The New Age of Fashion with Pith Africa
Ignoring popular ideals of beauty and individuality, Pith Africa is adopting a millennial strategy in fashion to make an impact both socially and culturally. The Nigerian brand based in Lagos, incorporates Black identity into fashion in an unconventional way, which is evident in the Dilly collections. Pith’s fluid designs and colours are exceptionally striking against Black skin, and prove the brand’s intention as a global participator in the fashion industry. In this interview with Cosmas Ojemen and Adedayo Laketu, we learn all about their motivation for this initiative.
Why the name Pith Africa? Is there a symbolic meaning attached to it?
Cosmas Ojemen: For everything we lay our hands on in Pith, there’s always a meaning behind it. We worked with this premise when conceptualising our brand name to reflect our purpose, and still accommodate multiple facets of our narrative. Pith means “essence.” Essentially, we are creating for a youth demographic who are really not about being boxed into stereotypes of being Black; it’s more about being human and searching for an identity by channelling that individuality to the world. That’s the focal point of Pith: accommodating that refreshed perspective of humans who are not restricted by race or nationality, but who surf through the world, connecting themselves with ideas and perspectives that define their essence.
Adedayo Laketu: Not only W Magazine; all the legacy media publications across Europe have penned pieces on the next breakout African or African company in fashion, art, music, film, tech—you name it. This is basically an acknowledgment that Africa is now a global player, fully accepted in the workings of the world. Globalisation is playing a huge role in this, and I think my generation was born into a world that never made us feel like we were stuck in Africa. With the reach of the internet, we all dream of being more. It’s created incredible things in cities like Lagos, Accra, Kenya, and Cape Town. The world wants a part of us now, because they realise our potential. Global attention is always great, but it’s still the work we’re doing from Lagos that actually counts. It’s great to know when we release a collection that it could easily be published on Vogue, like the other designers around the world. Or I can dream of a Nike collaboration with Pith Africa. That’s a good thing, but on the flip side, it’s still just larger clout. The important thing is how you turn it into monetary value so your brand can grow and be better.
Pith Africa is creating clothing that is socially and culturally relevant to the millennial, with minimalist designs and red-yellow hues that look appealing against Black skin. Why was this initiative necessary, and are there any hindrances in creating a brand that is essentially targeted towards Black people?
Adedayo Laketu: Pith Africa began from a deep conversation between Cosmas and I about the value of fashion in the African community. We want to wear things we like without being trapped in tradition and what’s expected, to express our insecurities and stories as dreamers from the Third World. Growing up in Lagos, one has so much authentic style to be inspired by. Being a young African now is so refreshing, and we want to express that through the art of fashion and imagery.
We are Africans who grew up in Africa—that’s a stable identity we’ll always have; therefore, we create without having to prove that we’re African. We’re not just targeting Black people, because we’re already Black, which means if you’re Black you’ll naturally relate. Our aim is to create with a sense of individuality, to express the other layers that make us African, so everyone can appreciate it and feel beautiful in their skin. When a French designer makes clothes, he’s not targeting French people, he’s just designing. Of course, it’ll have French elements, because that’s who he is, but it doesn’t stop others from appreciating the garb in a relatable way that creates heritage in fashion brands like Givenchy.
There’s a lot to do in Africa’s fashion industry. We’re lacking so much, and to compete on that level we have to build more structures.
Cosmas Ojemen: Since our inception in 2016, we have released two mini collections under a central theme called “Dilly.” The word “dilly” means “remarkable,” and it is an ongoing narrative that sheds much-needed light on the New Age of Africa. It is a conversation about what goes on in an internet-enabled ecosystem of humans in Africa, all linked together with a common goal. It also helps us catalogue our growth phase as self-taught creatives in Nigeria learning from experience and engagement. Dilly 1 was the first instalment, and the sub-theme was “Acceptance.” It explores the idea of novelty and being reborn.
With that first mini collection we aimed to accentuate the cycle of self-acceptance, which is necessary for growth. We created this collection to find an identity within ourselves, using a colour palette that was a natural contrast to our skin. We also used minimal designs to reflect the primitive state of things around us. It was about representing the Black skin as luxurious and beautiful. We leave a statement that fashion can be a way to find one’s voice within the chaos of life.
Dilly 2 was a transitional mini collection, because it marked our first offering in juxtaposing essential fashion culture in Nigeria with fashion in the rest of the world. Dilly 2 centred on streetwear (a prevalent style that was sweeping the world’s fashion landscape) and how it was influencing culture here.
For a growing demographic, streetwear is a baseline in expressing their fashion essence and perspective. The idea of streetwear that we are most fascinated with is the freedom, rawness, and youthful vigour. We aimed to represent the soul of the youthful culture. We developed the collection through the lens of Virgil Abloh and conceptualised our designs using zips, raw cuts, pockets, and prints to reflect our idea of streetwear. As Franz Kafka said, “Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never goes old.”
Cosmas Ojemen: Style is whatever you make it. It’s something I feel when I am continually in tune with myself. I mean, style can be forcefully created, but true style comes from exploring the inner self. For Pith, we want the clothes to spark internal conversations for each user in a way that allows them to be in tune with their individuality as they navigate their style preferences.
Recently, Wavy the Creator wore one of your pieces in the Shaku video. Was this an intentional strategy to collaborate with an artiste that represents the booming era of the youthful alté? And what other collaborations should we expect?
Adedayo Laketu: A lot of young alté people relate with our clothes because we’re creating with them in mind. It’s their story and diversity we aimed at sharing, especially with Dilly 2. We’re working on a few things we can’t let out yet.
Ojemen Cosmas: For 2020, we want to have established a strong foothold in the fashion consumer market in Africa, with flexible distribution channels and a business structure that allows for quick supply of products within the continent. We also want to create products worthy of our consumers. The end goal is to become a mother company like LVMH.
March 20, 2019