We live in an age where we are constantly wanting more out of fashion and more from our designers. We have an incessant need to be shocked and surprised – given something so groundbreaking that our minds are turned inside out. There’s no doubt that this isn’t easy, as many of the fashion trends that we’ve most recently become accustomed to are recycled gems from decades before us; washed up and churned out to fill the fast-paced lifestyles of the modern-day consumer. Unsurprisingly, this type of pace in fashion has been labeled ‘fast fashion’. But for London-based designer Elizabeth Akingbade, fast fashion just isn’t her style – and that’s something to be proud of.
After graduating from University of the Arts London, Elizabeth Akingbade started her brand, Yemzi, in 2013. Creating a brand that’s eco-friendly, sustainable and made in London is impressive. It is a brand that represents so much of what fashion should be about, especially from a designer on the rise. Yemzi is already proving to us the quality and luxuriousness of design doesn’t need to be compromised in order to do the right thing.
In Akingbade’s own words, “It’s not necessary for people to die because the corporations consumers buy their disposable fashion from doesn’t want to invest in its workers or the infrastructure of the building… As an emerging designer I have control over this for my business and I will continue to be the change I want to see in the fashion industry”.
Based in east London, Akingbade’s designs have been able to not only encompass an organic and honest ethos, but also represent her Nigerian roots: the perfect blend of ready-to-wear fashion and street-style.
Using organic cotton, safe dyes and an all female group of seamstresses and workers, it’s clear that Yemzi is all about the development and nurture of ‘slow fashion’. The type of fashion that doesn’t force women and children to work for less than £1 a day. That doesn’t leave women and men being brutally beaten on the streets by their own police force because they want to speak up in demand for a better lifestyle. The type of fashion that doesn’t subject thousands of workers to injury and death due to poor and unacceptable working conditions.
This positive and profitable (for all) environment that Akingbade has allowed for her creations to blossom in is why we love and respect the Yemzi designs so much. Through this freedom of ethical design, Elizabeth has been able to create two labels within the Yemzi brand to help add more depth to her SS16 collection and appeal to a wider range of consumers. The crop tops, bralets and figure hugging pencil skirts featured in the ‘Black Label’ represent more high-street-inspired style mixed with a fitted and sports luxe structure.
The ‘Gold Label’ holds a certain fluidity to its designs, focusing more on an ethereal and bohemian style with the use of silk fabrics and lighter textures. When speaking to Akingbade it’s clear that women who are cognizant of their surroundings have also inspired this type of fluidity in her collection.
“Because of my conscious business model (and admiration of afros) I envisage my collections on a natural, earthy, somewhere tomboy girl. I see Willow Smith, Solange and FKA Twigs in my designs to name a few,” she says.
In Akingbade’s collection for Yemzi (that can be found on ASOS Marketplace) we even saw organic cotton jumpers with the names, Solange, Janelle, Lauryn and Erykah branded over the front highlighting just how important women are to the development of the brand. Over the last two years we’ve seen these women become vocal in what they believe in, through music, art, and feminism. Therefore, it’s only fitting that Elizabeth imagines women with confidence and strength in her designs, as this also reflects on how her brand was created.
Yemzi is still very much an independent label and has seen Akingbade bring herself out of her comfort zone. She tells us that there’s never one solid role that she finds herself doing.
“Designing, pattern cutting, admin, accounting, even jumping in front of the camera when a model I booked didn’t fit the pieces… I’ve had to grow in a slow and organic way.”
But it’s overcoming these hurdles and challenges that have allowed Yemzi to have their pieces on ASOS Marketplace as well as London stockist The Good Boutique (in Chelsea), and trade in The Netherlands and India. Akingbade has definitely created a brand that people want to see more of!
The emergence of Yemzi helps to represent ethical and sustainable fashion from a female black British designer in an industry that is known for being stubborn to change. When discussing women of colour in the fashion industry with Akingbade it’s apparent that finding Black British fashion designers in general is a harder struggle than it should be.
“I’d have to use Google to name three Black British fashion designers. Every season there is increasing talk about models of diversity. What about designers of diversity? [The fashion industry] could do a lot more to nurture us,” she says.
Behind the scenes, we see women of colour being subjected to poor working conditions at the rule of the big bosses in their high rise towers, and although designers such as Elizabeth, Irene Agbontaen for TTYA (Taller Than Your Average) and Darlene & Lizzy Okpo for William Okpo are becoming stronger figures in the fashion industry and have had a much safer and positive relationship within the industry, we still have a way to go. Admittedly representation of Black designers in fashion isn’t as easy to pin as your Elizabeth & Jameses, Donna Karens, and Isabel Marants appear to take centre stage. It’s not about having one in front of the other but about having both adored side-by-side… or at least closer than they are now.
However, what could be seen as a barrier is nothing more than energy to fuel Akingbade and her brand Yemzi further forward. Akingbade concludes, “I believe that if I can consistently create collections that many admire whilst staying true to my direction then all types of barriers will dissolve… a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt sums it up, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’.”
Images of Yemzi’s collections used is this article were modelled by Climata Mtfonga @ GTM models, and styled by Ivy Scarlett.