You can still find Walé Oyéjidé’s albums on Spotify, in the early 2000’s he was an afrobeat producer that worked with the artists such as J Dilla and MF Doom. With some relative success under his belt, he left music to pursue law for as a safer career bet. Lucky for us, the artist in him prevailed and he’s back in the creative life, as a designer and cofounder, along with tailor Sam Hubler, of the clothing line Ikiré Jones.
Ikiré Jones is a bright and bold afro-centric men’s line with a strong narrative element and a knack for story telling. Curious as to what that means, well we’d advise you to take a look at their handkerchiefs and pocket squares. Designed by Oyéjidé, they feature classically beautiful Renaissance paintings overlaid with people of color, which as he states “forces you look at these people in a different light.” Instead of choosing style over substance, Ikiré Jones highlights both style with a whole lot of substance and is hand tailored to boot. We had a chance to speak to Walé about his line and what he brings to the fashion world.
Bevel Code: How did you meet Sam Hubler, and when did you decide to start Ikiré Jones together.
Walé: As it turned out, I had a good friend in law school, whose brother was a tailor. He turned out to be Sam. It was circumstance that I meet this guy who can make these beautiful high end garments, while realizing that I need to reclaim that creative aspect of my life.
Along the way, Sam and I decide to meet in the middle. We wanted to make something that was a bit more affordable for people we knew, who couldn’t necessarily afford these super high end garments but something that was still creative. Something that was still made domestically in America. Something that could tell a cultural story from a respectable point of view. It made a lot of sense for me to tie in my personal heritage as someone who was born in Nigeria and somebody who kind of has a unique worldview into the clothing. Ultimately we’re making clothes but really it’s a vehicle for being, what I call, a cultural ambassador. We’re trying to tell stories about people of color. Whether they be African or African American. We’re trying to convey our perspectives of brown and black life, so that these stories aren’t told to us in a skewed view, as is common, when you turn on the TV.
BC: That takes me into what I found very striking about your website. You have this long futuristic sci-fi story about your line and with saints and savages, there are vignettes that go along with the clothing line. How exactly do those come about and how do you work it into the inspiration for your design?
Walé: Apart from the ones that are futuristic sci-fi kind of things, all of those are tied to real and actual issues that are occurring on the globe, generally in Africa. As somebody who is black or African, or both. In my case, I happen to be an American citizen that grew up in Nigeria. You flip open the newspaper or turn on the TV, the vast majority of headlines you see about Africa, if you see any at all, are overwhelmingly negative. When you flip through a fashion magazine you almost never see any representation about us and when you do see the representation it’s either super surface, like “here are some cool African tribal prints” or they kind of fetishize their view of African people without any real context. It’s really important that people that look at my work see themselves in it from a visual standpoint. It’s also important to convey accurate stories, authentic stories from a real perspective of somebody that actually cares about issues that affect these people. Whether it be stories that talk about migration from Africa to Europe, stories that talk about the oil fields being robbed by overseas corporations and how that effects people on the ground, whether it be just fun whimsical stories about life in Africa, or even stories about the Ebola outbreak and how its perceived by people in Africa, as opposed to how its perceived by Fox News. These are all things that are pretty global or serious issues. And sure we’re selling clothes, not curing cancer, but if you can infuse that with an actual message, actual context, I think its really way more important and goes a long way to educating the world about who we are. It’s using clothes as the honey to sweeten people to come to the message.
It’s really important that people that look at my work see themselves in it from a visual standpoint. It’s also important to convey accurate stories, authentic stories from a real perspective of somebody that actually cares about issues that affect these people.
Its not like we’re saving the world, but we see the world. To me it’s very, very obvious, but most companies are afraid of that because they think that its going to negatively impact them somehow.
BC: Do you think that being a smaller brand gives you some lead way in that endeavor?
Walé: Definitely. When you have a big partnership with a Coke or a Nike, its like “we have to be careful because we don’t want to offend sponsor”. Which is just simple economic sense. The smaller you are the easier it is to have these really hardline positions.
People come to you, in any arena when you do something special, for that work. I think its generally a mistake when you bend your will to the wants of others. They’re already coming to you because you’re special. The more you cater to the middle, the more you become Walmart or Mcdonald’s. That is to say, the more you try to satisfy everyone, the less unique you are. The more disposable you are. The more similar you are to everyone else. Stake a claim on a point of view doing something uniqe and honest and true to who you are.
Its same way that Bevel chose to speak directly to a certain population that hasn’t been spoken for is what makes them special, because they could just be a simple grooming company. There are millions of them. But if you kind of state, “we’re for everyone, but we speak to this sector of the population that no one has had the guts to speak to.” That’s what makes you unique, that’s what makes you bold and innovative. That’s what resonates with people.
BC: What’s been the most challenging part of getting your line off the ground?
Walé: Its a small business thing that probably anybody runs into. A lot of industries tend to be very all about relationships or money. You either buy your way in or you know whom to talk to and, in most cases, it’s both. When you’re somebody who is an outsider, as I was, or when you’re self-financed, as I am, it becomes really difficult to get attention or to get to those resources. You don’t know who to ask or who to email and you can’t pay somebody to tell you who to email. It takes a lot longer because people have to kind of see your work long enough to come to you.
BC: Describe the process of making and tailoring your garments
Walé: The scarves are printed in England by a company that prints them on silk scarves and each one is hand-rolled, meaning each one is rolled and sewn by hand by an old lady in a factory, to make sure the quality is as good as you can get anywhere in the world.
The garments are all made up of fabrics that are either made in the Netherlands for the West African Market or made by West African companies. I source those and we make them all in Philadelphia by hand. Which is why each jacket takes about 10 days or two weeks to have each one made, because each one is made by hand. They’re made in America so the cost reflects somebody in the United States, as opposed to the cost of a kid in a dungeon in Thailand somewhere. So it’s very, I don’t use the word ethical, to me its fairness. The tailor is a friend of mine and I pay him a fair wage, as I would expect to be paid a fair wage for any work that I do. That’s reflected in the final price. Generally when people hear the process and see what goes into it they appreciate why the cost is what the cost is. It’s just the cost of doing fair business in this society.
BC: In your opinion, what makes a stylish man?
Walé: I have a few customers who see my stuff, clearly our aesthetic at Ikire Jones is very bold, some people are initially taken aback. They think, well it looks really cool but I could never pull that off. That’s because a lot of men are uncomfortable and unaccustomed with the ideal of getting attention and being bold. I’ve found if you walk into a room and you take yourself seriously people accept you as the image you project. It’s why Rick James can be Rick James. It’s why Prince can have the back of his pants cut out, because he’s still Prince and he’s still the man, because he believes in himself and you believe that he believes. When it comes to style, its not so much that there is this prescription that you have to wear x,y, and z. There are no rules. It’s just a matter of being comfortable in your skin and I think every man, when he’s comfortable it resonates. People respect that and gravitate towards that.
Grooming is really just a matter of finding your lane, finding where you fit and what makes you put a little extra step in your good foot. That’s style to me, whatever makes you feel comfortable.
Words by Marcia Howard
Photography by David Evan McDowell