Adebayo Oke-Lawal: Redefining African Menswear
Adebayo Oke-Lawal is the creative director of androgynous fashion label Orange Culture. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business and international management from Newcastle Business School, England. Lawal built his portfolio while he was a member of the creative collective of stylists called BUBAAI but left the group in 2011, to establish Orange Culture. Since then, he has achieved enormous success has been featured in several publications including Vogue, Elle, Voice of America, Financial Times and Wings. In addition, Lawal has been a finalist for hugely successful design platforms such as the ‘Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy prize’ and MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week. In 2015, Orange Culture was selected by Vogue Italia and GQ to present at the fashion buzz in Florence and by Ethical Fashion Initiative and pitti uomo to be one of the first menswear brands to show on the runway in Florence during fashion week.
When did your interest in fashion begin, and why the name Orange Culture?
I have always been interested in fashion and working in fashion since I was a child. I enjoyed looking at clothes and how they are worn. I had a passion for the industry but didn’t know when I was going to start. Growing up, working and interning in different sectors of the industry including media and design, helped me decide that I wanted to start a brand and that’s how Orange Culture came about. The brand is inspired by the idea of being an individual despite everything that surrounds you. The name is taken from an article I wrote called Orange Boy, inspired by growing up in Nigeria and finding a space where you can be yourself and not pressured into following the norm. I like the colour orange because it is a little strange, but if you take a closer look, it becomes beautiful; that is what happens with people who are unique.
You initially started out designing for women and men. What prompted you to focus on menswear?
When I started, I was young and obviously unsure which direction to go. However, I found that my voice was clearer in men’s wear. I might eventually go back to designing womenswear, but if I do, I want it to be after I have built such, it won’t necessarily affect the men. So that is why at the moment I am focusing more on the men because the voice is clearer. I know exactly who the man is.
It was a first for a Nigerian label when you recently showcased your work at London Fashion Sprout, during the London Fashion Week. Please tell us about the experience.
For me, just showing in London was a very exciting experience. I didn’t even think about it as being the first. Being a Nigerian brand and having the privilege to reach an audience that I might not necessarily meet, drove to push harder and take the brand to places beyond my imagination.
What has been your biggest challenge since launching Orange Culture and what are some of the difficulties you face as an African designer based on the continent?
The biggest challenge running the brand or a business in Nigeria is the environment. Everything is foundationally crooked in a sense, even in terms of infrastructure and skilled labour. We don’t have the things we need like electricity and machinery for printing the collections. The foundation for the industry is not set; and it is developing as we grow, thanks to non-profits and platforms like Lagos Fashion Week, Style House Files and other supporting bodies. In being an African brand, you have to be careful, because producing substandard items could be used against you as many people tend to stereotype what an African brand should be.
Please take us through your creative process and the inspiration behind your SS17 collection.
Creatively, I am a bit messy because I don’t have an exact structure for everything. I mean I have a pattern of how we start, for example writing. We write a lot, and so I jot things down as I go. If I head out and I see something I like, I take a picture or write it down, so I pool a lot of images, collages, write-ups, then build based on these. I build a story for every collection; the story always comes first. When the story is built, I begin to create as many prints as possible, drawn from the ideas. When that is complete, we sketch based on the story, because everything has to connect back to it. Every season is about storytelling and from there we sketch, match up with the prints, begin to make our fabrics from scratch, and create the pieces. The pattern builds up from there. After that, we chose where we want to show it, and what platform works best for the brand. It is fun when you’re doing it but thinking about it can be stressful.
Please describe your personal style.
I think my personal style is very relaxed. I don’t try too hard. I am not one of those people who wake up in the morning and plan an outfit. I just go through my closet and pick out what’s best for me. Even when I travel, I pack on the morning of my trip because I don’t plan ahead.
Is there such a thing as African fashion and how would you define it?
African fashion is misunderstood because we have been suppressed to think that African fashion is what we’ve been told it is by people who aren’t even Africans, and the media. For example, we see Ankara as African because we were told that it is African. I think nowadays, people are doing a lot of research and many designers are teaching people what African fashion is. It is about our beliefs, our culture—the wealth of our culture. It is built on the things we see and hear, and the beauty in Africa.
What are some of the milestones you have achieved since embarking on a career in fashion, and what advice do you have for young emerging designers?
Owning the brand for this long is a challenge because I am self-funded. The milestone for me is being able to survive this long and globalise the brand based on my resources and my lack of education because I don’t have a fashion background. Creating this brand and taking it to places like Paris, London, New York, Ghana and Kenya, is the accomplishment for me, and to anyone going into the industry. You also have to be cautious and sure that it is what you want to do, because if you think it is an easy industry and you’re doing it because there is nothing else to do, then you are making a big mistake as it is one of the hardest industries to work in; it is very complex and very misunderstood. It is very easy to see it from afar and think it only entails going to red carpet events, celebrities wearing your clothes, and you selling your clothes, but fashion is much bigger than that.
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