Meet Nailah I. Akinyémi-Sankofa - Fashion Designer/Artist

Learn more about the Austin entrepreneurs who have earned their place in the first cohort of Box Bazaar tenants.


"I came here to create. I came here to be of service. And I came here to work real hard"

Born and raised in Chicago, Nailah I. Akinyémi-Sankofa is a prolific professional visual artist, fashion and furniture designer, published writer/poet, dancer and choreographer living and working in Austin, Texas.  As a multidisciplinary artist, Nailah’s primary approach to her artwork, design, studies and activism is from traditional West Afrikan cultural and historical aesthetics and expressions of identity. Nailah majored in interior design and studio art at Columbia College in Chicago.  She continued her academic pursuits at Central Texas College and then the University of Texas at Austin’s design and studio art programs.

In 1985, Nailah opened Design Works!studios — a multidisciplinary art and design studio and showroom in Central Texas.

Nailah and her twin daughters relocated to Austin in 1989. Hitting the ground running, she established herself in Austin’s arts communities as a cultural activist. In a few years she became the artistic director of Rhythm/Rituals Afrikan Performance Group along with teaching private Afrikan and contemporary dance classes and community workshops for over 20 years. Nailah was also the co-founder and Chief of TRIBES: Black Artists’ Support Network and Co-op from 1990 to 1996.

In 2008, Nailah founded RunWay Underground Fashion Production Group, Network & Academy — presenting RWU’s first launch events in 2011. And in 2009, she officially launched “Ɲàma Iṣé-Ọná” her fashion and accessories brand.

She debuted during New York Fashion Week in February 2018 as a backstage coordinator at Couture Fashion Week and designer, introducing her select garments from her Fall-Winter collection and new limited edition handcrafted line of shoes — Bata Mojo.

Under the banner of Atelier NTUMA'PA Collective, Nailah will be creating Ɲàma Iṣé-Ọná handcrafted jewelry and other accessory items along with Bata Mojo Footwear that will be handmade in-house by local women of color trained one-on-one in leather and textile work in one of the pop-up spaces of Austin’s new Box Bazaar project.


Nailah led Austin’s fashion community to get the city’s first fashion industry resolution (No. 111) passed by Austin City Council in 2014 right on the heels of launching RunWay Underground’s annual NTUMA’PA Fashion Design and Apparel Production Boot Camp — the first in Austin. The following year, the City of Austin’s Mayor, council members and Travis County Commissioner’s office issued a proclamation commemorating RunWay Underground’s launch of Austin's first Afrikan Fashion Week events.

Along with her many other creative business endeavors and community artistic and cultural projects, organizing and curating art exhibits, Nailah is also a cultural historian, completing three books and maintaining her dedication to her ancestral spiritual and cultural traditions as a ritual specialist in Yoruba and, other West Afrikan traditions.

“Being in the Box Bazaar space will allow me to be in East Austin doing what I do and serving my community from a creative and cultural perspective.”



Meet the other Box Bazaar entrepreneurs

What is the Box Bazaar?


The Box Bazaar is a temporary neighborhood installation that will activate a piece of city-owned land in East Austin by housing six business incubator spaces for small, local businesses in retrofitted shipping containers and by creating a vibrant neighborhood center with programming designed to benefit the surrounding community.

This City of Austin pilot project aims to bring citywide goals for complete communities, economic opportunity, and equity to life in a yearlong demonstration project - the first of its kind in Austin.

The Box Bazaar is a joint effort between many City of Austin departments including Planning and Zoning, Public Works, Development Services, Economic Development, and the Office of Innovation. The Planning and Zoning department's Imagine Austin implementation team heads the project.