Designer Autumn Adeigbo Talks Creating A Fresh Blueprint For Ethical Fashion
In February 2016 Autumn Adeigbo went full-time into her design business. The Nigerian-American attended a prestigious design school, traveled the world styling people and launched a mini-collection —but this leap was still ambitious.
Distinct from her contemporaries, Adeigbo’s eponymous clothing brand has a made-to-order business structure that’s also ethically sourced, produced and distributed. She works with women in West Africa to help produce her vibrant collection of fitted dresses, suits and ready-to-wear.
We chatted with the New York City-based talent about what her brand brings to fashion and the difference between appropriation and appreciation in the ever-expanding industry.
ESSENCE: Considering the growth of fast-fashion: From a stylist’s perspective —since you were one before starting the brand— what do you think is missing in the fashion industry in terms of price/design dynamics?
Adeigbo: A bridge priced brand ($100-$350), that’s hyper-stylized and made with conscious practices. Brands either really invest in the design, manufacturing and materials of their products, which have justified high prices to reflect that, or they create not so great mass-produced products and think the customer doesn’t know, care or deserve better. These mass products’ production practices are also often detrimental to the environment and its makers. Also, there is a huge gap in the plus-sized contemporary market.
ESSENCE: What are the pros and cons of having a made-to-order business model?
Adeigbo: Pros: We are allowed to be more ecological with our manufacturing and with our fabric runs, for example not ordering fabric when we don’t know if the style will sell, or producing an inventory of styles and sizes, when we don’t know what exactly what will sell.
Cons: The price per garment for construction and fabric yardage is higher, and its harder to find factories and fabric mills willing to work within our terms of ordering smaller quantities and re-orders.
ESSENCE: What has the brand evolution process been like for you?
Adeigbo: I hold the vision of what kind of company I want to build: a fun, chic, colorfully inclusive brand that makes a woman feel like a star every time she puts one of our pieces on. I focus on education via content and building community, keeping the people associated with the brand excited about what we are doing, having fun and giving back whenever we can. Also long as we keep that those priorities as the north star of everything we do, I have found that the right people come along to build the brand with you, and the right creative ideas organically inspire you as you design. When you operate with integrity, things have a way of falling into place.
ESSENCE: Do you feel like there was a blueprint for the kind of business you run?
Adeigbo: Not really. I’m excited to be a the forefront of the ethical fashion movement. I started giving back with my dresses around the same time Tom’s shoes launched. Tom has really built the blueprint for creating a product that gives back while creating massive profits, followed by Warby Parker. But our model is not the same as these companies. I think the fashion industry is still figuring this thing out; how to scale fashion product that invests in the environment and its people.
ESSENCE: Let’s talk about appropriation versus appreciation? How have these two concepts changed your perspective on the business?
Adeigbo: In my humble opinion, appropriation involves ‘borrowing’ (or more aggressively stealing) from another culture while also excluding those people from your experience or life’s narrative. It can also come in the form of an outsider mimicking another group’s cultural expressions without any real empathy or understanding of the daily struggles those people have to battle to simply exist. Taking another culture’s aesthetics, music, dress or dialect- because you think it’s cool or fun. In a simple example, it’s an Instagram page that constantly quotes hip-hop lyrics while not including a single person of color on the feed. Its a form of telling another group of people- ‘I appreciate everything about you, but I don’t appreciate or care to understand you.’
Appreciation, in contrast, honors another’s culture and it’s people with authentic empathy, self- education and understanding. It involves gaining an authentic heartfelt and natural inspiration of another’s culture due to time spent with its people —learning about them and gaining a real understanding as to their struggles, strengths, beauty, likes. dislikes, what makes them different and why. I personally also think it involves reinvesting monetarily or through education, employment, or opening your network to uplift those people.
The difference between appropriation and appreciation hasn’t really changed my perspective as I’ve built my business. I’m African (Nigerian) and American. I bridge the two cultures that shaped my personal identity through my brand while giving back to both subsets of people in the ways that I know how. We try to be inclusive of women of all cultures and think that is what makes our brand unique.
ESSENCE: What’s next for the brand?
Adeigbo: We have a trunk show with the women of Beverly Hills, so my assistant and I are flying out to L.A. to build with that community of women. Then it’s on to order fulfillment, more trunk shows in NYC, designing the next collection, and return to Kenya for more fair-trade production. Later this year the focus will be on female collaboration on a larger scale and hopefully be hiring some full-time staff. Really exciting times. I’m very grateful.