African Fashion Designer Retells the Stories of his People in New Light
"To be African is to be inspired by culture and to be filled with undying hope for the future.” Walé Oyéjidé wears this expression as much as he lives it. On a given day, the 32-year-old musician, lawyer, and fashion designer can be seen in clothes as diverse as his professions. His expressive dress is deeper than its surface.
Wale was born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria before moving to the U.S. as a teenager. Wanting to feel better about himself, he became interested in fashion while in college. However, his interest in clothing quickly became a vehicle for something bigger than himself. As Oyéjidé explains, he uses design to combat bias, to tell stories, and to bolster the self-images of underrepresented populations, such as his native Nigeria. In Oyéjidé’s hands, a silk scarf with images of figures from classical European art overlaid with African features is not simply a flashy accessory. It is a way to express the dignity of African people, a way to redefine what is included as beautiful.
He recently was part of a collective effort at this redefinition. Oyéjidé runs a Philadelphia-based clothing brand Ikiré Jones. Last year when he learned of the African empowerment film Black Panther, Oyéjidé thought that his designs “would be the perfect representation for the [lead] character." After he reached out to Marvel on twitter, he was invited to provide some clothing for the film. One of his items, a scarf titled “From Wakanda, With Love,” was worn by lead actor Chadwick Boseman.The scarf depicts African figures embracing in front of a Londonesque cityscape.
The piece of clothing and the means for which it was employed is representative of how Oyéjidé seeks to use fashion: to tell stories of beauty, pride, and perseverance. Oyéjidé is also doing important work in Philadelphia, where he lives. In an upcoming project titled “How do we create our own cultural identities,” Oyéjidé will begin to help his community answer this question by working with students in the Artrepreneurs program to create new school uniforms and show them off at a fashion show. Oyéjidé is also the artist selected by Mural Arts for the Lucien E. Blackwell Library mural on 52nd street in West Philadelphia, set for unveiling in October 2018. Nani Manion, Regional Librarian at the Blackwell Library says that they are “thrilled” to work with Oyéjidé, “an international figure with local ties.” She added, “This mural is a very special match for the library, and a unique opportunity to feature the brand and vision of Walé and his company, Ikire Jones.” Manion concluded, “It will be an honor to have the designs of Ikiré Jones on the exterior of our library, amplifying the presence of people who were once overlooked.
Hazim Hardeman is a graduate student at Oxford University, where he will pursue a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Economic and Social History. He is also African Community Learning Program's intern for the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a multimedia journalist, and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English. She is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
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