Nigerian-British fashion designer Tokyo James is part of a new wave of multicultural creatives that challenges the visual perception of Africa. Born and raised in London, James studied mathematics at university before dedicating himself to fashion. Since then, the young designer has been navigating through the industry, first making a name for himself as a stylist. The young designer’s latest collection focuses on sharp, innovative tailoring in an attempt to rewrite the traditional men’s wardrobe. Pierre A. M’Pelé caught up with the young designer to discuss his brand, his customers and his story.
When and how did your interest in menswear erupt?
I always knew I wanted to be a designer. But I was never really sure how to go about it. My mother wasn’t so happy with me choosing fashion, but I just had to go for it. I knew it was going to be a very difficult career path, but I am determined to leave a mark. I’ve always wanted to do menswear because women always had a lot more options and guys were left behind. I wanted to offer guys something with masculinity at its heart, but also with a bit of uniqueness to it.
Could you tell me about the most challenging moment you’ve faced since launching your brand?
The most challenging part was getting the brand out there with very limited resources, especial through the right media outlets. I know that there are a lot of new brands and that not all can or will be covered, but sometimes I feel that it all comes down to money. Some great talents be left behind because they don’t have the funds.
What are the difficulties faced by young black designers today?
Well, overcoming being seen just as a black designer. To us, it seems we have to be twice as good and work three times more to get opportunities. Also, we often get pigeonholed or stereotyped when it comes to how and what we create.
What sort of support would young creative need?
Funding in a socioeconomic environment that nurtures creativity. It would allow artists focus on their work.
What is the story behind this current collection?
This collection was inspired by the day I met my dad for the first time. It was kind of surreal to be in the same room with a man that I had never met before, yet who is ultimately a part of me. I was so intrigued with what he was wearing and how he moved. It was refreshing for me to see an older black man wear clothes he made and wear them with confidence. Most men around his age are quite conservative in the way they dress hence the name of the collection, “An Alien in Africa.”
Who is your dream customer? And how do you want them to feel when they wear your clothes?
The Alpha Male is my dream customer, but the definition of the alpha male is always changing for me. Today, it might be the student who always gets straight A’s, or the high-school football jock. It could be a gay man, a metrosexual guy. I want them to feel more confident, and special. I want them to believe they can take on anything.
To what extent do you think sustainably when it comes to sourcing fabrics and putting together your collection?
I think about it with every collection. I try to ethically source my fabrics as much as possible. I also make sure my staff is in good working conditions, and of course they are paid fairly.
Who are your real-life heroes?
But, I also have many other real-life heroes, and funny enough, they’re all women. They are the ones who constantly push me and inspire me and support me. Women such as Udochi Igbokwe, Collete Otusheso, lola Emmeruwa, Lola Pediro, Gaberiela… I could go on and on, but these are my super-women.
What’s next for you?
I want to get our online store up and running, and move our runways show from South Africa to London or New-York.
Interview by Pierre M’Péle
For more information, see Tokyo James