At just 25, British-Nigerian designer, illustrator and artist Tolu Coker has already racked up an impressive shelf of awards and accolades (including the AW19 Merit Award) and has dressed the likes of Rhianna and Rita Ora. We are looking forward to hosting her documentary Masqueraded Memoirs as a part of POP! Festival. If you are unfamiliar with Coker’s work, here are five quick facts to discover her:
She’s empowering women in the City of Joy
Tolu Coker has been spending time in the City of Joy, a women’s rehabilitation community in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She created a new collection in honour of the women there. In collaboration with Vlisco, the prints are sold in support of the retreat.
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Grateful. Tolu Coker x Vlisco for the City of Joy. What an honour to be welcomed into your sacred space, to create clothes that identify your struggles, your journey, your power. Its a privilege to partake in of the most incredible projects ever, and be surrounded by so many passionate, dedicated and inspiring people. Here are 3/6 looks I created for three graduates of The City of Joy. Francine, Rachel and Furaha, three of the world’s strongest women, you have overcome so much and continue to provide hope for so many women, men and communities around you. Your presence was full of light, joy and love for life, in spite of everything you literally filled my heart with so much joy and gratitude! Thank you Gabriela, David, Peggy and the entire @vlisco team for using your position and power for change. For being an incredible example to the Fashion Industry of what it means to care for our global community. To my amazing team who helped me make this happen in a short amount of time, sewing, embellishing and making hats – @ohalice___ , @thanseelaak , @vivienne.h.lake, @neilsmithcsm, Hazel and Bibi. The fabrics you see in this collection are available for purchase on Vlisco’s website. Proceeds will go to the City of Joy in Bukavu, Congo and Vlisco are donating $2 for every 2 yards sold. 📸 Beautifully captured by @atongatem. ❤️❤️❤️🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
Upcycling in the bloodstream
Aware of the fashion industry’s huge polluting footprint, Tolu Coker’s line is a zero-waste one, created from upcycled material, deadstock and leftover fabrics. This also stems from her own second-hand shopping habits that translated into her design work.
“My clothes are sustainable in that I’m resourceful and reduce waste in my design process.” she told HungerTV.
Unisex by design
All too often still, unisex clothing is still associated with shapeless sacks, but not so with Tolu Coker’s collections which feature bold and joyful embroidery and textures, as well as her trademark upcycled fabrics. This all comes from her unique approach to design:
“When I design I try and strip back social preconceptions and just look at and focus on the individual,” she told Hunger TV. “I don’t worry too much about gender conformity or trying to represent everyone in one collective vision. I struggle to see the relevance when we focus on fashion as a statement of one’s identity, as opposed to a commercial commodity. Society loves to categorize things which cannot really be categorized. Identity is so unique to the individual, so we need to just focus on that.”
Diversity from the start
“One of the reasons I tend to cast all black models isn’t so much just about making a statement, but it’s because I think it’s important that people become normalised to seeing these things.” she told CNN’s Great Big Story.
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However, as she told Candid Magazine, it’s not just about casting, diversity has to be in mind from the start:
“what tends to happen with diversity and representation is everything tends to be created without diversity in mind, and then diversity only really comes in at the casting process or the styling later.” she told I think it needs to start from the very beginning so that it’s authentic. I think cultural appropriation half the time is not necessarily models of colour on the runway, but it’s designing the collection in mind, then having people from those communities involved in your research process.
Art from archives
Tolu Coker’s father was a documenter and activist who was involved in the Black Panther Party movement in the UK, and his passion for archives has been transmitted to his daughter. As well as creating a documentary called Masqueraded Memoires with her brother Ade Coker, Tolu has been consistently inspired by the past in her own collections. Her clothing embeds polaroids of her family, are inspired by archival material, and pay homage to previous fashion moments remixed for today.
Masqueraded Memoirs is a raw, unfiltered, and unadulterated account of the music, political and carnival culture existent in the North Kensington Social Housing communities, drawing parallels between Yoruba culture, the art of masquerade, and preservation of tradition in changing tides; narrated through the eyes and secret stories of 4 generations of North Kensington Nigerian and Caribbean residents.
Watch the documentary followed by a Q&A on Saturday 21 March, 3-4.30pm at Bay20. The event is free but requires booking here.
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