Adesina has a strong interest in ethical fashion, for Indego Africa she traveled to Rwanda for a month to work on production with the artisans.
This interview took place between Tate and Adesina at her friend's store in South Street Seaport
TVPS: How was FIT?
AO: FIT was great.
The professors are great. They're really experienced in what they do. Then after the second year, my classes got really repetitive in some instances because I'm studying advertising and marketing. I guess it was just a lot of the same information and I kind of felt like, I'm not really learning that much anymore. That's when I put all my focus into internships and getting work experience.
I got the first internship at DVF and then that catapulted me to Louis Vuitton then going to Brother Vellies. I think now, in my last semester I can say that I've learned a lot and I've met some of my best friends at FIT.
Do you think studying fashion gave you an advantage?
I think so because there are a lot of nuances in fashion that, I think, most schools wouldn't touch upon. I think all of the professors at FIT have like 10 years of experience working specifically in the fashion industry and they give you a lot of knowledge that you wouldn't get from textbook professors.
Then you went on to DVF. How did you land that internship?
Through FIT, they have a database of internship opportunities. I found DVF. I heard about her once or twice from living in Ohio, but then doing more research, I realized that I wanted to work for that company. So then I reached out to one of their HR representatives and got an interview and I got the internship.
Why were you interested in that company?
I think just what the company stands for and portraying strong women. The bold colors and Diane herself and her history of creating the wrap dress and creating a staple.
At DVF I was helping the PR rep pull clothing for different photo-shoots or editorial stories that would be in different magazines. I also sifted through magazines that we were mentioned in and tagging that as well. Diane did her first Google Hangout event while I was there. I met Diane personally and she remembered me. So it was amazing.
Then I helped with a pop-up shop in their store downstairs (the corporate office is above), so I was working that event as well and I met a lot of industry professionals, which was really cool.
What did you learn from that experience?
I learned about how much hard work goes into the fashion industry. I think that being my first internship, I had a kind of idealistic view of fashion and seeing it as so glamorous. But then actually, especially PR there's so much work that goes into communicating your brand to the public and being such a popular brand as DVF. I was doing a lot of grunt work but it taught me dedication.
I was an advertising seasonal (a paid freelancer for a semester). There I was doing a lot of planning for their advertisement campaigns. So initially when I thought advertising, I thought it would be more on the creative side, but obviously they're based in Paris, so they do a lot of their creative over there. When I was in their office in New York, I was doing a lot of Excel spreadsheets and rate planning. So seeing if they're on target for their budget for the year, concerning where they're placing their ads, which was cool because we were the first people in the US to see the campaign.
And then, what did you learn from that experience?
I am now a pro at Excel.
Also I learned to be outgoing; I'm naturally an introvert. Working in that environment you have to talk to everyone, especially the higher ups. That taught me to break out of my comfort zone. Also just learning the ins and outs of the luxury fashion industry. At DVF, it's a high end brand, but I wouldn't say that it's luxury. Working at Louis Vuitton, I learned about the different fabrics that they use, the clients that they work with, the photographers.
Then how did you…
[Waves.] That's Aurora.
I love her. After watching her on the CFDA show, I started to look up to her.
She's so sweet.
At Louis Vuitton I realized that I didn’t have an interest for luxury fashion because it’s created for a very small group of people and that reflects in the company culture. After interning there, I kind of lost love for the fashion industry, just because that was the only experience that I had, DVF and Louis Vuitton. They wanted me to stay on but the environment wasn’t right for me.
Now you're at Indego Africa. Do you want to give a brief overview of what their doing?
They are a non-profit, social enterprise. We work with artisans, mostly female artisans, in Rwanda and Ghana. We help train these artisans in different skills sets. A lot of them do sewing, some of them do jewelry work. We have a kids line now. The necklace that I’m wearing is from them. We train them and then after that, a lot of the women have the option of going into our leadership academy, and that's where we train them in business. Being business savvy and being entrepreneurs. Right now we're in our second year of doing that and we've had, I think, thirty women come out of that program and now a lot of them are starting businesses in Rwanda and Ghana. It's amazing.
That sounds incredible because a lot of charities give immediate relief but they don’t break the cycle of poverty.
Exactly. I think that, another thing is that their products are great. It's not like a non-profit that has OK products. Their products are amazing and really colorful and pretty.
That's so exciting.
Do you want to talk a little bit about the transition from Louis Vuitton to Indego Africa, because that is such a large jump.
After Louis Vuitton, I kind of didn't want to work in the fashion industry anymore. I took a break and I worked almost a year at a frozen yogurt shop. I was like, I don't know what I want to do with my life.
So Louis Vuitton sparked that much of a change in you?
Yes. After the frozen yogurt shop, I did a lot of research, just on different aspects of the fashion industry. I knew that there was so much more than just luxury fashion or fast fashion, but I wasn't really knowledgeable about the different facets. I learned about sustainable fashion and just looking at different companies that I thought fit my interests. At the time I was really interested in African fashion, my dad being from Nigeria. I learned about Indego through Modavanti, do you know of them? They're an ethical fashion website, an ecommerce website.
Yeah, I don't.
They work with only ethical fashion retailers.
They're a really cool company as well. I decided to go through their site, look at all the companies that they work with and see if I had an interest in any of them and then I found Indego Africa.
What role did you take at Indego Africa?
Sales and communications was first.
I was working a lot with their social media and their newsletters. They're such a small company, I think there was only six of us. I was working a lot with their finances as well and then creative work, then also social media. So it was a very general role.
Then I became the production assistant and they asked me to go to Rwanda, Africa.
And that was with the Be Happy Trip?
Yeah. They asked me to work in production, and I'm like, I've never done that before but okay. Let me try this in a different country across the world.
How long were you there for?
For a month and a half.
Oh shit, I didn’t get that part. I thought, oh that's sweet, she was there for five days.
I went by myself and I was working with their team there. It was a great learning experience. That was my first time traveling abroad by myself. It was a culture shock.
You grew a lot.
Yeah, I grew a lot. I worked with the artisans one-on-one. I would go to cooperatives throughout the weeks and do quality control. I helped on a photo-shoot that we did in Rwanda for the kid’s line. It was a lot of hands on work.
Do you have any specific stories from that trip that brought home what you were doing?
It was when I was about to leave and we visited one of the artisans.
Her name was Theresa. We went to her house because she was working on some scarves for us. That was the first time that I went to one of their houses. She invited us in. It was a small house. She has three kids and one bedroom, but it was really nicely set up. Then she took us out to the back and she showed us the cow that she just bought and she was so proud of that because she used the money from Indego Africa that she earned to buy this cow and then she's selling milk on the side for extra income and sending her kids to school. It was just a really nice moment to experience and it brought everything home for me.
Wow, that is empowering. And then Brother Vellies?
My role was their marketing and operations intern. I worked a little bit with their social media, but because they're a small company that's growing really fast, I was doing a lot of operations work. Working with wholesale clients and sending out our shoes and then going over our shipments from all the countries we work with, so that’s Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa. Those are a lot of countries to manage and the artisans that work there. Time wise, just making sure our shipments go out early and getting the shoes to clients and having it in stock in the store for people to buy.
And for people who are not familiar with Brother Vellies?
Aurora’s vision is bringing a modern take to traditional African shoes while still being able to empower artisans in those countries that they work with. She saw a void in the fashion industry. Especially seeing how much talent is in Africa and them not being able to showcase it, she wanted to be able to give them a platform from across the world.
Super chill but you’re making change.
And you learned?
How to overcome some of the challenges of working with a third world country. And to stick to your vision even though it may deviate from the status quo.
Are companies like Brother Vellies or Edun catering to a niche market or are they starting a revolution?
I think that they are starting a revolution, but at the moment I would say they're reaching a niche market. I think once people are more aware of ethical fashion and the impact that it has, it'll transition into a revolution. I think there's definitely the start of a movement right now though, more people are becoming aware and more conscious about what they buy.
Are people ready to pay more for ethical fashion?
Good question. I think it's up to the companies to educate their consumer and being transparent about where their dollars are going. I think when that's done successfully; people are more willing to pay more.
When entering the philanthropic landscape, it lot can feel completely overwhelming because there are so many issues in the world. How do you deal with that?
I think I felt that way, especially going into Rwanda and seeing how much need there is in that country. Can I really help people, just me? I think it's all about taking one step at a time in the right direction. Even though they're small, there are a lot of companies that are taking one step in the right direction, especially in ethical fashion. Once there's a group of people that do that, that can really create change and lessen the burden of “can we really make a difference?”
What are some benefits that fashion receives when taking an ethical approach?
Reaching a wider audience. I think people in this day are more interested in seeing their dollars going towards something that's doing good. Fashion has such a huge stake in the economy that when you spend your money in the right way, it's going to create change.
Also environmentally. A lot of people, they shop fast fashion, but they don't really understand the cause or what went behind that $2 t-shirt.
For me, I don't have the money to spend on ethical fashion, but what I do is I turn towards thrifting. I think that's a really strong alternative. You're not feeding into that cycle of paying $2 for a shirt and you can still get good clothing for a lesser amount.
How do you alter the pattern in a fast fashions consumer's mind?
I think it must start by changing the everyday person’s perception of what fashion is. To the average person, fashion is simply a means to cover the body and to stay on trend. Not much thought goes into thinking about why a t-shirt is $4.99. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way fashion is presented to the consumer. Recently there has been a surge in companies, like Everlane and Vetta Capsule, that are presenting well-made ethically sourced collections in small batches as a way to combat the over consumption of unsustainable clothing. As companies like these expand and multiply, we will see a shift in the way consumers approach fashion.
It's diverse and not so much about showcasing different cultures, but more about the different aspects that people can dip into in the fashion industry. So there's technology, ethical fashion, there's fashion as art. There's so many different aspects that people can work in within fashion that I don't think was always there, maybe ten years ago.
Short term, long term goals?
Short term goals is to become more savvy about ethical fashion, how to work in that industry because I've done bits and pieces here and there in different roles, but getting a general overview of the industry and how to work successfully as an ethical fashion company is my short term goal. Long term would be to start my own business down the line, in ethical fashion. My idea is to, instead of starting a new company, I want to work with or curate different companies that work within the industry and helping them work together. I think that's actually a huge part of advancing the movement. Getting companies to work together would be a huge plus.
First of all, I think that people have boxed this generation, millennials, as these kids that have huge ideas but don't know how to go about fulfilling them. We have a lot of big ideas, but we're really creative as well. What I've learned is that we also love doing good and seeing positive change. Because of these attributes, I believe our generation is going to produce so many entrepreneurs that are truly going to change the world. I’m excited for our futures.
I would like to see it become more accessible to all consumers because I think right now a lot of people just see it as, ethical fashion is a great thing, but I can't really take part in that movement.
I think companies should at least have lines or redirect their mission to ethical fashion. It's hard for consumers to jump from going shopping at a fast fashion company then to shopping at a company like Brother Vellies or Indego Africa. There has to be some type of middle ground. I'm not sure exactly how that would come about.
I would say go with your gut because that was a huge part of my decision for making the leap from Louis Vuitton to Brother Vellies. Also, just do research. A lot of research. That's where I found my success with Indego is because I didn't just say, I want to work in ethical fashion and then go to the first company that I found. I think doing research and finding a company that truly aligns with your goals and what you want to see or work within is really important.