Adebayo Oke-Lawal’
Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

Adebayo Oke-Lawal & the 5 Essential Items Needed to Take Orange Culture to the Next Level

Orange Culture founder Adebayo Oke-Lawal talked to OkayAfrica about the music that propels his creativity, where he’s shifting his focus in 2023, and the five essential items he needs to run his brand.

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, founder of the acclaimed brand Orange Culture, was one of 20 designers who presented at the 20th Dakar Fashion Week earlier this month. The culminating fashion show took place on Gorée Island, the historic site once home to the largest slave trading post on the West African coastline. Oke-Lawal, who is Nigerian, said he had never orchestrated a show with so much historical nuance. He was in awe of how this history has been preserved, and also how the show upheld those roots.

“It was a show (with) African designers, it wasn’t a show where they brought white designers to come show on Gorée island without acknowledging the fact that it was colonized,” Oke-Lawal told Okay Africa. “It was people who are from the continent, whose histories are tied to that island. I think that in itself acknowledges how far we’ve come in celebrating our history and celebrating where we’re going as well.”

Fashion Week marked Oke-Lawal’s first time in Dakar. This show gave him access to the history and legacy of Gorée Island—a testament to fashion’s power to connect people to history that should never be forgotten.

“It was almost like a tourism experience in itself tied to fashion week, giving people access to that knowledge," he said. “I think it was so beautiful.”

In Oke-Lawal’s work, the history of his culture also influences his creativity. Oke-Lawal was featured as part of this year’s Business of Fashion 500, where the designer was heralded for his collections that “blur the boundaries across both culture and gender” and for having an eye that “interrogates the cues that masculine dress broadcasts to society.” For Oke-Lawal, blurring binaries is not disconnected from the legacy of men sporting the boubou, as they have for centuries. Still, he said he received a lot of “negative response” when he launched.

“We were getting a lot of evil feedback…and threatening messages and what not,” he said. “I think over time it’s become better. Not to say there’s still no ignorance because people are afraid of change and people are afraid of what they don’t know. Sometimes people see this idea of ‘threatening’ masculinity as an affront to them.”

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

Oke-Lawal champions variety in men’s fashion and said he can see a shift in public dialogue around toxic masculinity. He has also noticed that his fellow designers are offering a broader array of what men can shop for. After all, fashion, he said, challenges what you know—and the expected.

“There needs to be diverse representation in men’s fashion, in masculinity, and in how people express themselves,” he said. “Not everyone is going to want to look like a typical GQ man. Some people want to wear a skirt, some people want to wear a frilly shirt, some people want to wear something that’s colored. And Orange Culture gives that room for that.”

In conversation with OkayAfrica, Oke-Lawal talked about the music that propels his creativity, where he’s shifting his focus in 2023, and the five essential items he needs to run Orange Culture.

5.His JBL Over-Ear Headphones

Oke-Lawal’s JBL headphones have “aged horribly” in his hands. But, despite people urging him to swap them out, he won’t let them go—not as long as they still work.

“So, I'm a creature of habit,” he said. “When I use things, I use them until they die.”

Music is a part of Oke-Lawal’s process. It inspires him, brings him joy, keeps him company when he travels. Right now, he’s listening to SZA’s new album SOS, and in Dakar he played Ravyn Lenae a lot.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

4.His MacBook

For someone who travels as much as Oke-Lawal, his laptop is his office. It’s how he handles orders, emails, and meetings. He also watches TV on it. “I have to travel with it no matter where I’m going to,” he said. “Even on holiday, I always take my laptop with me.”

Oke-Lawal will likely spend a lot of time on his MacBook in the coming year, as he focuses on what he sees as the an essential step for Orange Culture: ensuring it exists long after he’s gone.

“At the end of the day, I want to create a brand that supersedes me,” he said. “When you look at the history of a lot of African fashion brands, that’s one of the most painful things: these brands are so beautiful but then when the designer dies the brand dies as well. And that’s something that is always on my mind because that means there isn’t a structure for longevity when it comes to African brands—they’re not created to outlive their owners.”

But as a Nigerian, he said, the infrastructure for what he wants to build doesn’t exist: there’s a sense of “lack,” he said, when it comes to resources, financial support, labor, and education.

“I think that just shows you the resilience of a Nigerian designer,” Oke-Lawal said. “Because we don’t have a lot, but yet a lot of us are making such a big impact in the global fashion industry.”

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

3.His Sketchbook

Whenever Oke-Lawal feels randomly inspired by something, he wants to capture it in the moment. It’s why his sketchbook is never too far out of reach.

“I don’t want to wait for when I get back because sometimes that thing is gone,” he said. “So at that moment I just need to be able to write it down, draw it, put it somewhere. So I carry my sketchbook with me literally everywhere.”

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

2.His Sunscreen

All the travel Oke-Lawal does takes a toll on his skin. So, the sunscreen offers protection—just a little bit—for the hours he’s running around out in the sun.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica

1.Portable scale

No amount of travel has helped with how Oke-Lawal feels about airports. This scale cuts out any extra fuss, talking, or repacking at the airport.

“When you’re a designer you travel with a lot of luggage,” he said. “I don’t like stress at the airport. I have airport anxiety—I hate airports so much. So because of that, I weigh my luggage before I travel to the airport."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara for OkayAfrica