey has been filled with lots of ups and downs, but at this point, we’re using what we’ve learned to build better foundations for the future.
What influences the kinds of eyewear collections you produce?
Nana B: We have a small but varied set of frames with everything from wayfarers, aviators as well as unconventional circular styles. A constant inspiration for us is retro glasses, as well as modern innovators like Retrosuperfuture and style icons like Liam Gallagher, Run DMC and Kanye West.
What makes your eyewear brand unique from other eyewear brands around the world?
Nana K: We’re known for our use of wood and the narrative of the company. I also believe we’re much more connected to Africa than others, simply due to our physical presence here and the obvious influences of culture in how we communicate to the market. Lastly, people have over the years paid attention because they see an unfolding story in what we do yearly. We’re the underdogs that people want to watch to see what happens.
Aside from Nordstrom, which other brands have you collaborated with?
Nana B: We have had the pleasure of partnering with HBO to create a capsule collection for their Lovecraft Country TV show premiere. We also partnered with Google for Small Business Week, Pinterest and Facebook for multiple campaigns over the past few years. We also recently teamed up with Harry Rosen, one of the oldest luxury menswear chains in Canada.
What do you both hope to achieve as an eyewear brand in the near future?
Nana B: We’ve been at this for almost a decade now, and spent the last few years refining our craft. We’re keen on sharing this with the world, starting with our upcoming ‘We See You’ campaign that reflects where we are now. People should also expect a new set of bolder, vibrant silhouettes to be released all 2022 and 2023, including our first Acetate frames. There are also a few exciting collaborations in the works that we hope to announce soon. Ultimately, we want to be the go-to brand that serves the continent of Africa and its diaspora with frames that make people forget they are wearing glasses and focus on being the best possible version of themselves. We want to bridge the gap between people and products by reconciling us all with nature, one another, and most importantly oneself.
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