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Style through the eyes of designer Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade

PICTURED: Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade (Image: Varlour Photography)

FASHION DESIGNER Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade is the founder of the luxury-clothing brand Yemzi. Acclaimed for their creativity and fusion of west African culture and the diaspora, Akingbade’s designs are transforming the industry as we know it.

By using bold and intricate natural fabrics such as the finest silk chiffon, silk jersey and silk satin that she hand illustrates, Akingbade has introduced a whole new concept of digitally printed fabrics to the fashion market.

In each collection of the brand, Akingbade incorporates the deep-rooted context of her heritage.

She explained that in Nigeria “the wrapper or skirt is called an 'iro' in the Yoruba language”. She has featured this garment in all three Yemzi collections, her most recent adaptation incorporating diagonal ruffles.

Although Akingbade is now in tune with her culture, she has not always been so attached to her background.


FUSION: One of Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade designs (Image: Asiko)

“As a baby, I was fostered by a white family in Dorset, which gave me a strong sense of being British. In adolescence I discovered my rich Nigerian heritage,” she explained.

“Now I wonder how I managed two decades without my traditional food, it gives me life! As does much of the afrobeats music, and even just being in Lagos, the vibrant energy is exciting.”

Being alive inspires Akingbade’s creative vision. “I find inspiration everywhere,” she said.

“A running theme in my creative work over the past 10 plus years has included moving image, fine art and fashion which is my dual identity,” she added.

The fashion designer channels originality into her art, which she calls “an extension of herself where her personality is naturally present”.

She told The Voice: “I'm still refining the tone of the Yemzi girl but the basis is myself. As Yemzi matures into an established brand I am separating myself as a creative individual.

“The brand is beyond me and its muses are ultimately all bold, ambitious, alluring Diaspora city-dwelling women from Africa by way of Europe of even the west.”

Akingbade’s unique approach incorporates social sustainability into her luxury enterprise.

When she studied tailoring and worked in the fashion house Designer Jumble, Akingbade says: “We ran an event in collaboration with Fashion Revolution to bring awareness to sweatshops.

“So little was invested into the workers, not only were they paid so little but even the buildings they worked in were structurally insufficient.

“I told myself that humans are spoiled so much for choice of clothes to wear so if I'm going to express my art through fashion it has to be of exceptional quality, with respect to human lives and add something new to the conversation.”

Akingbade continued: “I am offering a British-Nigerian perspective the same way Stella Jean serves us the Haitian-Italian.

“I am proud to make every Yemzi garment in London, where each worker involved is truly valued. And on some projects, we employ skilled seamstresses from social enterprises and marginalised backgrounds.”

When consumers step into Yemzi clothes, Akingbade says she wants people to feel free. “Free like how Nina Simone expresses freedom; there are levels. The exclusive Yemzi silk fabric which our garments are cut from is almost weightless.


AFRICAN INFLUENCES: Akingbade's creations are influenced by her Nigerian heritage

“It's soft on the skin, it feels and looks like comfort, confidence and love. I've always said the brand is 'trend conscious but not trend led' which means I am aware of what's popular but my designs are not dictated by them. That's freedom," she explained.

Celebrity fans have been one of Akingbade’s highlight of working on Yemzi. Akingbade said: "It was very flattering for Chioma, Davido's girlfriend, to wear our first dress from collection one (SS16) in the Assurance music video.

“This is our ethos, we make beautiful clothes in each collection and they do not have an expiry date. Nina [Simone] would say this is a new way of seeing, Kanye would say this is free thought. I call it the result of great design and taste."

She also has a message to young British designers who want to follow in her inspirational footsteps.

"As a designer, you need to decide where you want to position your brand or even your career in the market and break down the process and come up with a clear plan to get there.

“Research how those who came before you did it but don't expect to take the same route. Firstly, because you are an individual and secondly, technology has shifted established routes.

“As you are British, you must tap into the resources and networks which surround you, there are many."

For more fashion inspiration, @Yemzi can be found on Instagram or head to: its website: www.yemzi.com where it is also available in select boutiques across Europe www.yemzi.com/boutique

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