The New Faces of Diverse and Emerging Fashion
Words by The Folklore Team
Over the last couple of years, there has been a markedly noticeable push by the fashion industry to highlight up-and-coming designers from diverse backgrounds alongside established luxury houses. This autumn’s Milan Fashion Week featured designers such as Tokyo James and Viviers, and had a dedicated presentation called A Global Movement to Uplift Underrepresented Designers.
More fashion funds and awards such as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and the LVMH Prize, have spotlighted and nurtured emerging talents on their journeys to expand their brands on a global level, while initiatives such as Birimian Ventures and Sovereignty have been specifically created to support Black-owned brands and designers of color.
While the fashion industry is still a tough one to succeed in, a new cohort of young, emerging designers are making waves with their fresh designs, creativity and unique perspectives. Many designers made breakthroughs during the 2020 pandemic, while others gained traction after appearing on the red carpet. Below, we’ve highlighted rising designers of the next generation who are already making bold moves, and should be on your radar.
Emefa Kuadey, the Toronto-based designer behind the womenswear brand ISRAELLA KOBLA (which is available to shop wholesale on The Folklore Connect) began her fashion journey in 2012. After losing a loved one, she took a year off from her civil engineering studies to travel to Ghana. There, she developed skills in pattern drafting and sewing, discovering her passion for fashion design. Upon her return to Canada, Kuadey began creating outfits for herself and her friends while completing her degree. Kuadey went on to attend fashion school in Toronto, and after graduating, debuted her first ISRAELLA KOBLA collection at Vancouver Fashion Week.
With an aesthetic that combines minimalism with bold femininity, Kaudey’s design inspirations come from architecture, art and craftsmanship, which results in dresses with tiered silhouettes, geometric cut-out details and clean lines. Taking a slow approach to fashion, the brand produces all its pieces in small batches in its Toronto studio or with local sewing partners.
In October, Kuadey was selected as the recipient The Bay’s Fashion Fund, an initiative built to mentor and support emerging BIPOC designers in Canada. She was awarded a $25,000 grant along with a three-year mentorship program designed to tackle obstacles new designers face when entering the competitive fashion retail landscape.
Tolu Coker, a London-based designer and Central Saint Martins alum, founded her eponymous label in 2018 with a simple mantra: Community. Craft. Cultures. Clothes – and to use her creative output as a way to bring about social change and equity. Her autumn/winter 2021 collection, which she showed at London Fashion Week, was titled “Soro Soke: Diaspora ’68” after the rallying cry of the End SARS protests in Nigeria in 2020.
Coker looks to her African heritage and the diaspora for inspiration, incorporating traditional craftsmanship and sustainable practices, such as upcycling and using deadstock fabrics, to bring her 1960s and 1970s-tinged aesthetic to life, via illustrated prints and flared silhouettes.
Earlier this year, Coker was one of 14 Black creatives selected for the inaugural cohort of the Prada Group’s Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, a three-year program that financially supports and amplifies Black entrepreneurs and their businesses. She was also included in the Forbes “30 Under 30” List and lauded as a “game changer” by Elle UK.
Black Boy Knits
An independent studio founded by Togo-born Jacques Agbobly in 2020, Black Boy Knits creates custom knitwear pieces that are designed to emphasize Black, queer and immigrant narratives. A young Agbobly became captivated with the patterns and fabrics he was surrounded by, courtesy of the seamstresses and tailors that worked near his childhood now. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, the designer was inspired to establish Black Boy Knits as a response to the treatment of and violence towards Black people during the pandemic.
The brand offers unique, handmade knits on a made-to-order basis, adjusting the size, color and style for each wearer, using an array of vibrant hues, threads and textiles. With a focus on representing the complexities of Black identity, Agbobly and Black Boy Knits aim to highlight the concept of Black joy and celebrating Black culture from a global perspective.
Black Boy Knits made its runway debut at this year’s New York Fashion Week, and has quickly garnered the attention of the industry, from getting selected as a finalist for the Vogue Fashion Fund to winning the DHL Logistics in Fashion Award and $15,000 grant.
An unconventional background as a child refugee born in North Korea to an Ethiopian mother informs Feben Vemmenby’s designs for the clothing brand that shares her name. The London-based designer, who studied at Central Saint Martins and graduated in 2020, draws inspiration from her childhood growing up in migrant camps and the sense of community she developed during that time. Translating her moods and emotions, from feelings of displacement as a young girl to the realities of working in the fashion industry, Feben creates pieces that play with size and proportion, colors and textures.
In just a few short years, Feben is steadily making a name for herself, and has caught the eye of several players. Her clothes have been worn by Michaela Coel and Janelle Monáe, she’s a British Fashion Council NEWGEN recipient; in 2019 she was tapped to create costumes for Beyonce’s Brown Skin Girl music video.
Head of State
At the age of 17, Taofeek Abijako started his brand Head of State in 2016 with a small collection that mostly consisted of T-shirts. Since then, he has gone on to be the youngest designer to show at New York Fashion Week (in 2018), one of the finalists for this year’s Vogue Fashion Fund, and dressed both Black Panther star Danai Gurira and Riverdale actor Evan Mock for the Met Gala.
Born and raised in Nigeria before moving to the United States with his family, Abijako is inspired by the idea of personal style as a form of political expression and identity – or a representation of postcolonial youth culture today. The name of the brand comes from a song by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and proceeds from its sales regularly provide funding for many initiatives dedicated to helping underserved communities.
The name Chez Nous is a nod to the fact that founder Camélia Barbachi’s designs are inspired by her background and identity as a Tunisian-French woman. It means “at home” in French, and it’s the feeling she wants to evoke with her designs: the idea that no matter where you go, you can still feel like you’re at home in your own skin.
Barbachi’s work draws from her heritage, with strong references to traditional Tunisian garments, which are integrated into very contemporary garments. The brand’s ethos revolves around two main axes, which are representation and inclusion, as well as bringing together sustainability, aesthetics and traditions. From the choice of raw materials used in its clothing to the item’s end of life, Chez Nous is committed to minimizing its carbon footprint and carefully chooses natural and low-impact materials.
Just three months after starting her fashion label KADIJU, Oyindamola Aleshinloye was making her debut at Lagos Fashion Week with a small collection of mini dresses and coordinating sets in bright colors and frill details made entirely out of waste fabric. These initial design instincts have proven to be hallmarks of a maximalist aesthetic that is expressed through voluminous silhouettes, jewel tones and textural embellishments.
Driven by the desire to create pieces that inspire confidence in women, KADIJU’s carefully made clothes celebrate femininity without compromising on style. All pieces are crafted by hand in the brand’s Lagos atelier, from a combination of stock fabrics and recycled materials, sourced and produced locally in limited quantities to eliminate waste and foster mindful consumption.
Aleshinloye returned to Lagos Fashion Week this October to show her spring/summer collection titled “The Antithesis of Convention”, a playful take on silhouettes, proportions and colors.
When Faith Oluwajimi came onto the fashion scene with his brand BLOKE in 2015, knitwear was not really a popular textile, which is understandable given the climate in sub-Saharan Africa. But since then, the brand has come to be at the forefront of Nigerian designers who are embracing the old, artisanal skills of knitting and macramé in a modern way.
Oluwajimi has gained wide recognition and plaudits along the way. He was named a fashion focus finalist after his Lagos Fashion Week debut, included in a list of designers to watch by Vogue Italia, and in 2019 was selected as the winner of the inaugural Emerge ALÁRA award recognizing up-and-coming creatives in Lagos.
Photographs courtesy of: Sofia Guevara, Lyndon French/Dorchester Industries, Nayquan Shuler/Hypebae.com, Feben/British Fashion Council, Elias Williams, Chez Nous, Oyin Alesh/Instagram.com, Ugochukwu Emebiriodo/Ladygunn.com