O R A N G E
In Conversation with Ola Alatishe
SA: Okay, so we're recording. Hi, Ola!
SA: I’m soo done!
SA: Yeah, this is where I get a bit nervous and it’s like… why do I need to be nervous? I’m sitting with someone that I know.
Firstly, thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today.
OA: And thank you for speaking to me.
SA: Thank you for responding, to create… you know, because it was definitely something that was inspiration led... *pauses*... how can I put it?...
… I just cast a net and then see if someone responds, so I'm glad that you were on creating... and you actually helped pic outfits and produce content, which was really fun!
I loved the way the photos came out that day. When I look back, I'm just like, ‘wow, that's actually me, or like wow!, your hair is really flowing like that!... Like, rah that orange dress really looks good on you’. I don't know whether you’ve taken time to look back at the photos?
OA: I didn’t
SA: You didn’t? Look at them.
OA: Yeah, I will.
SA: Because then you will look at yourself and be like, ‘rah! Ola. Is that you!?’
OA: Mmm. Hmmm..
SA: Do you know what I mean?... and the sun was really out that day... and you know, obviously when it's hot a different version of yourself comes out...
OA: Listen! I… *laughs*... when it's hot…
SA: Mmm. Hmmm..
OA: ...and the heats there, and the sun is there... I. Am... I’m into myself. It gives me so much energy and I feel like that's my authentic self, when I'm in the sun. Out of it… *pauses*... not even a shadow of myself, I'm just not myself.
OA: That's how I feel. So winter months are very difficult for me. Like, yeah, it's just very, very difficult for me and that I tried to play off or just... not ignore it, but you know… *sighs*... jazz myself up and everything, but the issue is really not me, it’s the weather.
SA: I hear that. It makes sense. Because, like I said before, you're a traveler, a majority of the places that you go to are a hotter climate. Obviously - to me anyway, I don’t know about you but personally, it doesn’t make sense going to a colder place. When you think of a holiday you think of the sun automatically. But yeah, majority of the places that you go are sun filled and I can definitely resonate with not being yourself during winter. One of the first posts that I published was actually about SAD (seasonal affective disorder)... it’s something that I just became aware of properly, last year…
...this year? For you?
OA: Yeah. I knew about it but I didn't think it was me.
SA: Mmmm…. Yeah, yeah. I feel that.
When I was working last year, one of my colleagues said that she actually bought a lamp… you can invest in one to help you, I guess with rising in the morning. It's a tool to help you through during the winter period.
Maybe I was very absent minded to it before, when it was happening because I was on the go. Do you know what I mean?... I just didn't feel it. But I think 2019 is when… *pauses*... which makes sense actually, because that year… *thinks*... the year before I quit my retail job, so I was freelancing for the rest of the year. Which makes sense, because it took a while for me to find my feet again, so when winter came around 2019 it hit me, you know?... and I travelled in 2018 that year when I quit my job, to Nigeria. I missed out on the winter, however… It's like that “bug” was still with me, because even when I was there, there was like a lot of new situations that I had to be in that made me genuinely anxious. But I just still wasn’t… *pauses*... it definitely affected me, during my stay at my Aunt's I was in bed for a lot of the time…
And here's me like in a hot country… *pauses*... do you know what I mean?... I should be out enjoying blah, blah. But, you know, my experience is different. I didn’t grow up in Nigeria, so... finding activities to do, you need to be there for a long period of time to find your network, find your group of people, to know how to just move around. I didn't have that yet… erm, but anyway, I say all that to say… I guess from 2018 that's when SAD properly hit me, but 2019 that's when I probably went under *laughs*... and then early 2020 that's when I learned, okay, cool ‘this is what happens’. Then this year, I'm like, ‘yeah, now I know!... and I'm gonna strap up and prepare’. You know? I am really going to allow myself to hibernate! Because that's really what that period is for.
SA: ...you know? Slow down. Do nothing. If you're gonna do something, take it day by day, basically. I feel when I'm into something, I really am. You know when they say, ‘you can be so into something you forget to eat, you forget to…’ blah, blah. I feel like I have that temperament in me, so I'm cautious to not over do it and still top up… that's something that we definitely have in common.
OA: Yeah. 100%. 100%...
I know now to find something that I know I can do, throughout… should I still be here in this country, during the winter months to take my mind off of it. That's why I like to clear my environment. If you have an environment that's conducive for you to actually… *pauses*... okay, it's clean, but you can get up and just go and begin your day, that helps as well. I think I let my environment get to me… maybe I'll come out sometimes...
SA: Mmm… it can be so overwhelming, you just don't want to.
SA: … then there's no energy to even problem solve. As in, to actually tackle what you don't like, which is another thing that I myself am implementing more this year. So I think it's just a matter of… YOU know what it is that you need to do... and I think if anything that we can take away from this conversation today is just the pace ourselves because burnout is real, you know?
So, yeah!... like I said, initially, thank you, and we're gonna talk about ORANGE! Today.
OA: … Cast my mind back to 2020!!
OA: Oh! Why did I pick orange? I think… *pauses*... do you know what, that time that I picked the colour orange, was a bit of a transition. I think, erm… for me, because I was looking… hold on, were we in lock down?
SA: Yeah. Well, when I asked you we were probably two months in.
OA: Yeah. So... we were in lockdown and I was looking for colours that would give me hope and energy, at that time. It was yellow at first, then it was orange, I think maybe because… *points to windows*... I was sitting here [sofa looking out at the window]. I don't know, something just inspired me, nature always inspires me. This is what I love about sitting in this living room.
SA: You've got a beautiful view… and I think it really helps that you’re on the 2nd floor as well. You don't get the street view, you get the sky and the trees...
SA: From here. I like it.
OA: It's so beautiful… and I think that day I changed my mind about the colour purple and I went for orange instead… it was just a sky, it was a reflection on the walls and everything was like orange. It just energised me, it made me feel so warm inside and it gave me hope… I don't know why. But it gave me hope- that things will get better... and yeah, that was the colour. Then I looked into orange a little bit, the word energy came up and that day when I looked out the window and I saw the reflection and all these things that's what it gave me so yeah, orange…
Both: ...is the colour.
SA: … or should we say, was?
SA: Because previously said, ‘I don't know what my colour is now, but I'm sure it's not…’ you know, just a paraphrase of you.
SA: But we'll stay on orange for now.
SA: To begin the conversation… when I asked you to write about orange, you sent a nice, informative overview about why orange and in the opening you talk about you being a Virgo. So, my first question to you is why do you resonate with astrology?
OA: *exhales*... so much has changed in a year!
SA: Mmm… hmmm… I think, reflect and just speak on it… speak on where you want to come from.
OA: Erm… I think *pauses*... you know what it gives you like a baseline when you look at astrology and all these things. I'm a Christian as well, I believe in God and I believe that you know, when you're born in certain seasons and all these things… you know, He placed the stars and the moon... all these things in place for a reason.
Sorry, I'm just going to stop there. *note to self* Sandra, remember to insert the scripture that you read today because it spoke about God placing the stars and the moon…
SA: … in certain places for a reason. Things are ordained, nothing happens by chance… Please, carry on.
OA: Oh, that was powerful.
OA: That was powerful!
For real, when people say it's not really what was supposed to be studied… *pauses* I’m like mmm… was it not a star that guided the wise men to Jesus when he was born?... There's something in it and I can't explain that properly, but there's something in it and I believe it gives me an idea of what God intended, you know?... why he made me come out in September. Me in particular, the time that I came out and all these things so it lets me know a little bit about myself… and the things I know that I can change and the things that I just unique to me as well. So I do find it very, very, interesting to look into. Sometimes you connect with somebody and you don't know why…
I just learned about... what is it? Rising suns and ascending moons...
SA: … even though you've downloaded the app!?
SA: How did you read it before?
OA: I was just looking at Virgo
SA: Oh. Ok… so who introduced you to it?
OA: Erm… I think this was at work, I was working.
OA: I was working for a company that dealt with women's health.
SA: Oh, yeah… is that the moon…?
OA: Moody Month
SA: Moody Month! Yeah… yeah.
OA: Yeah. So, one of my colleagues must have mentioned it and I found out when I was born...
SA: What’s the name of the app again?
OA: The Women's Health one?
SA: No the… astrology one.
OA: Oh. Co-star.
SA: Oh, okay!
OA: But yeah… so, downloaded that and was like (referring to colleague)… ‘that's why I don't like you’.
SA: Omo! Why do you say ‘that's why I don't like you?’
OA: Maybe because all of this…
SA: Oh!... in terms of placements in your chart, you have opposing signs.
OA: Yeah I don’t understand it yet, but clearly we didn't have anything in common.
SA: Mmmm. element/placement wise in common... okay, that's interesting.
I definitely hear you, because I also grew up in a Christian home and had to make that conscious decision to… *pauses*... Do you know what? I think for me, it was from early that I wasn't religious. From early I’ve known that I'm not a rule follower, you know?
I remember… This is off topic, but I remember one time being in church, and we had a guest pastor come in to preach and he called the youth to the front, right. You know when people are praying sometimes I can tell when they are directing their prayer at me, it may seem narcissistic, or whatever to be like, ‘oh, everything's about me’, but this one was actually about me that day.
So he's praying, praying, praying, and then basically just calls me out, yeah and says that my piercings - I had my lip pierced, my nose pierced… I just chose to express myself in that way. He called me to the front and basically said that… *pauses*... you know, obviously, the message was beautiful… it was positive, because I believe his underlying message was that ‘you're beautiful without all these things. Take them out!’. Basically, that was his message to me, right? Cool. For one that really did, shake me up a bit because why are you calling me out in front of everyone? Do you get what I mean?... First of all, for me, I'm just genuinely emotional.
You know the part of Christianity that I just didn’t like was the heavy guilt that you feel, like you're always doing wrong, like, ‘what can I do right?’, kind of thing. Even when you make your own decisions, you're like, ‘Oh, I know, this goes against scripture, BUT… blah, blah, blah’. That still leaves an imprint of doubt or guilt in you. But I chose, like I said, to do me, because that's just me.
I remember after the service, and I really appreciated this, my pastor's wife came to me and she was basically like, ‘Don't listen to him! You're good’. Do you know I mean?... ‘go back, go about your business’ basically, you know, and that really reassured me. But I say all that to say, I choose now, to be very spiritual about my connection with God and I do see star signs as a foundation to understand how we are because I feel as social beings, there's psychology involved in it as well. I also like the way that unlike the Bible, the way astrology/numerology is explained, there is a logical way that is presented that my brain can easily decipher more than it can scripture. I get scripture is something that you have to pray to God, ‘God, I've just read this, can you reveal to me what I need to pick from this?’ You know? But astrology can sometimes be more use of layman's terms kind of thing and you just pick apart… ‘Okay, this applies’. It's not everything.
SA: When you're first into it, it will seem like it needs to be everything because you're like ‘Oh my God! This is me! This is me!’
SA: Honest to God. But, as you can see, from when you do the chart, you have a bit of everything in you. It takes a lot to be self aware and be like... ‘Actually put out to the side. I'll take this’...
SA: ….and sift through everything. But, I hear that about astrology being the foundation. Because I know quite a few Christians deal with the question, ‘should I read astrology?’... this, that and the other because it’s being looked at from a demonic perspective. I think, connect with your own spirit first, because that's what God left us. Right? Jesus left us the Holy Spirit. Cool.
Consult with your spirit, consult with God to speak to you and let you know what's what but you have to be in tune with your inner to know when God is speaking...
SA: … It's all a process, because let me just say, I haven't just like, come. I mean, yeah… ready and hearing God already. It's been a journey.
I try what I resonate with most, if I know something is not for me, I'm not going to go and dabble in it. What I feel resonates, I look into it to see if I can apply it. If I can I do, if I can’t I can’t and I leave it as that.
To your point, that is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
THE ECOSYSTEM OF FASHION
SA: Moving on, you mentioned that you're really into fashion, but not in a cliche way. I would like to know what your opinion is on the cliche way of fashion?
What do you think that is?
OA: Mmm.. That's the - No offense to the BooHoo.
SA: *laughs*... Missguided
SA: Do you think ASOS goes in there as well?
OA: Do you know what, they've started to incorporate some brands that I like… *pauses*... because it's a mix and match...
SA: High/low? Low?
OA: Yeah… and very, very low sometimes.
SA: *laughs* you said… very, very low!
OA: Erm… clothes are not just things you just put on your back, you know? You can’t be happy with the bare minimum, the polyesters etc… ‘Oh, cause it looks good’, and that's it.
No. Fashion is so much more than that, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, we all went through that phase, where we will just be ‘Oh, BooHoo £6!’... It looks nice. You get it, you wear it maybe one or two times, it rips, you throw it away. That vicious cycle.
You don’t just buy clothes for the sake of buying clothes, you buy clothes, if you see yourself in it 5 to 10 years time and you can still have that in your wardrobe. It's something that you can invest in, and keep there. If you want to keep it for even longer than that, let it be an heirloom, you pass it down to your kids or whatever.
SA: Like you're wearing your mum’s glasses today…
OA: Exactly. There are a lot of things that my mum has, that I've taken from… *pauses*... well borrowed.
SA: We share!
Both: We share! *laughs*
OA: … From the 80s you know!? yeah.
I do have one or two pieces from BooHoo, but I never really shop there, I can't pass them on to my kids. I can't pass them onto my worst enemy even. They're gonna have to go in the bin… *laughs*... you know?
You think about the effort….
SA: ...that went into making.
OA: ... exactly!
OA: Whether they're even paid? If an item is £6, how much does it take to make it?
How much went to the maker? Were they able to survive on that one garment that they made?
All these things you think about and you just think, ‘Yeah, it's not worth it’. So, that's a cliche way of thinking about fashion just to look good. Fashion is so much more than just looking good. It's about longevity. It's about making sure that the environment is protected, just being ethical and making sure that people are paid for what they do.
It's not easy to be making garments, sometimes it takes time, it takes a lot out of you. When you think about the whole ecosystem of the fashion industry, and not just to look good, then that's not looking at fashion in a cliche way.
SA: Yeah. no, definitely you're more intentional about your purchases.
SA: Like you said, thinking about the person that it originally starts with. As in whose hands has it passed before it gets to me?
I do think that if everyone was given a snapshot of what the factory looks like…
SA: ...you know, I don't know whether that will be enough to convince people because even when we hear about companies using child labor we're are still out here buying their products.
SA: It's literally that degree of separation thing, where, unless it's directly at your door or affects you, you're not really gonna care about it. But I think for us two coming from a fashion perspective and understanding a bit more about fashion by being “in the room”, should I say... There is definitely more concern, sympathy and empathy, with the whole process that affects our consumer habits, let me just put it like that.
It's funny, because in the first interview that I did with Tosin, she was like, ‘Fashion!?. Ew!’ she mentioned when someone refers to her as ‘fashionista’, she could ‘puke’.
SA: When you think about how it's been marketed to us, if you want to analyse it, it’s quite dirty.
SA: You know?... So, she explained how she has disassociated herself from ‘fashion’, as she is more drawn to style, which is testament to the reality that we’re in today.
For me, which I think about cliche fashion, it's the clones, that these Missguided, Fashionova… or whatever, project. People actually take it on an embody it, from lips..
...as in you actually!!... *laughs*... That's crazy, how can we both have the same image in… *pauses*... I said it and you literally put your hands to your lips!
SA: Bruv.. from lips, to hair, to make up, to body! It's just one girl, that's projected...
SA: … and I think that for me is the matrix! Because if you just take yourself out of that… *pauses*... I wonder, the amount of girls that are in that?... that are really conscious about what they're doing and how they're transforming - themselves? Do you know what I mean?
SA: I think it is incredible and that just shows you the psychology and the power of an image
SA: Omo! *laughs*
OA: I think to myself, ‘Did this start...because of the Kardashians?’.
SA: I mean if we want to look to someone they are the closest influence, I would say. For me, it struck me when I was working in my last retail job, my colleague was in her late teens, was telling me one day she was considering getting lip fillers.
Obviously, she can do whatever she wants but I was saying ‘baby girl, you don't need to’...
SA: ... let’s even look at why you are doing it. That’s as close as I have been to an individual that feels like they need to morph themselves into an image.
But yeah, at the end of the day if you can upkeep it, it's all game for you but don't start doing something and one side is drooping!...
SA: … do you know what I mean?... or be like ‘I ain’t got no money this month for a top up’. Nah. Be consistent.
SA: If that's the image that you want to have, be very consistent.
OA: But people forget that these girls they look up to, they get these things for free.
SA: Oh, yeah… cause they’re the sales reps.
OA: If you don’t have the money, stop it.
SA: *laughs*... honestly.
OA: Don’t even do it.
SA: This is just something for me to personally research more into the other images that are being projected through fashion. But I think that is the main one that's really in your face.
OA: Yeah, 100%. In this day and age, No doubt, no doubt and their archetype was black women. It's always been black women.
OA: Always. Always has been.
SA: Do you realise it's always exaggerated?
We come in so many different shapes and sizes but it’s interesting how the feature… *pauses*.... be it lips, be it bun, eyebrows, whatever. It's always exaggerated.
OA: It’s a caricature of us.
SA: Oh, so that's what the word caricature means… ok, yeah.
OA: It’s a bastardised version of us. They’re taking our image, our likeness, and adapting in their way, but it's, it's almost insulting. Because you cuss us for it.
SA: But to be honest, it's funny, because it's like, I'm not insulted. I'm just laughing at how exaggerated you look.
SA: You look bloated! Basically.
You know when Spike Lee did the updated version of 'She's Gotta Have It’, one of the characters had bum fillers and she fell-on-her-bum!. Do you remember that scene?
SA: I literally felt it. I felt it as if it happened to me.
OA: I had to fast forward that part.
SA: I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah, there are people out here’... *pauses*... You know it's not only caucasians, you know, our people do it too.
OA: Mmm.. hmmm.. Yeah.
SA: Like I said to each is their own but just to ensure that whatever procedures or whatever you're going to do to modify your body, love yourself in that process and do it the right way.
SA: Save your money, go to a good doctor, all them kind of things and make sure that you can keep it up because it's maintenance at the end of the day. You're dealing with your bo-di! Your bo-di!
FASHION AS A TOOL
SA: Um.. Okay, so the next question I have for you…
SA: This, I really love what you did, because you really broke down what fashion is. You mentioned that it is a powerful tool as it allows you to communicate with the colours you wear, how they reflect occasions, seasons and how it can be a political statement as well, by reflecting the times that we live in.
Can you explain how you use it as a tool in your life when it comes to culture, mood, your beliefs, and the seasons?
Let’s start with culture...
OA: Ok. When it comes to culture, I guess it's just not wearing black...
… it's just not wearing black and I don't wear what they call ‘native’ I hate that word.
OA: What the hell does that mean?
SA: I’ve never really questioned it. But yeah… when you say it like that.
OA: *in a Nigerian accent* ‘Are you wearing native?’....shut up.
SA: I’m soo done!
OA: I adopt the principles for not wearing black not wearing colours associated with certain things… *pauses*... like red, I don’t wear red often.
*points to pile of clothes being donated to TRAID*... As you see in that pile over there, that red dress is going.
SA: Would I be correct to say that you don’t wear colours that are associated with death?
OA: Yeah. Black and red.
SA: Yeah. I think it’s in the Ghanaian culture you would wear black and red to a funeral/wake or white and black.
OA: Yeah. So I think that's just mainly what I don't often do… when it comes to culture, it's that.
When it comes to mood and season if you see me in a hoodie, it's been a recent thing.. just know that my hair isn't done...
SA: For me it's hats.
SA: Can you see, I haven’t questioned you!
There are some people who are so inner… ‘what’s happening with your hair!?’
SA: ‘Have you done your hair!?’... Bruh!
Look at me right now, I’m shielding. It's not for you to question... remove your eye from that place!
SA: But yeah… a hoodie…
OA: I never wear the two together... today I said, ‘it’s that deep’.
OA: So, if you see me in a hat and a hoodie! Oh! Just don’t ask me questions. Just pray for me!...
… that's for moods and seasons. Seasons, when it comes to seasons I do try and wear a bit more colour because I'm not feeling myself.
I've got a bright yellow scarf that I wear and you can see it from a mile away. When I look at it, the contrast of me wearing that and the actual gloomy weather, it balances it out in some way so I try to wear more bright colours. I've been so into neutral tones recently as well.
SA: What kind of neutrals?
SA: Yeah, like you're wearing today?
SA: Then obviously… *looks at Ola's hat*... khaki.
OA: Yes. There is a story behind this, but for now we'll just say I got it from a charity shop. Yes.
SA: So bright colours in winter when the seasons.
Both: All around.
OA: Most especially has to be in the winter season, for my mood as well.
SA: How about in the summer?
OA: In the summer…?
Oh, I just have to laugh because that's when I go from being a five maybe...
SA: 0 to 100 real quick.
SA: Switch it up.
SA: I remember one birthday of yours, you wore some like tactile dress… and I just love the contrast. Obviously for your birthday you really show out but I feel like there's a continuation in your style anyway, even if it's down to a top that has a funky pattern on it or whatever. You know, that's, I guess, a red thread in your style. But yeah, I can understand the 0 to 100.
OA: I can express myself.
SA: Wow. Summer.
OA: ‘Who’s that? Ola?... Yeah, yes, definitely, her. She’s wearing that really bright dress’... you know dresses are my thing in summer.
OA: Love it. I don’t ever wear it outside of the season. I don't, I’m not tryna get cold. Um… so yeah, when it comes to summer yeah, I really express myself.
I go all out. Go-all-out. I look better in summer.
SA: I think that's a common thing for people.
SA: You just have an inner glow.
OA: You would say that. I've seen some people do that really suffer?
SA: *Nigerian accent* I mean, I'm not talking about them.
OA: Oh, yeah, okay!
SA: Just keeping it here.
SA: … ok, so how about your beliefs? How does fashion play a part?
OA: In my beliefs?... Oh, that's definitely interesting. I feel like when it comes to fashion, how you dress I don't see it as a reflection of my beliefs or anything like that. But I do keep it respectful.
SA: So modest fashion.
OA: Yeah. It's just me, it’s who I am.
Um… when I do see someone… *pauses*.... I'm going to put my hands up and say if I see somebody that's *britico accent*... scantily clad.
SA: Scantily what!?
SA: *Yoruba*... Kini clad??
SA: *Nigerian accent*... what is clad?
OA: When she’s not quite butt naked…
OA: Or wearing next to nothing. Like that one day of sunshine that we had I saw girls with short shorts… like their arses were out. I felt so sick.
SA: See, it's deprivation, isn't it? That's what London does. It deprives you…
*Nigerian accent*... so anyyyy opportunity! Do you get?
I even fooled myself the other day, the sun was out a bit and I wore a black dress. It was with layers though… I wore my kimono and my jeans jacket but I was cold bruv by the evening.
SA: I was like ‘Sandra, you played yourself. Do you remember! Where-you-are?’
Even today when I was in the market I saw a girl who was ‘scantily clad’...
SA: ….and I was literally doing a double take because in my brain I couldn't compute it. I just couldn't. I couldn't for the life of me, and you know… *pauses*... in the places that you catch cold? Yeah? So I'm even feeling it for her.
I'm just naturally cold blooded. There are people obviously out there that are hot blooded so it's nothing to them. But, for me! Nah, nah, nah I don't get it.
Yeah, I'm feeling it for you.
OA: Ok. When it comes to beliefs, in terms of religion and faith belief like the monotheism - the religions where you believe in one God.
When it comes to them kind of religions, like say you’re Muslim, you're Christian, Jewish, or Hindu the way you dress reflects your beliefs… even if you don't wear the actual religious garments. If you're wearing next to nothing, I'm not gonna believe you if you say you’re a follower from any of these beliefs.
SA: Okay, yeah... because it goes hand in hand.
OA: There's a way to be tasteful. There's a way to, you know, if you wouldn't be feminine, you want to show off your curves and all these things, flaunt it... yeah, there's a way to do that without having to show so much skin and be so tacky about it.
Your beliefs sort of guide you with regards to how appropriate certain clothing are and aren’t so yeah, I think that ties into that a little bit.
SA: Yeah. Yeah, that's cool. I hear that, thank you.
You then went on to mention African textiles after you spoke about being inspired by our owambe parties and going to…
OA: … yeah, can you make sure it says ‘parties’ and not ‘parries’.
SA: Ola actually wrote yeah… *pauses*.... She’s going to make me edit it, but she actually wrote parries...
OA: Oh! My! God!
SA: … but I’ve edited it to ‘par-tees’. Yeah. With a ‘t’.
… so, you mentioned owambe parties and then went on to describe traditional African textiles. Like I said to you before, when we were in conversation, it feels good to dialogue with someone who is finally speaking my language.
Having studied weaving and even just discovering that world and then really looking at our African textiles my reaction is, ‘Wow!’.
In Adire the design is literally like a secret message. You know? From the symbolism that's featured on the fabric... all the sigils, stars and linear drawings are like hieroglyphics, let's just say it like that. It's like our version of hieroglyphs on Adire. Then when you come into weaving… Kente, the colour once again, has a theory behind it, you know?
What colour are you using? What are you trying to communicate through that cloth? I also learnt about Kanga fabric that has proverbs written in Swahili which share some similarities with Ankara.
With Ankara animals like swallows are featured as a message, but in East Africa, they actually have the design done in combination with text. So say, for example, someone’s husband passes, the women in the community will gift the widow with a specific cloth with a proverb relating to that event.
I started learning the messaging behind cloth because it's deeper than what we know. So, when you mentioned these techniques I'm familiar with, I was just like, ‘yeah, cool!'.
Why did you choose to speak specifically about African textiles?
OA: It’s very simple.
I feel like there are so many untold stories about our history, and so many preconceptions about us. If we believe music started with us. I can guarantee you fashion started with us as well, and we spread out throughout the ages.
Then look at when we were growing up again… yeah, the parties, our aunties, our mothers, our fathers wearing you know… *pauses*... the whole street, obviously, living in this country looking at them because of how they were dressed. Simply, they stood out. And that always intrigued me being a little girl and watching how people would interact with my parents, as they're walking into the hall parties and everything like that, you know?
It's something to be discovered and it's so funny how when we look into our history, when we look into our textiles, it's already been, researched…
SA: Mmm.. hmm…
OA: ...people have been looking into it written...
SA:...written dissertations, and you know how many texts I’ve come across to get knowledge? I'm so grateful.
OA: It just shows you that sometimes when you don't value what it is that you have, or you're told, ‘you're not good enough’, whatever you have is not good enough, somebody else is telling you that but they're taking your resources.
It's what I saw in Uganda as well, when I saw people who were taken who were buying fifth hand. These secondhand clothes that we give to Oxfam…
SA: ...and then they sell it back to them.
OA: It eventually goes back to Africa, in different parts of it as well. Yeah.
OA: What it does, it puts the people who make these garments out of business, it puts the people who make these traditional clothing, clothes and textiles out of business because people obviously can't afford their goods. They're going for the second…
SA: ...fifth hand.
OA: Yeah… items, you know?
Our history is being erased and we're not preserving it and that's another thing that really scares me about what's happening with fast fashion and charity shops, throwing away clothes and things that they don't want at an alarming rate. What the Western world doesn't want we have to take their trash!? That's bullshit to me. Do you know what I mean?
We have so much we just need to find a way to monetise it and create a better infrastructure to support people who make artisanal goods and textiles, because it does take time, I get that. It takes a lot of time to make…
Both: ...from scratch from scratch
SA: Yep. From harvesting to treating, dying then weaving it definitely is a process and it's a vicious cycle that you just spoke on because I feel like it can at least slow down, I don't think it will fully stop just slow down… we have to be very intentional about what we buy.
Which goes back to one of the points you made earlier, if we start investing in things that last long there won't be a need to chuck out bags of clothes, I'm also guilty.
At the end of the day it’s us that’s adding to what they're getting back home and it's something that actually spoke to my mum about - ‘don't give my cousin's my clothes, they have a local tailor let them go and patronise that tailor’.
I get that not everyone wants to wear native but go to the market because they also sell plain fabrics. How much does it cost to go and sew top and bottom or one dress in a nice plain fabric?
SA: That is a godsend, to find local tailors because by the time we go to one, two dry cleaners here, they mess it up. Not to say that they're the best and best tailors back home, but if you do your research you can find someone who will stay with you for life, you know?
I love how you can have your personal carpenter or tailor back home, I think that is an abundance in my opinion. Um… it reminds me of when in 2019 I attended an outdoor event for the youth in Yaba, I was chaperoning my cousin and her friends. Come and see how all these kids were dressed… *paused*... I thought I was in America.
Ola, I thought I was in America. Everyone was dressed in the latest fashions from jeans, to trainers…
OA: In that hot weather?
SA: Yeah, yeah. Forget about the weather, forget about it. People will wear puffer jackets.
SA: Um… I was so shocked. I didn't see one native or one ankara or anything. Obviously I get this as a young crowd and everyone's doing alté vibes and everything now.
However, I was just like, ‘rah!’... In terms of culture in fashion we're so far removed from what is ours but can be innovated and played on like the skater brand Waffles & Cream or… *pauses*... who else does nice street wear fashion, but with African print?...
SA:… it doesn’t even have to be African. It can have the essence about it, you know? I need to do more research… Waffles & Cream is the first one I can point out but you know…
SA: There are ready-to-wear items that are still on trend, still culturally in sync with our background, it doesn't always need to be the American culture that we replicate.
Even down to the slang… the Nigerian vlogs I view I’m hearing ‘That's all periodt!’... *Nigerian accent* ah ah… which one is periodt now!?
SA: Honestly, I am grateful to be from Nigeria. I really am.
SA: Regardless of the political upset and other things… nowhere is perfect. At the end of the day, everywhere has their bad. I choose to see the good and I choose to see what can be improved on.
You know what it is… if we don't start doing it now, when would it be done? I definitely don't want to be that person that when I reach my 50s, I'm still saying *Nigerian accent*... ‘ah! Nigeria sha!’...
SA:… that's dead. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute something, you may not see the domino effect now. I always say, ‘I don't care if I do not see the domino effect in my lifetime’... the fact that I've done something that can have a ripple, omo! I'm set.
SA: Do you get?
OA: 100%…. I do believe that we will see something in our lifetime.
SA: Mmm… So do I!
OA: Yeah. 100%!
SA: Moving on… which textile is your favourite?
OA: That is a good question. I don't know why... but, anything woven like when it comes to Kente. One of my favourite designers is Kente Gentlemen.
OA: From Ivory Coast.
OA: Oh my gosh! If you see the garments. The designer uses the traditional woven method and creates patterns and motifs that are very modern and very stylish.
Old school methods but in a contemporary way.
OA: I love woven fabrics... sick woven textiles
SA: That is quality!
SA: It screams quality.
OA: You know?
… Kenneth Ize does that as well.
SA: Oh yeah! I love him.
He’s the one that really revived Aso Oke for me to be honest. One of my ideas when I was going to Nigeria was to visit the villages where weaving is done, because I could identify with it from designing at university, so I was questioning ‘where is it happening back home?’ You know?
But obviously with back home, you need a chaperone for real. When I went to Abekouta, Ogun State for Adire… I went with my aunt but she doesn't speak Yoruba, it was even by chance her friend came with us as well, which was a blessing because once they hear my voice, you know, what time is init?...
SA: … they definitely heard my voice, and we knew what time it was because money had to be coming out of my pocket…
SA: ...once I assimilate, then I can start speaking the language… until then a chaperone is essential. So imagine you're going to these remote villages, you know, coming from London, as you are…
OA: *Nigerian accent* Oyinbo girl!
SA: ...it's not easy to penetrate. I mean, unless your money is talking for you.
… That's what I was saying about the founder of Awa Meite, I'm sure you've referenced her before. She went to a village she knew nothing about and just integrated herself, you know - but she speaks their language.
The community even contributed to building her studio and all these kinds of things, it was literally a community workshop that she built for her fashion label, and that's the vision I have.
I, 100% I hear you when you talk about woven fabrics, and the luxury, the weight that it carries.
Which young designers have you got your eye on in that realm of African textiles?
OA: Like I said, Kente Gentlemen… I'm loving... Who else am I loving right now?
Tribe Nine Studios, made in Jamaica. That's another designer that I'm really looking forward to…
*hands over phone to show me IG account*
SA: Oh, yeah, I see it!
A NEW DAWN
SA: …So the image I'm looking at right now embodies a minimal Japanese influence. The pattern features vertical stripes in contrast to the horizontal lines on the lapels.
The colour palette is neutral with tones of red, creams and browns.
It’s a vibe sha!... and it's simple. Another thing as well... it is unisex.
SA: I love clothes that crossover… because I love to wear menswear, and I believe some men will love to wear womenswear as well…
OA: Yeah, which is fine.
SA: Definitely. It's just the fit... a shirt fits differently because of the darts and silhouette. I think for me, it's definitely about versatility.
How did you come across this brand?
OA: *cockney accent* Um… I think I was on club house.
SA: Was it? You’re tuned in?
SA: Was you about club house yeah!?
SA: Why are you hesitating?... louden your voice!
OA: One thing I love about this particular brand is that it's unapologetically black. It's very tasteful. It's just… *pauses*... I don't know, I just get the vibe… there's a vibe that I'm getting from it. It's screaming inclusivity to me, and that's a big thing for me as well right now.
For me it’s so important for… *pauses*... this is a bit off-tangent, but it's so important for Caribbean's and those who, who've been away from the continent for a long time to still connect with their heritage, have that sort of connection.
OA: You know?... When I see that, I appreciate it so much.
You know exactly who you are, which is key, and as your sister from a distance, I will be supporting you. So, yeah, Tribe Nine Studios is something that I'm looking at right now.
SA: Cool. Thank you for sharing.
I'll just add to that… with them being able to connect, I think it is so good that Ghana did the 'year of return', because I know people took advantage of that. Not only from the Caribbean, but America and it's changed people's perspectives and lives, about how they view back home.
OA: Yeah, 100%. I feel like the whole of West Africa should be doing that.
SA: But who has the infrastructure? With Ghana it makes sense because they do.
OA: Mmmm.. I didn't think of that at all.
SA: Imagine if Nigeria now said… *Nigerian accent* ‘everybody, come, come come’... ??
Think about the political system, finance, hospitality…
OA: Because this has happened before… this whole ‘year of return’ has happened before. Hence, why in Nigeria, you know, from what I've read, you have the Brazilian quarters. You have a lot of people that came from Canada that now settled in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, it's always just been happening.
They've brought something different and I feel like it's something that we need across West Africa, for people to come with their fresh ideas, because it won’t be fair if Ghana is the only one benefitting. Do you know what I mean? - I sound like a hater here. omg.
SA: Yeah. I feel you. Spread the wealth, spread the wealth.
OA: Yeah. *laughs*
SA: Spread the cake, spread the cake.
OA: Spread the cake!
SA: Share the national moin-moin!
...a lot of Brazilians want to go back to Nigeria in particular!
SA: Oh, yeah. That makes so much sense. Yeah, it’s true.
OA: Yeah. They make that pilgrimage and everything like that, and they go to Calabar as well, because of the festival.
SA: Yeah! *gasps*
We need to go to Calabar carnival!
SA: Omo!... when I heard there was a carnival there I said… *Nigerian accent*... ‘In my hometown!? In-my-home! My capital!? No way!...
OA: *laughs* Yeah.
I even watch videos on YouTube cause I love to just see what I’m going to experience.
OA: Mmm hmm!
SA: Oh! I love that!
SA: So, we’re at the final question.
SA: You rounded up with Black Lives Matter. I stan you because you're pro black!
OA: Thank you.
SA: You also spoke about how orange ties in with bringing a vibrance, bringing a light, bringing hope to times that are very dark and for us as a people last year it was very dark.
Can you share more on the new dawn, you would like to see?
OA: Oh, Lord!? Well, that's a good question. You're asking all the really good questions
SA: Oh girl!
You put it there. I'm really just taking from… *pauses*... it’s your mind!
OA: Do you know what, if you'd asked me this question, maybe a year before I would have had a different answer. Because what I thought… let me be honest, what I thought this coronavirus pandemic would do was that it would make people a bit more empathetic and understanding of one another. I thought people would want to extend a hand, the rich helping the poor and the poor helping the rich in some type of way as well, you know?
… and I've seen the complete opposite. I've seen anarchy, I've seen people just dying senselessly because the government's are now using it to leverage and treat the poor even worse than how they treated them prior to the pandemic.
A year on, I don't really know what's gonna happen, I do hope in terms of this new dawn situation, that we - me, you, people like us - say ‘enough is enough!’... and do something about it or push people who can do something about it to do something. Because I want to believe that everybody is innately human, and has good in them. I really want to believe that though I'm seeing otherwise.
Was it Daunte Wright who was killed, was it not two days ago, in America?... These things are happening Brazil, these things are happening, you know, Nigeria everywhere, you know, Philippines, Lebanon, it's just anarchy everywhere, but there's still good everywhere as well.
I want the new dawn to look like people who are good to really appeal to those who aren't *laughs*... in the human way. I don't know how to express it, but…
SA: You've just expressed it.
OA: ...and just be like, ‘Yo! you know, we're in this together!?’. There is an abundance, there's no need for competition. You may feel like you need to be in that position that you are right now, but how much better would you feel, should you help others? You know? Don't get me wrong, you get some shit people out there. Innately shit. But they don't outnumber the good people at all, in any way, shape, or form. I don't believe it.
So, it's just for us to keep raising our voices, not being afraid. I think the new dawn would just look like us calling out bullshit and not being afraid, basically, and continuing to do that till something changes, because something will change in our lifetime!
SA: *Yoruba* Soro Soke! - ‘Speak Up!’
OA: Yeah. Basically.
SA: Yeah. 100.100.
OA: You know?
….I never thought that soro soke thing would happen in our lifetime, you know.
SA: I mean! Who saw it? Who saw it?...
...I'll tell you what, though. I had a dream when I was in Nigeria at the start of 2019, *start of dream* Buhari and his wife were in a car and they were traveling somewhere. They were in separate cars. Unfortunately, he had an accident, it was like the car exploded, and then his wife became president *end of dream*.
Did you see during #EndSars women came to the forefront with aid - The Feminist Coalition?
SA: I don't know what that dream specifically was saying, but when I took a step back to see that his wife was the surviving one, and she became president, and then you see Ngozi becoming the director of the World Trade Organisation and other women in Nigeria levelling up in different industries. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Okay’.
Because that's what the transition of 2020 is, really. It’s the masculine energy taking a backseat, and the feminine really coming to balance out everything.
To those that we can cooperate with, you know, on a balanced masculine and feminine level, let us be doing that. Anybody that has blocked ears, my dear step to the side. Anyone that has blocked eyes my dear… *pauses*... if you're not asking for those things to be unblocked, it's okay. If you want to accept the help… *Nigerian accent*... help is there!
SA: Yeah, but like you just said, to us that are really about doing the work and speaking to ourselves and going out no matter if one person or no one shows up, you know, we just keep the ball rolling.
I just want to say thank you for sharing and thank you for… *pauses*... even in mentioning a new dawn, which ties back into the hope that you said orange brings for you…
SA: … for me, that's a powerful message. Overall.
OA: Thank you. Thank you for making me think!
SA: Listen! You be a thinker!