Nigerian-British fashion designer Tokyo James is part of a new wave of multicultural creatives that challenges the visual perception of Africa. Born and raised in London, James studied mathematics at university before dedicating himself to fashion. Since then, the young designer has been navigating through the industry, first making a name for himself as a stylist.
James says he always knew that he wanted to be a designer but he was never really sure about how to go about becoming one. His mother wasn't too fond of designing as his career choice but he says he just had to go for it. He wanted to do menswear because women seem to have more options when it comes to fashion so he wanted to provide men clothing that was masculine with a bit of uniqueness as well.
In 2015, when Tokyo debuted his first collection at South African Menswear Week, he had a strong vision of who his customer would be. Having grown up in a conservative neighborhood in South West London flipping through the pages of indie British magazines, Tokyo chose to develop an aesthetic that fused the traditional European tailoring he grew up around with the unconventional details he later discovered on the streets of London’s trendy, young neighborhoods. This resulted in collections featuring printed white suits embossed with red spiders, and dress pants with braided details lining both legs. Now, after temporarily relocating to Lagos, he’s updating Tokyo James to reflect the culture and excitement of the Nigerian megacity.
Tokyo’s return to Nigeria couldn’t have come at a greater time. At the moment, the country’s emerging contemporary designers are finally experiencing recognition for their innovative designs. They’re individually projecting their own ideas about what it means to be a Nigerian designer, and expanding beyond the nation’s traditional garb.
In an interview with Dansk Magazine, James spoke about the most challenging thing about launching his brand. "The most challenging part was getting the brand out there with very limited resources, especial through the right media outlets. I know that there are a lot of new brands and that not all can or will be covered, but sometimes I feel that it all comes down to money. Some great talents be left behind because they don’t have the funds." When asked about the difficulties faced by young black designers in today's fashion he said, "well, overcoming being seen just as a black designer. To us, it seems we have to be twice as good and work three times more to get opportunities. Also, we often get pigeonholed or stereotyped when it comes to how and what we create." He believes that the type of support young creatives need the most is funding in areas that support & nurture creativity. By funding those areas, it would allow artists to focus on their work.
We look forward to seeing Tokyo James reach great heights!