Bayo Oke-Lawal is a fashion designer and founder of Orange Culture. We'd planned to meet so I could get some insight into the creation of the brand and the man behind the scenes so I hobbled over. I was warmly welcomed into his brightly coloured home as he is a most gracious host. We soon got to talking and we started where his journey began, the point he decided to start Orange Culture. He explains "I have been designing for over 20 years, but in 2010 I took everything I had and invested it all into orange culture".
Fashion means different things to different people, and to Bayo it is a means of expression to engage and confront reality. "Growing up in Nigeria has a way of stifling you, especially when you're different. People always make you think you need to tone down who you really are to fit in, and fashion has been my way of freeing myself". Fashion for him has evolved beyond just clothing and for Bayo, a source of liberation.
His personal style peaked my interest and I asked him to explain it. He lets me know that his choice of clothing is largely spontaneous, most times depending on his mood.
"A lot of adults probably say i'm a crazy person. I really just dress myself based on how I am feeling" he explains. "I see style as an expression of self through clothing and not being defined by trends. So if I was to summarise my style in a few words - free, colourful, expressive and limitless."
I recalled seeing pictures from the orange culture website and I soon noticed parallels between his explanation and his collections. He breaks it down; "Yes, I design things that I feel connect with my views and values. And because of that, I would wear everything we make at orange culture."
This to me gave the brand an organic feeling, one that undoubtably connects more with his audience and customers. This coupled with the fact that inspiration from his designs come from emotional, physical and mental interactions make them relatable - "sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad and sometimes they're ugly!".
The androgynous nature of a lot of his creations are very apparent, something you don't often see in a conservative country, so I dug deeper. Bayo speaks to the intentionality behind it by saying "It was all done on purpose because I wanted everyone to be able to find something within the brand they can connect with. I find the idea of assigning specific colours and clothing items to certain genders strange.
We don't believe in boys are blue and girls are pink". I agreed because we are often unaware of the boxes we place ourselves in. Society and its constructs should always made for the people and not vice versa. We should therefore be conscious of the mental prisons we put ourselves in.
Since we are on the topic of colours, "why orange?" I asked. He recants a story of an essay he had to write on the colour and he recalls it being unnecessarily loud. It wasn't until after some inflection that he started to see it in a different hue. "I drew parallels between that and my life and realised people often judge based on first interactions, and sometimes you need to give them a deeper look to see their gifts and beauty, and now orange has become one of my favourites". This is even more apparent in Nigeria as profiling is a huge problem here.
Bayo believes in extending a helping hand as much as to whomever might need it and this has manifested in a number of ways. His collections revolve around telling stories with a recent collection about sexual abuse helping a victim open up and get through the traumatic experience.
His education platform "orange mentorships', gives people access to mentors in the fashion industry, something he recalls not having in the early stages of his career. "For me its not about being the best designer in Nigeria, for me its more about your impact. It's important that our successors have all the tools they need to succeed, because we simply have too much talent being wasted."
At this point, some mild thirst had begun to set in, so Bayo ushers me to take anything I wanted from the fridge - naturally I went for the champagne. We sip as we laugh at the ridiculously funny show Girlfriends he now has time to watch. An inspiring afternoon!