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

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Emmanuel Okoro & the 5 Essential Items Needed to Maintain a Sustainable Fashion Line

Emmy Kasbit founder Emmanuel Okoro spoke with OkayAfrica about taking African design to the world stage and the five essentials he needs to run his brand.

By all accounts, including his, Emmanuel Okoro, the award-winning Nigerian designer who founded the brand Emmy Kasbit, is soft spoken. He’s the kind of person who requires you to lean in to make out what he’s saying—a sharp contrast to the vibrant colors in the Spring-Summer 2023 collection he showed at Dakar Fashion Week.

“To make up for the times I don't speak out, I just channel that into my work,” Okoro told OkayAfrica. “I want people to see the work and not like me myself. I’m more of a reserved person, I prefer to be indoors, and think about what’s coming next.”

Okoro's work does indeed speak for itself. Last year, his Spring-Summer 2022 collection, an homage to the Biafra War, won the inaugural Africa Fashion Up prize, which included mentorship from Balenciaga. The sustainable, Lagos, Nigeria-based brand also recently launched the Emmy Kasbit Initiative that advocates for safe and equitable—including gender equity—working conditions for the artisans and textile workers pivotal to the brand.

Emmanuel Okoro standing near wall

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

“Being a designer who's making an impact is much more than designing clothes for money,” Okoro said. “It's also about what you're giving back to society, the causes you’re supporting.”

In conversation with OkayAfrica Okoro talked about his gender-equity initiative, taking African design to the world stage, and the five essentials he needs to run his brand.

1.His Partner Daniel Olurin

Daniel Olurin runs the operations and business side of the brand. Olurin is “ever-present” on all trips, Okoro said, and runs point on all logistics so that the designer can remain more focused on the creative side of things.

“We can have beautiful clothes being presented on the runway, but it has to sort of relate into the balance of the company’s goals, so I handle that," Olurin told OkayAfrica. "It’s fun, it’s very interesting.”

Olurin said enjoying his job is essential to him, and that’s something he and Okoro carry through as a core value.:No matter if it’s a collaboration or an interaction with someone at the atelier. “We have to make sure that they feel that they are essential to the success of the brand,” Olurin said. Olurin feels gratitude to their cause and to the team that brings Okoro’s masterful vision to life.

“Emmanuel is a wonderful creative director,” Olurin said. "Being able to see his creative genius being presented into clothes is something we all value so much at the HQ.”

Emmanuel Okoro and Daniel Olurin, wearing all black

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

2.His Measuring Tape

Whenever Okoro and his team travels he keeps his tape with him, to best serve his bespoke clients and private consultations.

“I’m not about to start going to the market in a new city looking for tape,” he said. “Even in Lagos it’s always in my bag. Sometimes I just hang it on my neck—it’s an obsession.”

measuring tape

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

3. His Phone

Okoro says he’s always on his phone—but, true to his nature, he prefers to text rather than hop on a call.

“I might forget my passport, but I always have my phone.”


Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

4. His Passport

Okoro calls his passport his “gateway to leaving.” It’s what makes him a global citizen. One description of Emmy Kasbit reads, “exploring topics around culture and the preservation of culture.” The designer’s inspiration draws from nature, exploring, and his African culture.

“One of our missions is to take African fashion from this stage to the center stage and that has to do with changing people’s perception about African fashion.”

To carry this out, Okoro works with a team of women weavers from his native Eastern Nigeria in an atelier. The Emmy Kasbit Initiative— which launched earlier this year to coincide with International Women’s Day—has three core pillars: Eradicating Poverty in Fashion, Sustainability and Cultural Education, and the Enhancement of Liberty.

“There’s a whole lot of conversations around sustainability now,” Okoro said. “It’s not easy to be a sustainable designer, there’s a whole lot of factors surrounding that but you need to be very focused and know what you’re getting into.”


Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

5. His Laptop

Okoro’s laptop is key to keeping up with Zoom calls, sales, and inventory while on the go. Creatively, Okoro uses his laptop to sketch and the Notes app to capture any spontaneous inspirations when they strike, like a beautiful color—like the ones Dakar is known for.

“(Dakar) is a very beautiful city," Okoro said. "And something about the colors might pop next year in the collection."

apple laptop

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

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