Designer Ini Archibong Finds A Patron in Actor Terry Crews

By Amanda Dameron and Dwell

An actor uses his clout to spotlight an emerging designer, helping to deliver nascent concepts to the world stage.

Artists need patrons to find fame. Talent isn’t enough. Great desire, coupled with an aptitude for strategic self-promotion, isn’t enough. An artist needs a believer, a kindred spirit who will use whatever power and resources they have to give the artist room to create without restriction. This crucial support is often the nudge that can catapult any creative person—designer, actor, musician—into the global arena.

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Actor Terry Crews, left, and designer Ini Archibong have a longstanding friendship based on shared ideals. In April 2016 they worked together to debut In The Secret Garden, a collection of furnishings conceived by Archibong, at the Milan furniture fair, a respected launching ground for burgeoning design industry players.  

Photo: Ike Edeani

For designer Ini Archibong, a chance meeting 13 years ago with actor Terry Crews sparked a free-ranging conversation about life, art, and creativity. At the time, Archibong was ferociously pursuing his design education (he'd previously attended the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California), working with furniture companies, showing new works, and forging relationships with other designers. Crews, who rose to fame first as a college football star and then as an actor, is an artist himself with a keen interest in design. "He reminded me of myself," says Crews, a former arts scholar and a husband and father of five. "I knew the world needed to see Ini."

As their friendship grew, Crews became a mentor of sorts, inviting Archibong over to his home for dinner, sharing advice on everything from relationships to navigating the pressureof creating art in the public eye. The two lost touch once Archibong departed California for a two-year stint in Singapore to teach and work for Eight Inc., but Crews often wondered about the designer’s progress. Years passed. One day, after a quick search online, Crews found Archibong again, happily ensconced in design studies, this time at École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL), in western Switzerland. Crews reached out, and the conversation began anew, now over Whatsapp and video chat rather than across a dinner table. Their shared focus on design was as potent as ever, and by this point Crews’s stature in television and film had grown exponentially. With the increase in his celebrity, Crews was now in a position to offer real assistance to Archibong’s design career.

Rendering by Ini Archibong

"To have someone like Terry championing what I am doing puts me in a position to receive direct feedback from so many people." —Ini Archibong, designer 

In The Secret Garden, the collection of 4 pieces that debuted at the 2016 Milan furniture fair, draws upon Archibong’s love of color and pattern, and references the visual storytelling indicative of his native Nigeria.

Photo by Andreas Zimmerman

"Terry was like, ‘What do you want to do for yourself?’ And I started to think of all the things that I worried would never get made," says Archibong, who has worked with a number of top brands, including Bernhardt Design, Herman Miller, and Nucraft. "That was when we came up with the plans for the collection In The Secret Garden, which at that point was a seedling of an idea that I’d been developing in school."

Crews bankrolled Archibong as he developed the collection, and together they brought a total of 4 pieces to production. They debuted the lot at Salone Internazionale del Mobile in April 2016, in the portion of the show called Satellite, which is devoted to promising designers under the age of 35. The response was warm and immediate."This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Terry’s support. He gave me the confidence to create freely, which is something that most designers don’t ever get to touch," explains Archibong.

Using luxurious materials, riotous hues, and precise detailing, the successful collaboration between Archibong and Crews has paved the way for the young designer’s next act, which will include everything from jewelry and tabletop accessories to furnishings for a variety of international brands.  

Photo by Marco Menghi

Though the professional collaboration with Crews ended with the introduction at the fair, the visibility it afforded Archibong has accelerated several new collaborations, which he will bring to market in the next year with a variety of partners. "Terry saw my potential," says Archibong. "This will forever be a catalyzing moment." 

Amanda Dameron, Editor in Chief of Dwell, Archtober's Presenting Media Sponsor, spotlights her favorite events for Archtober 2016.