I guess you can be considered as a #GirlBoss as you’ve started your own design label at such a young age. Could you describe your journey with fashion and what led you to create your own label.
I’ve been designing clothes since I was a little girl, exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit since I started school and I’ve been trying to break free from the reigns of parental, institutional and all kinds of formal control since as far back as I can remember. So it’s of no surprise that I am carving out a #GirlBoss lifestyle with my fashion label Yemzi.
Yemzi is an interesting name for a design label. Why did you choose that name to represent your brand?
My Nigerian name is Yemi and my nickname is Yemzi. I like that it’s distinctive and short and sweet with two syllables like ‘Gucci’, ‘Prada,’ ‘Fendi’ lol.
Looking through Yemzi imagery, I’ve noticed that you have a high representation of models from ethnic backgrounds, with things like cultural appropriation being hot topics being in the media, I’ve not come across many designers that have done this… is there a reason behind this?
Fashion and media is predominately run by white people so there is a bias and an ideal. As a designer I have some choice over the models I use and I choose not to uphold white supremacy and to curate a space where under-represented natural beauty can become visible. I do not work with models who alter the texture of their hair or wear weaves because afro hair is for me in the same debate – as it’s a racial marker which is devalued way too often. A lot of black girls will tell you they feel their natural hair is unprofessional, they don’t even realise what they are actually saying. It starts with tastemakers like me to plant seeds and help reshape people’s perceptions of beauty. Beyonce gave it a commendable shot with Formation, which got me gassed but it’s going to take a lot more to make any long-term impact.
Speaking of hot topics, Yemzi is also an ethical brand. Can you talk through the processes you go through to ensure that it is kept ethical at all stages of production?
We source premium fabrics that are made from natural fibres – silk, organic bamboo, organic cotton, lenzing modal. They are environmentally friendly, free from azo dyes, holding OEKO-TEX and FairTrade certifications. All Yemzi pieces are made in London and I have a very personal relationship with the small studios that sew the pieces. The working conditions are safe, friendly and the staff are well paid. These are basics which you would expect but if you pay a few pounds for a pair of jeans on the high street you can almost guarantee someone is being exploited, as well as the environment. Making in small quantities also makes us ethical, we produce mini runs (no more than 20 pieces per style) and have little waste in terms of cutting and unsold pieces. Quality over quantity always.
I love how Yemzi represents a melting pot of many contrasting things. For example it can be considered a sport luxe brand but has a bohemian neo-soul vibe to it. What is your main inspiration and how do you usually source inspirational bits for mood boards
I’m a complex person and it’s natural for my work to be the same. The main two inspirations is A. Being a black girl raised by an English family in the seaside town Bournemouth and B. Becoming a Londoner and discovering the fast paced city and my Nigerian heritage. Now you can see the fluidity between bohemian and sports luxe.
Who is the Yemzi girl or your dream Yemzi girl?
Great question! I have a Yemzi Girl feature that drops on my website the first Sunday of every month. I love all Yemzi customers but a dream girl that everyone knows is Solange. She’ll be wearing Yemzi soon enough. A lot of the SS16 collection looks like it was made for her, that’s how much of a Yemzi girl Solange is!
There are quite a few collections within the brand can you describe them all?
There’s only two. Gold Label and Black Label. The Gold launched in September 2015 for SS16 with ‘Straight Out Of The City Via The Motherland,’ a 13 look tangerine, emerald and ice blue collection. The Black segment, my diffusion range available on ASOS Marketplace which I add to a few times a year, has the Art Tops, stretch pieces and is not defined by a season.
Most high street retailers are focusing on a fast fashion policy. How would you describe the speed at which garments are made with your label and how does this make you different to other designers.
Yemzi can be categorised as slow fashion. Sustainable resources, fair wage, small scale, not driven by the latest seasonal trends. I really believe in the motto ‘Buy less choose well.’ I’ve always hated waste and I’m a bit of a hoarder so I much prefer to splurge and invest than buy knowing I’d have to replace next season. That’s why every Yemzi pieces is made well and is trans-seasonal. I want customer to reciprocate the love that was put into making their product and enjoy wearing it for years!
Do you have anything exciting lined up in the next coming months?
I’m currently designing SS17 which will be the best collection from Yemzi thus far! It will be revealed for LFW in September and details will be released closer the time. More immediately I’m heading to NYC for the first time at the end of May and I hope to do a bit of networking and collaborating whilst I’m there. And this month I’ll be running some fun design workhops in Hackney for young people.
I know there are so many people looking to launch a cool fashion label. What is your top tip for anyone starting out?
Do it with love from the depth of your heart or do something else.