Pop Caven's Family Affair is the Perfect Recipe

NEW YORK, United States - Much of the appeal of a space like PROTOChic is in its intersectionality of cultures and its re-centering on the creative contributions from the African continent and diaspora. That's what makes connecting with Pop Caven co-founder Doreen Caven a truly gratifying experience. Doreen and her sister Joan are the masterminds behind a streetwear label that draws from a multitude of black reference points, from Biggie Smalls and Malick Sidibé to childhood memories growing up in Nigeria and later moving to the United States. It is from that vantage point that Pop Caven was formed and frankly stands out in a sea of look-a-like contemporary brands. PROTOChic chatted with Caven to learn more about their journey and how their business model has evolved since launch.

PROTOChic: Based off of the brand's Instagram profile, the references are multi-faceted and never-ending, including your own personal explorations with retro self-styling. What inspired the initial conception of Pop Caven and what drives this fascination with nostalgia?

Doreen Caven: Pop Caven is co-founded by my sister, Joan and I. We are Africans who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, but moved to the U.S. as teenagers. We have lived, absorbed, and normalized both cultures, and so we wanted to create a brand that embraced our reality. We are still very African and connected to the music, the fashion, and certain aspects of the lifestyle, but also very much identify as black women in America. Our brand is really a toast to all the nostalgic African cultural elements that were familiar to us growing up in the 90s blended with a millennial pop culture perspective. Our brand ethos is to make fun clothing that is clever, nostalgic and also makes you think of something new.

We might be in the U.S., but we are African and despite being here, we still push for Africans to be recognized for work that is not stereotypical or expected.
— Doreen Caven

PC: "Made by Africans in the US" is a meaningful statement and in fact, quite differentiating from other brands pushing African-based manufacturing. How does this cross-cultural identity inform the product?

DC: Oh, the goal is also to push African-based manufacturing, but we decided to do the next best thing until we are able [to do so]. We sign on African creatives based in Africa, who create collections for us from their own unique perspective and style. Then, we produce, market and sell their designs using our platform to showcase their talent and gain buyers in the West. It sheds light on the entrepreneurial power of Africans in the diaspora. We might be in the U.S., but we are African and despite being here, we still push for Africans to be recognized for work that is not stereotypical or expected. 

Pop Caven x Williams Chechet Collaboration / Photo Courtesy of Pop Caven

Pop Caven x Williams Chechet Collaboration / Photo Courtesy of Pop Caven

PC: You recently launched a collaboration with Williams Chechet and have partnered with other visual artists in the past. How do you identify these talents and what do you hope to achieve in highlighting other African creatives?

DC: We identified the talents based on what we believed would sell in our market. We wanted artists that could create prints that literally excited us, that were on par, and even cooler than what we designed ourselves. There is so much talent in Africa, it is ridiculous. Working with our first 4 artists was so much fun. The hope is to set them off to having their own platforms and becoming brands that can stand on their own. 

PC: The brand has priced each tee at $35, offering a highly stylized product at an accessible price point. How have you defined the pricing model for your collection? 

DC: Our pricing strategy is new. We were able to switch manufacturers, which helped us offer a more accessible price for an improved quality of printing. We want our store to have your favorite tees, which you can buy in a bunch. We find that once you visit our store, you end up not knowing what you want because there is so much variety. Why not make it easier for our market, right?

PC: Pop Caven is a family affair. What have you learned from working with your sister Joan and tell me more about your ongoing series Man-U-Script, Nigerian Girls, and Growing Up African?

DC: Yes, Pop Caven is a family affair. Working with my sister is easy, I love it! We have always worked together in some way or another, so we are great together in that sense.  With Man-U-Script, our journal on popcaven.com, we are creating a space filled with stories, interviews, and memories for young Africans to read and relate to. Nigerian Girls is written by Joan and she tells short stories about Nigerian girls like us, very relatable, poignant, and hilarious stories. Those stories began as a segment for a women's community I recently founded called Girls Like Me. Joan is a co-editor as well; the goal of GLM is to empower women to live life to the fullest. It is an online community (@thegirlslikeus) and it is for all women, but we are also focused on pushing it towards African women, specifically Nigerian women, who are often more reluctant to stray from societal expectations. We wanted to create a space that gives room for progressive thought and actions and provides a space to help them realize that they are not alone. We even have a podcast for GLM. Growing Up African is a segment on both GLM and Pop Caven and it chronicles the experiences of growing up in an African household. It is interesting that so far the submissions sent in are so similar from different countries in Africa and even from countries in the West. It is really beautiful. We just want to push unity, community and Ubuntu. 

PC: Lastly, what is your vision for the future of Pop Caven?

DC: Our vision is always changing, but what remains steadfast is our desire to build a community of like-minded people and to provide products and entertainment geared towards them. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.