You Want to Go into Fashion Design
Once you decide to sell an item from a designer, what is that process like?
So the whole process, when you think about it, is so much work for one item. We typically go to market week in New York, which is usually six months before shipments arrive. We go through the collections, take photos of everything we're interested in, and then we come back and put everything together. After that, we place our buys, prep the website for the product pages, and make sure we have copy. By the time it gets here, we unpack it, take measurements, and shoot it. If it's a new brand, we’ll do an interview to introduce the brand to the customers. And then orders get placed, it gets shipped, and hopefully doesn't come back!
What advice would you give to up and coming designers looking to sell their clothing to LSG?
Always reach out. I respond to direct messages and emails, so even if it's a no I'll respond. If the product really stands out to me, then I'm interested. You don't have to have a fancy lookbook or the right model, the product really should stand on its own. If it's a good fit for our brand then we're probably going to buy it.
When it comes to finding designers, is it important for you to have local designers versus non-local, or designers from other countries?
Product is number one. Is it something that we're excited about? Is the price right? How is it made? The product is most important to me because that’s what people are buying. Of course, the brand itself can be strong, but I like the idea of bringing in an unknown designer like, “What you're doing is really special. Let's blow this up!” Seeing people succeed and getting more accounts from coming on board with us is super inspiring.
As someone who values, and inspires others to look into sustainable fashion, how do you see the industry as a whole kind of shifting more towards these ideals in real ways?
Fabrication is key: where it's made, and transportation are huge. Something we're thinking about doing is demanding no plastics with our vendors. Now that we have a bit more control we can say that we won't accept orders in plastic, you need to use biodegradable poly bags or ship it to us folded. So I think those are ways where we can help change.
Sustainability means different things for different people. Not everyone is at 100 percent on every level, right? Just do your best, you can tell who's making the effort.
You do have to get really creative if you want to keep your costs down. Maybe you have to go find deadstock fabric, which takes a little longer to find than just ordering something new. It's interesting because when you're smaller you actually are more likely to make things closer to you: working with factories and buying product in your hometown. I think it’s the bigger brands that you have to keep in check, because they have means to develop overseas, with unknown regulations.
Today, people are more open to the idea of paying more for something if they know that it was created more sustainably. From a business sense, how do you price product keeping in mind your audience?
It has to be reasonable. Like $600 tee shirts I just can't wrap my head around; it's insulting. There's a way to be sustainable, but also understand that our customers are not just into fashion. They’re into a lot of things, they're traveling, and maybe they have student loans too. We get that these people have lives and they have funds allocated for other things, but we want them to have a piece of fashion and fun.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve dropped out of college a couple of times, but always knew I loved clothes. Especially in high school, I was obsessed with getting dressed in the morning. I would wake up at 4 am just to sew or alter vintage garments I wanted to wear to school that day. Missed my school bus nearly every day too.
Anyway, fast-forward through me figuring out a few things - I moved to New York, then eventually went back to school, studying at Cal State LA. It’s one of the only public schools in Southern California with a fashion course; it’s a super small program with maybe 30 people in the graduating class.
I know you spent some time in New York. How did you like it?
I liked certain things about it. There was a lot of new talent emerging both musically and artistically during that moment. Definitely a great time to be in New York. October 2013, a month after I moved there, I began an internship at Eckhaus Latta. Mike and Zoe took me in when I literally knew nothing about clothing construction or production. I don't know why they let me be a total fashion dunce for those months, but they have always been a great help to me.
What was your role?
I worked there for about three years; they became bi-coastal in the middle of my tenure, so I continued to work with them when I moved back to LA for college. By the end I was a studio assistant, but I started as an intern. Before that point, everything I'd made was like, "Oh, I'm going to put this and this together and see where this goes." It was cute, but I couldn't remake it. I couldn't tell you how I got there.
My project during that season, their AW14 collection, was to sew these thick, long felted strips into tubes. Do you know how hard it is to bring a tube inside out? I think there were like 30 of them. It was tedious, but I was so happy to do it because I was like, "Yeah, I'm making fashion!"
Then in between New York and coming back to LA, you lived in Berlin?
Yeah, I honestly went to Berlin to do nothing. I thought, "I failed in New York. I need to not go home as a failure, so I'm going to spend three months in Berlin." But within the first week, I met someone who was the managing editor at 032c. We were talking about clothes and they were like, "You know a lot about clothes," and I was like, "I guess I do." They said, "Do you want to help us at 032c?" The next day I was in their office doing research for their upcoming Raf Simons issue. I literally spent two and a half months researching Raf Simons.
How would you describe the essence of Ifeoma?
As an ever-transforming entity. Ifeoma is definitely my most intimate side. Reva is who I show on my Instagram or who you meet during a first impression, but Ifeoma is me at home thinking, ruminating, ideating. I use Ifeoma as an engine to dig deeper into who I am. An outlet, I suppose.
SS17 was an insane collection, what was your design process like?
One of my fashion history courses was in discussion around Medieval garments, warfare, life, and nobility. I started looking into medieval wears, quiltings, and Opus Anglicanum. At the time my university was on a quarter system, which meant I would rarely get the chance to fully expand on an idea during the school year. When summer break came around I was still thinking about a lot of that content. All of the research that I accumulated became Ifeoma - this bigger than life undergoing.
What drew you to experimenting with upholstery fabrics?
I love texture. You get more rigidness from those fabrics because they're not meant for clothing - they're meant to be worn in, for decades. When you're reupholstering a couch, you're not upholstering it to use it today and throw it out tomorrow or next year. You're upholstering it for years and years to come. There's durability in those fabrics. It's thoughtful sustainability.
What is something you look for when casting models?
I love a really ambiguous face. The girl in my first lookbook, Iris, is 6 foot 3. She's extremely tall. She has these pointy shoulders so when you put a t-shirt on her, her shoulders stick out. She has this body type that's so amazing to look at, and she has a striking face that's masculine but also extremely regal and beautiful. I love when you can't quite put your finger on what makes that person’s look special. That's what I look for.
From when we first interviewed you to now, you mentioned having a complete mind shift - can you speak a bit about that?
At the end of 2017, I went to Nigeria for a month because my mom passed. It was a traumatically intense experience. This all happened shortly after my first collection so, it kind of put a weird taint on what should have been a successful time in my life.
I now have an entirely different perspective on why I create and what the purpose of it is. When someone leaves you without explanation and you're trying to put pieces together, you add that to your own life and you think, "What is it that I'm even after?" Many frivolous pursuits become futile.
How did that relate to your brand Ifeoma?
It's cool to make clothes, but even in the past six months, I’ve felt that the fashion system is moving in a way where it's kind of becoming a monster. I keep asking myself, “What is Ifeoma even about?”
Going through that process ultimately forced me to think about the bigger picture of it all. What do I want to leave behind? How do I want to be remembered? How much time do I have and how far can I go? What became most prevalent was the idea of doing something bigger than myself. That sparked the thought of stepping away from design for a bit. I want to solve a problem; to fulfill a need. Not to say choosing to be a designer is contributing to anything terribly detrimental, but I've got a plethora of skills, talents, and ideas that would be much better used to help others. I’ll always love design and will make things here and there, but for now, I feel that my true calling is much broader.
Who is the Ifeoma woman?
I've been building this self-fulfilling prophecy; the Ifeoma woman is the woman that I'm working to become every single day, she is the woman I design Ifeoma around because that's really all I can do. I don't know any women in my position who look like me or do what I'm doing so it's imperative that I make it inwardly focused. I'm working through it every single day. I think that makes my work more genuine and will attract the people it’s meant to attract.
If you're a strong woman who's more opinionated and more straightforward, you should feel okay being that person, and there should be a wardrobe that allows you to explore that. I've been wearing suits a lot, and one day I thought ‘Why can a man go to Men’s Wearhouse or nearly any other place to buy a suit, but I have to scour the internet, or eBay for hours to find something that should be so simple to acquire.’ I also love to wear Dickies in the full, super structured mechanical look, but who's really designing that for women, as a woman?
How do you plan on carrying the brand aesthetic throughout new endeavors?
I think it'll materialize as time goes on. I've gone through so many phases. I have so many different types of friends and so many different types of people in my life. Ifeoma is really just a living organism growing and evolving like you and me. It would be hard for me to say, ‘I'm into insert vibe forever.’ I'm too sentimental and emotional to commit to that. I can only say that it'll transform as I do. I think this is the most relatable way to foresee any creative process.
What’s next for Ifeoma?
I plan to remove myself from the fashion system. I still want Ifeoma to be a brand and operate on a system somewhat parallel to the fashion schedule, but I want it to be something bigger than design. Committing yourself to the fashion system as a whole is not a way to ignite any real change. For example, Miuccia Prada, a woman I really look up to, studied political science. She's made huge waves in fashion because she's not coming from a didactic point of, "I'm making clothes and clothing is all I do." She has a well-rounded set of interests motivating her to create an extension of the world she is apart of. Even with Virgil Abloh, he studied architecture and engineering so he understands the idea of building something from the ground up - blueprint to structure.
What is the fashion scene in LA like for up-and-coming designers?
I used to say, "I can't wait until I can move back to Europe where I belong." I still want to, but I wouldn't be ashamed to say that I'm from LA now either. I think we have a lot of amazing talent here, and what makes LA fashion so interesting is that a lot of people come here to study art: fine art, or sculpture, or painting. When that's transferred into fashion, it brings with it an interesting perspective. There is more of a “crafted” touch to the clothing people make here. We also have loads of factories and production houses available, so designers are able to get a lot of things done.
What are some of the changes you’ve noticed in the fashion industry?
I felt some type of way when Virgil Abloh was appointed as the art director of Louis Vuitton. Not even about him or his work, but I have always had this underlying negation toward the fact that men ultimately control fashion. Men control fashion the way they control every other industry. Men carry a lot of power within this industry and ultimately dictate what women are meant to wear. Your favorite fashion houses are run by men, you know?
Celine is now Hedi Slimane. It was a long shot, but I hoped Phoebe Philo would go to Louis Vuitton and do menswear; maybe Martine Rose could have done it or even Grace Wales Bonner. Things are changing, as they always do, but I would love to see more houses with strong female leads.
Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
These days I’ve been running my own label since receiving the Newgen sponsorship for AW15. Since AW16 I’ve been showing my collections with presentations on schedule at LFW. On the side I often take on free-lance work (in design, teaching and stylist assisting) to help fund myself. I also receive Swarovski sponsorship at the moment, so it’s really exciting to integrate crystals into my collections.
I also do animations, which my brother and I started making together at university. He was studying film, and I was doing fashion and stop-frame seemed like a fun and exciting way to illustrate a project that I was working on. At the time I was interning with Katie Hillier, and she loved the animation we had made and asked if we could make them for her forthcoming jewelry brand. So that’s how we got into making them for clients.
How was your time at J.W. Anderson?
I worked with J. W. Anderson in my year out between BA and MA. My friend Mel was a pattern cutter there and got me on board. It was a great insight into how a small label starts out and runs itself, which gave me some of the knowledge that I needed to start my own label.
It’s really tough to start your own label and initially I was scared of it from seeing how stressful it was for Jonathan. I thought it would be mad to go it alone, but opportunities (Newgen in particular) came my way, and I’ve found myself here now!
Were you ever at cross roads of doing animation or fashion design?
Yes. Sometimes it seems like a good alternative when fashion feels really stressful.
Has the animation partnership helped the Sadie Williams brand and vice versa?
Yeah for sure. It’s a way to express my creativity using another outlet besides fashion design. I think the first time I recognized that it directly helped my brand was when I was approached by Mandi Lennard to design a collection for Barbie and she specifically asked if we could make an animation to accompany it too. Which is actually one of my favorites!
3 years ago you were quoted in a Dazed article saying “I have no plans for my own label, I think I would go mad.” What changed since then?
Probably gone a bit mad!
I started because Sarah Mower interviewed me before the launch of my & Other Stories collaboration and asked ‘what’s next?’ I said I wasn’t sure and she suggested that I apply for Newgen. I was accepted and thought it’s probably now or never.
So I started small with a collection of 6 looks. I decided not to take it to a showroom (for buyers) because I more wanted to see if I could cope and enjoy doing my own label before starting properly. I ended up managing well and decided I wanted to keep it going.
How was your time at Central Saint Martins?
I studied my BA at Brighton and my tutor Jane Shepherd recommended that I apply for the CSM MA for the Textiles pathway. It was the best decision I made because before then I always struggled a bit, and found pattern cutting very tricky. Once I began approaching design through textiles, I felt everything fall into place. I spent the whole first year experimenting loads, and learning a lot from my mistakes. The course taught me to recognize my strengths and edit my ideas to deliver a focused and refined outcome.
What influenced your aesthetic the most early on?
The first place I was allowed to go shopping unaccompanied by my parents was down my local Portobello market; me and my best mate were age seven and given one hour, so we literally ran to every stall and shop we loved. I think growing up going around Portobello, and Shepherds Bush markets have definitely had a massive influence. I still shop at both. And going to boarding school, away from London meant that as a teenager I could really experiment and play around with my clothes in that strange kind of isolated and protected environment.
What is your creative process from concept to runway?
I’m quite eclectic in how I collect my research, from all different sources, including lots of images from photography books, and original garments bought from Portobello Market and E-bay. I also like to buy textiles, trims, and materials, often from places like Shepherds Bush, and experiment with them.
I then collate all my images/materials and create collages and mood-boards that express the ‘world’ that the collection inhabits. These go up on my walls as a constant reference. Quite a lot of my work is reflective of my personal style too, that mix of tomboyish/graphic/sporty combined with feminine/decorative/elegant.
Sometimes I have a direct theme that I will research thoroughly, but sometimes it’s less obviously themed. I like to play on my strengths in pattern, print and textiles.
How did having your model, Marland, design the set affect the nature of the shoot?
I met Marland on a shoot that I was assisting on. She pointed out that she loved the top hanging on the rack, which turned out to be the one that I made! We kept in touch, and when I saw her concrete/silicone pieces, I thought that they would be perfect for my forthcoming collection/presentation. She was really up for it and came over from NY and stayed in my studio working on the pieces. She was fully immersed in the creative environment and saw the collection come together, and helped with customizing accessories too. So it was perfect for her to be my girl for the season in the lookbook, it all felt right!
And how was working with Venetia Scott and Poppy Kain for that lookbook?
Ace! Poppy is one of my best friends, and we have worked together a lot over the years, I still assist her on jobs when I can.
And Venetia is my aunty, but also someone I have a great respect and admiration for and I’ve been surrounded by her work my whole life, and helping on shoots with her since I was a teenager.
So it was ace!
Do you work on your textiles digitally or by hand?
Both! I don’t like to pigeonhole what I do or set limits. It’s all down to experimentation, sampling, what works well, what’s right for the piece/collection. I feel that people want things that have some mark of the hand or show of craftsmanship. I definitely feel more inclined to things that have something a bit more special to them rather than just a basic digital print. For example, even if I am using digital printing, I will often really consider the print placement and how the design will flow across seams, or work when pleated, etc. Or perhaps add another process to the textile, such as bonding or embossing the printed textile.
Who’s on your team?
I don’t have any permanent staff yet. I’d love to sort out at some point in the near future so that I can share all this with someone.
I’m really lucky that I have a really supportive gang of friends and family that help me out, and I have interns too, so we work together as a team to pull everything together.
On the other hand, I do have a team of people that I continue to collaborate or work with from season to season, like my stylist Poppy Kain, or free-lance silk-screen printers, pattern-cutters, and seamstresses.
But yes, managing people is definitely something which I wasn’t really prepared for and still find quite tricky. Essentially it’s all about organization and communication. It all works out if I’m focused and calmer.
Is it important for designers to have a strong personal presence online to support their brand?
Each to their own. I don’t feel any pressure to conform to a certain kind of online presence.
Is there a supportive community for young designers in London?
Yes yes yes. London’s great for that!
I definitely have given and received lots of help/advice/support from my peers. I love that about being a London based designer. I don’t think I could be a designer anywhere else.
In my opinion, being inspired is like falling in love in the sense that it becomes a challenge of how to predict or force it. In that sense how do you cope with the demanding fashion calendar?
I’m not sure if I cope all that well. It’s a roller-coaster! Lots of extremes but at least it’s not boring.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
I would love to collaborate with a sports brand one day!
What challenges have you come across when starting to sell your clothes?
Lots! Working out how to manage production at an affordable cost is tricky, especially when you are still a small label and the order quantities aren’t so high.
What tactics have you found that have helped you through this process?
Asking people with more experience for advice. Trying to embrace the business aspects of it all rather than being too daunted by them.
Do you go to market in both Paris and London? Is that typical?
After LFW I take the collection to a showroom in Paris. Pretty much all the buyers go to Paris to make their decisions on buying for the season, so it’s essential to have some presence there if you want to sell the collection.
What’s important to you about a casting?
Health and diversity.
Who or what prepared you the most for the challenges and successes that you have faced in your career?
Having Louise Wilson as my MA course leader definitely prepared me in more ways than I could have imagined. She sets you up to be tough and rely on yourself and the design identity that you forge through the sheer hard work and focus whilst on the MA.
Did you have a plan on the best way of how to introduce your brand to the market?
Nope. I accepted several projects (Selfridges ‘Bright Young Things’, Barbie collaboration, & Other Stories collaboration) that came my way after graduating and this lead to my invitation to join Newgen and to, therefore, start my own label. I still really love working on collaborations and special projects if it suits me/my brand.
How was your collaboration with & Other Stories, did it feel differently having your clothes produced for a mass international market? How did that come into play with the design?
Man, I was sooo excited to have my clothes available to everyone! I had no idea how it would be received and was so happy it was received so well. I obviously had to design with wearability in mind, but it wasn’t tricky since it was quite a reflection of how I dress/dress-up anyways. The design team met me and saw my MA portfolio which also included much more wearable ideas than my graduate collection of floor length gowns, and so that’s how I got the gig.
How are the Newgen community and your peers there?
It’s the best thing. I hands down would not have my own label without Newgen. It offers a support for the business side of things, and through it, I have made great friends with many of the other designers. Especially Marta Jakubowski who started at the same time as me. We’re now best mates and are constantly supporting each other in all sorts of ways.
How do you prepare for new territory, for instance, your first presentation at LFW? What did you learn from that experience?
I think that the more you do, the more you have to believe that you can handle the next thing even when you’re going out into the unknown. Sometimes those things are the scariest, but in a good way. I learned that it’s all so much more than me; it’s all really down to everyone involved along the way.
Would you say you took the typical path for being a designer starting a brand or is there even a typical path?
Don’t think I took a typical path. I spent the first year and a half after graduation working hard on the great opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have come my way. I always assumed that I would work free-lance or at a design house.
Would you have done anything differently?
I wouldn’t change any of it.
What experience do you hope the wearer has when in your clothes?
To feel good, confident and happy. I want them to feel like they are wearing something special, and that they are special.
Do you have any design, fabric, or aesthetic staples?
Metallic is something of a signature for my brand. I love a bit of sparkle! And since my textiles are often quite full-on, crafted or labored, I like to keep the silhouettes clean and simple.
Do the textiles serve the clothes or do the clothes serve the textiles?
A bit of both. Sometimes I have a textile technique that I am determined to showcase, and so I have to think of the best way to do this. But obviously I have to design a collection at the end of the day, so I work out what textiles are appropriate to the shape, season, etc.
What originally drew you to Lurex?
The sparkle! But I really fell in love with it through experimenting with it on the MA. It’s so versatile and works so brilliantly with lots of the techniques I use on the heat press.
Is there an isolation factor of being a designer and if so how do you deal with it?
Yep for sure. I think that’s why it’s so important to stay true to yourself while designing because at least then you’ve got that at the end of the day. There’s something quite special about being on this creative journey and being able to make a living from that. But when it’s really hard I often reach out to friends who are in the same boat, and I’ll get calls/texts from them too.
What was your biggest learning experience?
Ha, you sound like it’s over! I’m still constantly learning as I go and have a lot more to learn. But the more companies and organizations you work with the more you see that everyone works differently and that behind the scenes, things are often more shambolic than they appear. Smoke and mirrors!
How would you like to see this industry evolve?
Slow down! Less driven by hype and fast trends and move towards a more respectful attitude regarding how clothes and fabrics are made. I’m still surprised by how massively popular fast fashion websites are amongst young people and my peers.
What’s your ideal calendar?
One with more time!