When fashion designer Erika Dalya Massaquoi recalls her childhood memories, they’re with nothing but fondness.
Growing up in the 70s, she was immersed in shows of Black pride, activism, and bold style. At the helm of fostering her love of aesthetics is Massaquoi’s eternally chic mother. The Oula Company founder and CEO says she was heavily influenced by her biggest style muse and learned her love of all things beautiful by watching how her mom moved in the world.
“She breathed life into every room she entered and was the quintessential cool girl, elevating everything she wore,” said the Liberty City, Miami native. “Brightly colored kaftans, bold prints, crisp blouses, and interesting lines was something she was all about and it opened the door for my love of visual art of all forms.”
The multimedia artist said the sophisticated women in her family stroked her creative flame before she even knew what that meant. “I knew I was an artist around the age of five,” Massaquoi shared. As a child, she recalled being quiet and curious, but inside, she just knew she was meant to venture outside the norm and explore her creativity in grand ways. Luckily, her parents were early adopters to the free spirit’s artistic sensibilities and encouraged her to delve into all aspects of art and design. She, however, found her true passion lived at the intersection of cinema and fashion.
“I’ve seen almost every movie ever made,” Massaquoi recalled, sharing that her mom would let her stay up late to watch film noir movies on public television, which eventually led to her appreciation of 50s and late 60s looks consisting of structured hems and flattering feminine silhouettes.
“That’s when fashion made the most sense,” she said.
Before launching her own fashion line in 2013, Massaquoi’s professional artistic journey began at the front of the classroom as a professor for esteemed universities like NYU, where she also earned her Ph.D. in cinema arts, and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where she served as an assistant dean of visual arts.
Although one of the most popular among students, she pivoted her career in academia for one as an art curator when she had to move to Seattle for her family.
“My husband was offered a position there and I was given the opportunity to explore another part of my creative background.”
What she didn’t realize is that she would catch the entrepreneurial bug after moving to the startup-heavy city. “Although I launched my clothing business in 2013, it wasn’t until I was forced to sit still in 2020 did I take the brand to the next level.”
Using the money she’d earned from her visual arts career, her brand originally began with small pop-up clothing collections that would immediately sell out. Massaquoi said her small business size afforded her the fortunate opportunity to be nimble, and shift her offerings to fit the state of the world. What that looked like was a shift from gorgeous dresses to fashionable Ankara face masks.
It was an instant hit. Soon, through relationships she’d forged while living in Seattle, she was able to garner the attention of Nordstrom, leading to a distribution deal with the legendary retailer in 2020. Although the partnership was life-changing, she wasn’t surprised when it happened.
“I was ready for that moment of opportunity,” she shared. “I’d already thought long and hard about the type of home I’d want for my collection and Nordstrom was always the perfect fit.”
After a successful launch last year with Nordstrom, she’s gearing up for her resort iterations, inspired by the impactful summers she’d spent admiring the stylish women in her life.
“This collection was inspired by the Black joy they emanated from head-to-toe,” she shared. “I want everyone who wears my items to feel the same.”