Creating a Uniquely African Eyewear Line

Studying optometry was not Anthonia Ojo’s first choice. The young Nigerian was initially interested in pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical field. She was almost swayed by her parents to study medicine, but was eventually given the option of studying optometry upon applying at the University of Benin City in Nigeria.

“I have no regrets,” she says, of the 6-year programme. “It gave me a lot of exposure and was all encompassing, from the business side to the psychology.” But three years after graduating, Ojo felt the urge to try something new.

“I’ve always been fascinated with creating things. I do a lot of DIY projects.” This passion for creation can be traced back to days spent in her father’s workshop. A production engineer, he owned a furniture making factory that Ojo would often visit and watch the workers. She eventually tried her hand at making everything from flip flops to clothing. “So when the idea of making eye wear designs with African facial dimensions, I started to do my research and I found out about 3D printing technology.”

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The immersive, four-week programme is designed for Nigerian entrepreneurs to receive hands-on training, particularly in the areas of advanced manufacturing and business development. Participants learn how to create innovative products using front-line manufacturing technology along with rapid prototyping.

“The main highlights of my participation at the garage was using the 3D printers, laser cutters and building a mold with the CNC machine.” Ojo adds that watching her idea and design of an African inspired eyewear line come to life was the ultimate highlight.

Explaining the design process, Ojo says it starts with an inspiration followed by a 2D sketch on paper with all the dimensions of the eyewear. Then a 3D sketch using CAD software is done before it goes through slicing, and then it’s ready for printing. She says she then selected her printing material, set up her printer and started to print. Once her printed glasses is ready, she picks it up, cleans, and polishes. The parts are then assembled and a minimum viable product is ready.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world to see your thoughts or ideas through actions come to life. It was not easy and I actually started to think maybe my idea was too cumbersome, but with the support from the engineers at the GE garage, I was able to come up with my prototypes.”

Now that she has the prototype, the next step for Ojo is to identify how to manufacture it in Africa. The eyewear industry isn’t cheap, she says. She is however hoping to avoid the China route. “I want something indigenous that I can say from start to end is African, from the raw materials to the production – everything made in Africa.”