A widely celebrated, genderless artisanal brand BLOKE is not only pushing the boundaries of contemporary knitwear but opening the conversation on how clothing should be approached. Founded by Faith Oluwajimi in 2015, it continues to question the stereotypes that often surround gender. Based in Yaba, Lagos deemed a typically conservative environment, emerging designers such as Faith are creating new pathways for self-expression, empowering people to reclaim their identity and narrative. With male models draped in bikini ruffled tops, we are shown the Africa that we rarely get to see.
His Spring/Summer 2020 explores the theme of family through an African gaze, proudly embracing our heritage whilst questioning the norm. Faith is able to modernise traditional knitwear both beautifully and successfully, proudly labelling the brand as quirky and artsy whilst perfectly mirroring luxury. BLOKE has been able to embrace sustainability from the beginning by sourcing local materials and using low impact production methods, such as employing local artisans within the community. Acquiring a background in agriculture at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) before embarking on his fashion venture; Faith claims that the two cross paths, showcasing the new vanguard of fashion.
We spoke to the founder and designer Faith to discuss who the BLOKE individual is and how gender ideals are now being deconstructed in the wake of the social media era.
Talk us through your background and how you were introduced to fashion, was it something you aspired to growing up?
I was born in a town called Ijebu Ode, in Ogun State, Nigeria. Fashion wasn’t exactly what I aspired to growing up but it found me and gave me a space for self-expression. Although I always had great taste in art as a result of my upbringing with my dad, who is an art educator. I usually helped my mum in deciding what to wear and what not to because she always consulted me, to hear what I had to say about her outfit, that’s the closest I was to fashion growing up.
What does your creative process entail? Is there a specific theme that reoccurs?
My creative process entails documentation of where my thoughts are and how I feel as an African, at any point in time.
You have a background in Agriculture does that come into play at all in your creative process? Does your environment play a role in your designs?
In a way, because agriculture is very much dependent on human resources in respect to nature, just as my creative process in fashion also does.
BLOKE is widely celebrated as a genderless brand, was this your approach from the start, and if so what propelled you to attain this approach, and why?
Yes, it has always been my approach from the start. That’s from the school of thought that garments should be free from all sorts of bias and stereotypes. Garments should first and foremost be seen and reckoned with for its sole purpose of being garments, regardless of gender.
Could you describe to us the BLOKE individual?
The BLOKE individual is someone in total control of their voice and identity, straddling from established to early bloomers in different creative spheres.
Coming from a country that can be deemed as conservative, what are some of the challenges that you have faced as a genderless label? Do you think these labels are slowly being deconstructed in the wake of the social media era?
Yes, I believe the social media era has helped a lot with enlightening people from this part of the world, to an extent. Even though there is more work to be done regarding how open-hearted we should be to people’s diverse ideals.
BLOKE prides itself on being both ethical and sustainable, how has that changed your design approach?
It’s quite an organic thing for me and has always been a part of our design process. The label started five years ago, before ‘ethical and sustainable’ became cool buzzwords.
Given the current times with COVID -19, how has this new reality shaped your way of designing, what impact has it had on both you and your brand?
It has made me more conscious of conserving our resources more than ever before and helped me in fine-tuning decisions concerning the brand, with a scale of necessity over-exuberance.
Your last collection focuses on contemporary knitwear what was your inspiration for this collection?
The collection was an inquisitive look into what family means to me and the seemingly unsuspected effects the concept of family has on individuals in society, in contemporary times; always using my family as a scope of reference. Also, drawing inspiration from photographs of Sedjou Keita in the ’70s and recent paintings of Joy Labinjo, which both focus on the theme of family through an African gaze.
What is your advice for young creatives in Nigeria who are trying to break into fashion?
Find your voice and stand by it!
What should we expect from BLOKE in the near future?
Exciting projects that celebrate Africa’s artisanal excellence.