Shola Ajayi Interview by Ibi Lagundoye
The first time I met Shola Ajayi was at her studio in North Greenwich. Tucked away in an industrial park off the main road, I’m surprised I found it on my first visit. She greeted me outside and in we went as I collected the samples for the shoot. I wasn’t sure I would see her again, but luck was on our side as I was available to secure an interview (after about 5 emails back and forth ha). Speaking via Skype on Friday morning, I could get a better insight into the designer’s brand, Alosh London, which uses bright fabrics and patterns. Having the opportunity to speak with a designer is a real treat, and I’m excited to share it with you all.
Ibi Lagundoye: How did you get into fashion design and making clothes?
Shola Ajayi: “My mom was a fashion designer, so growing up I developed a passion for creating things. After school, we’d go to her shop or studio, and I’d play with the machines and make little outfits for myself; it’s something that’s always been in my life. But, my background is in accounting and after some time, I knew I wanted to do something which makes me happy. So, I went back to school for a fashion degree and voila, I’m here ha.”
IL: Do you think your background in accounting gave you an advantage starting out your business?
SA: “I’ve always been a numbers person, so I find it easier to do my pattern cutting because of my background.”
IL: Where did the inspiration for your line come from? What is the meaning and purpose behind it?
SA: “The name ‘Alosh’ comes from my name spelled backwards because it stems from a moment of epiphany. People always say I am a very bubbly, positive person. My friends would ask me “what kind of pill are you on? You’re always so happy.” The more I heard this question, I knew I had to package my personality into my designs. So, that’s why I started designing bold, colorful outfits and that’s where the aesthetic for the whole collection comes about. I’ve named every design; I’ve given them a positive name. I want to evoke positive feeling in the wearer.”
IL: Before designing a new collection, do you seek external inspiration or do you always have an idea of what it’s going to look like?
SA: “Um, I might have an idea here or there, but as a designer you can’t just pull things and think you know what you’re doing. You might have an initial idea before you start designing, but I’m constantly inspired by what’s around me- what people are wearing, but I don’t want to follow trends. I want to create staple pieces’ people can wear over the years. Instead of it being trendy and in the moment, I want it to be a classic piece people can wear again. So, yes, I’m being influenced by colors, buildings and I love geometric shapes. Anything that sparks my interest could go into the design.”
IL: What’s been the most difficult part about being an independent designer?
SA: “You can’t do everything by yourself. I try to do everything by myself, and going into the manufacturing is the most difficult part of it. It’s like giving away your baby, and someone else is reproducing your baby for you? So, not being able to have control over that side of the business can be quite challenging. Also, managing the quality control and making sure they are doing things the way you want them done.”
IL: Being a Black woman in this industry, what challenges have you faced outside of manufacturing and production?
SA: “Funny enough you ask that. About 2-3 weeks ago, I was preparing my look book to be sent to the printers, and on the ‘About’ page I contemplated putting my photo. I kept thinking ‘hmm, this might be a trigger’ for some because, ‘oh, she’s a Black woman I’m not going to buy from her.’ It’s so sad to think about that, but that’s just the way industry is whether we like it or not. How many Black designers have really penetrated the industry? Not a lot, and it’s not due to lack of talent. I think that color goes a long way in the industry, and I’m hoping things will change. I ended putting my picture because I’m not going to shy away from being a Black woman.”
IL: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of this career?
SA: “I think the most rewarding part is not answering to anyone else, and I’m doing my own thing. I love what I’m doing and I’m able to work around my family, while setting my own hours which has been fantastic for me. I don’t see it as working, but doing what I love doing.”
IL: In about 3-5 years, where would you like to see your brand go?
SA: “I know this will sound like a cliché, but I would love to see my designs sold in Selfridges! That’s my end goal, really. From the initial stages of my design to the quality of fabrics and the finishings, I put a lot of thought into my designs. So, that’s my 5-year plan and it’s not just London or the U.K., but various stockists all over the world.”