Abigail Ajobi is the designer from North London quite literally putting her stamp on her clothing incorporating moving handwritten messages in her designs that speak to how black men are viewed and presented in the media.
Abigail and I first met at the start of the year before the current chaos that is defining 2020 ensued when I discovered her graduate collection on Instagram. I was drawn to the military silhouettes and boldness of her pieces so I reached out to her for an interview for a personal project I was working on. Six months later Abigail has taken the initial ideas and inspiration for her graduate collection and realised them into a strong and cohesive first collection.
I caught up with Abigail to talk about the development of her new collection ‘Those Who Don’t Hear Must Feel’ and the consistent messaging that behind it.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Abigail Ajobi, I am a 23 year old fashion designer born and bred in London to very cool Nigerian, Yoruba parents. I completed my foundation degree at Central Saint Martins back in 2017 and I graduated from London College of Fashion in 2019 with a degree in Menswear. If you ever see me on road, say hi.
How long have you been working on this collection?
The collection is very much inspired by my grad collection which took me a long time to develop. I remember speaking to you about it back in March however, I have solidly been working on this project for 3 full months. I will say though, it feels like it’s been at least 6!
Your collection is dropping at the beginning of black history month, was this intentional as I know you are vocal about what it means to be black and how we are represented in your designs?
Yes very much so. I believe that everything you do should be done with purpose and intention. My intention was to coincide my launch date with black history month and Nigerian independence day. It was an important decision as my collection has been directly inspired by my community and I would like to use this as a way to represent and inspire them in return. I hope that this collection finds a way to somehow better all of our environments. As part of this, some of the total profit from this collection will go to a charity related to the specific issues raised in the collection.
How have you developed on your pieces which initially started out as part of your graduate collection?
The biggest development for me is including a Womenswear range which I am finally able to do now that I have graduated from my menswear degree. Having a womenswear line feels more inclusive to me and broadens the choice for both myself and customers, although most of my pieces aren’t gender specific anyway.
I have also done more technical developments in terms of the patterns and the print designs to improve the fit and the overall aesthetic of the collection. You can probably see such a difference when looking between the current A/W 20-21 look book and my graduate collection look book on my website. It’s definitely a process though and I’m still learning!
I know your family hugely inspires you so growing up did having a lot of positive strong bonds with black men motivate you to speak to them and speak up about the issues unique to them through your clothing?
I would say both my brothers have been and continue to be a big inspiration to me. I look up to them always even now at my big age, along with my dad too.
I really feel the men in my family are the pinnacle of fatherhood, brotherhood and what it means to be a great man in such uncertain times. In my work I like to address issues that revolve around race and social inequality as these are the topics that I am most passionate about.
With this collection, I felt the need to specifically address racial injustice pertaining to black men in the UK with messages like ‘Stop Killing The Mandem’ and even the style names of two pieces are called The Mandem Bomber Coat/The Mandem Cropped Coat.
Again, I feel like this is a subconscious reflection of the kind of relationship I have had with my dad and brothers growing up. I just feel like black men need more credit than society often gives them.
How did you ground your collection in the reality of the current climate compared to having creative freedom at graduate level to explore ideas?
To be honest in some ways it is disheartening that my collection relates so closely to the environment of our current climate but it is not something that surprises me. It just goes to show that even though the concept of this collection originated around 2018, there will always be more for us to do as individuals to build a community, an economy and educate those that will come after us on what it means to be black and how to continuously improve on that definition. However I am happy that I am able to highlight these uncomfortable issues in my work.
In terms of my process, I’d say my process is my reality. This is what I live this, this what I see. ‘They hate what they fear’ came from a conversation with my brother and ‘those who don’t hear must feel’, the title of the collection comes, from an old parable that has been repeated within my household for many years. To me it is a saying that represents the rise and rebellion of black people in society which we are currently seeing and which my collection is also based on.
The pieces in your first collection are functional and feel military inspired as well as there being a sense of uniformity, the whole collection is really cohesive. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind it?
My graduate collection and dissertation was inspired by the Broadwater Farm Riots of 1985 and other racially motivated events throughout British history.
The original idea behind the silhouettes and features of the collections came from this representation of riot gear. Civilians vs the law hence the facial coverings, multi panels, the reflective fabric, the inter-changeable pockets and so on. As this was originally a menswear collection I wanted to use this idea as a metaphor for protecting the brothers of our society and now with the new collections our sisters too!
Shop the new collection here