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Interview + Studio Tour with Ikiré Jones

by Grace Bonney

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There are few things in the design world that I love more than a beautifully patterned fabric. Whether you’re upholstering a sofa with that fabric, creating a curtain, or turning it into a jacket, my love for patterned textiles knows no bounds. Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to contemporary clothing designers and the way they work with color and pattern, so I wanted to reach out to some of my favorites to learn more about them and where they find inspiration for their work and their process.

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is a contemporary fashion studio run by Designer & Creative Director, Walé Oyéjidé and Head Tailor, . Based in Philadelphia, Walé and Sam create sophisticated and stylish clothing for “adventurous people” across the globe. I was first drawn to their when I saw the deep blues, purples and reds in their fabrics. From there I dove deep into their previous collections and have since followed their , and with excitement. Walé and Sam aren’t just building a fashion , they’re creating a strong community and vision informed by their heritage and contemporary culture. I find as much inspiration in their shared as I do their beautiful clothing, so today I wanted to check out their studio and hear more about how came to be, and what their plans for the future are. Thanks so much to Walé and Sam for talking with us today. xo, grace

Photography by

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Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?

Walé: I don’t think there was any alternative for me. The work that I make is an expression of my personal experience and heritage. There isn’t currently any company out there that reflects my worldview, so I thought it was important and necessary to make my own.

Sam: There’s something seductive about making your own schedule and agenda, but that pretty much means working or thinking about work all the time. That being said, it forces me to engage with every project, so there’s a sense of always having my hands on the wheel. I find that deeply satisfying.

Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?

Walé: Like most men, I had a tangential awareness of the menswear industry. As I aged, I developed more of an interest in the way I presented myself to the world. The inspiration to actually start my own brand came after I met Sam and learned that one didn’t necessarily have to have this fancy fashion school pedigree to make clothes at a high level. After seeing what he was doing with an earlier label of his, I decided to express my style and heritage with my own brand.

Sam: I started sewing my own garments when I was 13 or 14, but making garments for a living never occurred to me until I was in my junior or senior year [of] college. I was majoring in English and trying to pick up a minor in computer science, but I had a feeling that I wanted to work more with my hands. I met some NYC tailors and shirt makers. I went to their workshops, observed how they worked and got to know them as people. They had spent their lives honing their crafts and even decades into their careers they were still actively engaged in learning and developing new techniques. It was that kind of engagement that drew me to garment design and production as a living. I had a good sense of style, I grasped spatial relationships fairly well, and had some experience making clothing, so I just decided to dive in.

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What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Walé: It is a very long road. Don’t give up.

Sam: Keep learning.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Walé: For someone like myself, who had no background at all in this industry (fashion), basic information was — and still is — hard to come by. It helps to build real/concrete relationships with other makers in your field of work. Those relationships will be indispensable when it comes to finding out what factories to use, where to get fabrics, who is trustworthy, etc. So, information was hard to come by.

Sam: Acquiring a deep patience with myself and the development of the business. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pushing too hard and getting in the way of organic, sustainable growth.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Walé: The importance of patience. No one is successful overnight. So it’s important to focus on consistency over an extended period of time.

Sam: Enjoy the process, not the result.

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Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

Walé: In the past, our collections were primarily made up with wax-printed cottons that are commonly used by a lot [of] “African-inspired” brands. We had trouble finding a reliable supplier of these fabrics that could provide us with a good selection that we could use for wholesale pieces, as we began to attract attention from vendors across the world. So, we decided to just design our own fabrics, instead of sourcing them from unreliable parties. The simple decision to design our own fabric really pushed us to do more ambitious things, and helped the brand’s aesthetic grow significantly.

Sam: Missing a deadline because I agreed to do more than I was capable. I evaluate what I’m able to do versus what I want to do much better than when I started.

If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?

Walé: I already make an effort to spend more time with family. So I’d probably focus on my other creative exploits and write more (I’m working on a novel).

Sam: I’d pick up tennis again. I played for my high school as a teenager. I can’t seem to find the time.

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What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

Walé: All entrepreneurs will recognize this one: The personal financial hit. In my previous incarnation as an attorney, there was a lot more room for frivolities. Now, as a business owner, I tend to pour every penny into my business, instead of into myself. It’s definitely a lifestyle change, but it’s a rewarding one.

Sam: Time with friends. I kind of fell off the social map.

Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?

Walé: We’re still quite young, but there have been a series of vindicating moments along the way. From having my designs exhibited in museums, to giving lectures across the world about my work. There have been many things to be proud of.

Sam: It’s comforting to know I can work hard without any external pressure.

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“Nairobi 2081A.D.”- artwork by , part of a collaborative project with Walé Oyéjidé of Ikiré Jones from their Africa 2081A.D. series, shown at the Vitra Design Museum’s “Making Africa” exhibit

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

Walé: I didn’t personally find many books useful. There is no substitute for just diving in and figuring things out as you go. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed .

Sam: Find people who have made a lifelong career doing the work you’re interested in and watch them do their thing.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

Walé: 1. How long are you willing to go without making money? Expect that in practicality you will have to go longer than that.

2. How many people who do what you want to do have you spoken with? It’s pretty important to get as much real feedback on the endeavor as possible.

3. Why are you doing what you want to do? If “Money” is the first answer, you are probably making a mistake, because profits will likely be elusive. At least initially.

Sam: 1. How do you want to spend your time? Is this something I want to spend my actual waking hours doing? Go beyond the image or ideal and get down to the practical seconds, minutes and hours you’re spending.

2. What’s success? Have something in mind beyond the finances that will keep you engaged in both good and bad times.

3. Is this a useful endeavor? Does it elevate you? Does the work make you feel more human or do you feel drained and gross?

What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

Walé: It’s always email first, then a sprint through the gamut of social media accounts to see what our customers are saying.

Sam: Make a pot of coffee and play guitar.

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What’s the hardest thing about being your own bosses that isn’t obvious?

Walé: In my case, I’m literally responsible for everything. Short of physically making the clothes, which my partner does so well. I design all of the prints, or pay for them to be designed. I creative-direct the brand’s entire aesthetic. I handle all of the marketing, negotiating with factories, and customer service. Obviously, I’m happy to do it. But hopefully there will come a time when I won’t have to do it all because we will be able to hire people who do it better. It is also very much an education. Most people (myself included) don’t have a background in handling business finances. These are things that many entrepreneurs have to work out on the fly, while trying not to completely crash the plane after take-off.

Sam: You always have to be brutally honest with yourself.

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