CONCEIVED IN WEST AFRICA. MADE IN BROOKLYN. ADRIFT ACROSS THE WORLD.
From being named by Esquire magazine as one of the five “Best Dressed Real Men,” to a recent accolade from Philadelphia magazine as one of the “Most Fashionable People in Philadelphia,” Wale Oyejide is quickly making his mark on the fashion world. An attorney by day and a creative guru by night, Nigerian-born Wale is the managing editor of lessgentlemen.com and the founder and creative director of fashion brand Ikiré Jones. Through these experiences, he has developed a unique aesthetic. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke with Wale about his creative pursuits and his status as an up-and-coming style icon.
Akinyi: Where did you grow up in Nigeria? How did you decide to come to the States?
Wale: It’s a fairly common Nigerian story. I grew up in Ibadan, and lived in a number of different places before my family settled in the United States in my teens.
Akinyi: How did you decide to start a menswear line? Had you had any previous experience starting a business?
Wale: After being named by Esquire as one of the Best Dressed men in America, I began to garner a fair amount of notoriety because of the way I present myself. I decided to fold all of this attention into a venture that would tell my story and hopefully introduce a different cultural perspective to the menswear industry.
Akinyi: When you started your line, did you always know that you wanted to incorporate African aesthetics into the design?
Wale: Yes. Given the name of the brand, it was always my intent to marry western and african cultures within the identity of the work. The idea was to take Neapolitan tailoring methods and see what happened when they were applied to African prints.
Akinyi: Have you always been inspired by African style?
Wale: I can’t say that I was always inspired by style at all. Clothing wasn’t something that I grew up with a heavy interest in. However, as I became more invested in my personal appearance, it made sense that I find a way to tie my heritage into what I wore every day.
Akinyi: Do you think that African designers will one day be embraced by the high fashion world? What is your opinion on the recent proliferation of African fashion weeks across the world?
Wale: I have no idea and it isn’t really a concern of mine, to be frank. Plenty of designers already play with African prints, but I see this as a bit of a novelty. Whether or not more individual African designers will be celebrated on a global level is beyond me. I certainly hope so. It is my suspicion that the fashion industry, like virtually every other international industry, will continue to struggle with the societal ills (both race and class-based) that have plagued it since its inception. In my opinion, designers should make what they enjoy making and worry less about who is accepting of it. Regarding the spread of African fashion weeks, I think that is just a reflection of African people realizing that they have to support and recognize their own designers since other people are less likely to do so. It’s a good thing.
Akinyi: Do you have any advice for Africans hoping to enter creative industries?
Wale: I’d suggest that anyone with a genuine talent or passion go after whatever makes them happy. It’s your life to live; and you ultimately have to face yourself in the mirror every morning.
Akinyi: What do you think of the debate between Western business attire and formal African attire in the workplace? Do you think that we should be allowed to adhere to Western standards of dress – even in Africa?
Wale: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I think that one should be aware of his/her surroundings and act accordingly. It’s important to express yourself, but not to the point that it becomes a self-indulgent distraction. As far as standards of dress are concerned, I’m no authority on what society as a whole should or should not be doing. I do think it is important that we not turn too far away from our traditional means of expression, because if we do, there will be little left of us to remind us who we are. That said, there is no reason we can’t walk the middle road between Western wear and African garb. That’s the whole point of what I’m doing with Ikiré Jones.
Akinyi: Your life seems to be divided into distinct blocks – your time as an attorney, your time as a musician, and your time as a designer. Where do these areas of your life overlap? How does each area inform the others?
Wale: They all overlap in the sense that creative energy, at least for me, all comes from the same place. Me making music isn’t much different from me writing, or me designing a jacket. All of it is self-expression of some kind. I’ve been fortunate to benefit from having a widening base of experiences to draw from. All of these experiences continue to inform my future work. There’s something to be said for being a Jack-of-a-few-Trades.