What It’s like to Live in Niyi Okuboyejo’s World
Nigerian-born designer Niyi Okuboyejo’s Post-Imperial men’s line uses Yoruba Adire dying techniques to create wholly modern designs that explore issues of tradition, rebellion, and meaning. That perspective piqued our interest here at O.N.S, prompting us to reach out and invite Niyi to collaborate. The result is this O.N.S x Niyi Okuboyejo capsule collection, which honors Senegalese artist Issa Samb. With those things in mind, we spent the day with Niyi in New York last week, as he went to the barbershop, stopped by his favorite plant store, and mused on his vast array of influences and interests, from Senegalese artist Issa Samb and his Laboratoire Agit-Art to David Hockney and Aphex Twin.
Can you summarize your overall philosophy and design concept behind the “For Issa” collection with O.N.S?
Issa [Samb] and his work are perfect examples of the diverse voices within the black and African experiences. We don’t all think the same nor do we have textbook instructions on how to advance the diaspora. He and his contemporaries at Laboratoire Agit-Art didn’t believe in the Négritude philosophies of Pan-African racial identity. He believed in operating cultural nuances within both Western and African spaces. I personally believe in Pan-Africanism, but I also believe in translating cultural content onto the global landscape. It is a tightrope I try to walk when designing—creating work that feels authentic to people I am culturally connected to, while, at the same time, inviting others outside of the community to also experience it.
What are the similarities between this collab capsule and your own Post-Imperial collections?
The prints and the ease of the clothes. I wanted everything to feel cozy, as if you were wearing pajamas, including the tailoring.
What are your favorite pieces from the O.N.S x Niyi collection. Why?
The Baseball Puffer is everyone’s favorite, but I personally love the cream turtleneck with the orange neck, because the design was inspired by an orange scarf that Issa wore regularly.
With you being a proud Nigerian designer and Issa Samb being a prominent Senegalese artist, can you speak on the strong West African connection behind this collaborative collection?
West African cultures are very diverse and have endured several colonial establishments and regimes. Yet most of us still have a strong connection with each other through food, language, clothing, and art. Issa might not express his work through a Pan-African or Western lens, but his identity as an African artist still remains in the core of his work. His idea of community, sense of power in objects, and his bold uniforms speak to his culture.
What does a typical workday consist of for you? It must be quite hectic juggling the responsibilities of your brand while also raising a young family?
I start my day with dropping my twin boys at school and then taking meetings that involve scaling Post-imperial, while also scheduling visits with local vendors such as factories or fabric mill representatives. I try to limit as much work as possible once my sons are back from school. My wife and I both have our own businesses, so we share responsibilities within the household.
Post-Imperial seems to enjoy a lot of love and support in Europe and Asia, maybe even more so than stateside. How do you explain this phenomenon?
Both markets find our products culturally relatable. In Asia, they see and respect the wabi-sabi nature of the Adire dyeing process. They also appreciate the level of experimentation and innovation we have incorporated into it. In Europe, they love the laid back vibes and artisanal feel of the clothing.
What are some of the hobbies and activities you like to do to unwind and re-energize in NYC? Read, travel?
Visiting Little Senegal in Harlem is great way for me to unwind because it is the closest thing that connects me back to a West African community in New York. I also like to read a lot of art books. Recently I have been listening to a lot of podcasts, including Cool Moms, OMONDI Presents: The Cutting Room Floor, Let’s Know Things, and Hypebeast’s Business of Hype, and have been heavily browsing the Business of Fashion website.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration in NYC, both for your designs and also for life in general?
A lot of my inspirations do come from the African diaspora. But I am also as inspired by David Hockney and Aphex Twin as I am by The Baye Fall movement and Barkley L. Hendricks. They all allow me to create this universe in my head that deals with shaping the New Africana in today’s global space.
Lastly, is there a particular quote or motto you strive to live your life by?
“Go with the Goers”—That is a quote my Uncle Tunji used to say to me all the time. I always find myself going back to that quote whenever I am in the process of building my own community for my brand.
Shop the entire O.N.S X Issa Holiday ’18 Collection here.