Design Indaba 2019: Orange Culture’s Adebayo Oke-Lawal

This Nigerian designer wants to change the way we look at the bigger picture, all through fashion

Orange Culture‘s founder and designer, Adebayo Oke-Lawal, is adamant that he didn’t simply build a brand, but a movement that goes beyond stereotypes surrounding masculinity and African heritage. Born and raised in Nigeria, Oke-Lawal created the label to start a new dialogue rather than add to the noise. And, as he made clear at this year’s Design Indaba, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“It’s more than just a random mix of clothing,” he tells us. “It’s about creating a conversation. When I started Orange Culture, it was about celebrating individuality; celebrating people who chose to live differently and have liberty. But it’s also about having conversations that are somewhat difficult. What can we do about stereotypes? For example, we can work on the stereotype of masculinity—that has been used to prevent so many people from being themselves.”

Changing ingrained societal beliefs and perceptions is no small feat, but Oke-Lawal believes that using design is a more approachable tack. He says, “People are more open-minded when they see that coming as an art form. I find that when you say these things with fashion collections, they will receive it a lot faster. Fashion is really a tool for social change. Many will look down on the industry because they feel like, ‘It’s just clothes,’ but we can push for so much within a society.”

Over 15 collections, the brand has achieved a lot. Commercial success was accompanied by international recognition—including being a finalist for the LVMH Prize, being the first Nigerian brand to show at London Collections Men, listed under Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list, the first ever African brand to be nominated for the Woolmark Prize. Orange Culture collections have been showcased at Lagos Fashion & Design Week, London Fashion Week, Pitti Uomo in Florence and more. And, at Design Indaba, they presented a theatrical and colorful show that also reflected how gender within fashion is nothing but performance.

“Clothes can change the way you see yourself, they can change the way you present yourself to the world,” he says. “I want to make people feel better about themselves. I want to create stories. This conversation [around gender] helps open minds… Saves people from hurting somebody else who they feel is different, it stops them from bullying somebody else for something they thought men ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. It seems like such a minute thing but it builds up to a much bigger thing.”

During his passionate talk at DI, Adebayo claimed that fashion can save lives. “It does, it does!” he exclaims with enthusiasm. “People don’t understand that with fashion. I’m an example. Fashion helped me to develop myself as a person. I was very so afraid to express myself, I felt like all I needed to do was just to fit into what everybody wanted me to do. And in fashion, I found that I was allowing myself to think beyond my existing environment, and believe in a fantasy, believe in a future that doesn’t exist but could exist.”

Oke-Lawal wants to create and encourage change by exploring identity and society at large. “A collection can be used to talk about things that happen in politics, things that are happening within our society, things that are happening in our natural environment,” he says. Through color, texture and a bold sense of adventure, Oke-Lawal wants to “push for a better tomorrow.”

Images courtesy of Orange Culture