Designers, Entrepreneurs

Yemisii, Building a Global Accessories Brand

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Olu Yemisi is a confident 30-something entrepreneur and the woman behind the accessories line, Yemisii.  The self-taught designer began her career while in university and has taken her business to the next level in the years since. Ladybrille Magazine’s Shana Peete caught up with this busy lady in her new hometown, Los Angeles to learn all about her brand and determination to take it global. Thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed by Ladybrille.  We are such fans of Yemisii handbags and jewelry.

Yemisii: Thank you!  I am very excited to be interviewed by Ladybrille. What inspires your designs?
Yemisii: Travel.  I have traveled to Paris, Italy, England, Chicago for six months, Vienna for six months and now California.  I am looking forward to seeing more cities.  I love to travel. What is it about travel that inspires you most?
Yemisii: The food, art, and architecture.  The people.  It could be anything. You get a different feel everywhere you go, and you tell that story through your work.  I absolutely loved Vienna.  There, they manage to preserve the old and mix it with the new without missing a beat, and I love that.  It is inspiring because I want my work to be timeless, and that is what Vienna is. Who is the Yemisii woman?
Yemisii: She has a unique voice and is not afraid to speak it and to stand in her own right.  She’s my kind of woman.  Our clothes and accessories tell a story about us every day whether we like it or not.  [The Yemisii woman] is unique.  Her experiences may not be so unique, but how she chooses to handle it is what makes her stand out.  The way you tell your story makes you individual.  I find it’s the same everywhere whether it’s an emerging or sophisticated market.  We each want to be individual and find a way to express ourselves and be innovative. What story do you tell in your in your own life?  What is your personal style?
Yemisii: My personal style is one of creating the life you want to live and maki[ng] it happy. Your life can be a beautiful story, if you want it to be.  You can see a lot of that versatility in my pieces.  My style is elegant, edgy, and innovative. What are your wardrobe staples???
Yemisii: I am a blue denim and white tank top kind of girl.  I like my clothing not too over the top.  That’s why I like Cali.  It’s laid back.  I can play up a look with accessories. Putting the right icing on a simple cake can totally change it up. What is your favorite accessory?
Yemisii: I have a necklace made of 40 strands of coral beads.  Every time I wear it I am automatically dressed up. Were you always creative, even at an early age??
Yemisii: [I] always had artistic talent.  I credit my mom with seeing I was good with my hands.  She always enrolled me in crafts classes and summer schools. Through this, you developed confidence in your abilities?
Yemisii: Yes, my mom is to be credited for that.  She celebrated my efforts, and I am really, really grateful. Is Nigeria open to letting girls explore their talents?
Yemisii: Yes, but it’s a new thing for younger generations.  There are more musicians, actors, and designers now than in the 1960’s and ‘70s for example.  There is a lot of encouragement, which has not always been the case. Where did you receive your formal training?
Yemisii: I am actually trained to be real estate surveyor.  My art form is self-taught mostly.  After I started my business, I did attend a short course at London College of Fashion.  I am always learning. Why did you start your own business rather than lending your talents to an established brand?
Yemisii: it came naturally to me.  I started this brand in my third year of university and found a market. My hobby became full-time after I graduated.  After school, I knew I wanted to set up my own full-time business.  When I did, I got a sense of economic empowerment and freedom from earning a living at such a young age. You moved the base of your operations from Nigeria to the states not too long ago.  How is running your business here different from Nigeria?
Yemisii: Business in the states is different from Nigeria.  Here, I feel like a child graduating from high school to college.  I had challenges in Nigeria, but here it’s like starting from square one. Have you faced many challenges in the states?
Yemisii: Ask me that question in three years.  I have faced no major challenges here yet.  In Nigeria, yes!  Ten years ago, one major challenge was that I could not execute many ideas because the equipment was not there.   That was a blessing and curse.  There was no access to the right materials and technology, but that forces you to be innovative and think outside of the box.  Back then, you had to make do.  I was constantly creating a miracle.  I had hustle.  When you are not just given materials and information, you have to go out and get it to make something much bigger and better. Was starting in Nigeria a good primer for your experience here?
Yemisii: Yes, but here people hustle more.  There is more competition in the U.S.  Nigeria is an emerging market.  Out here, there are so many more people.  There are higher expectations. Do you find ways to incorporate your culture into your work?
Yemisii: I use lot of Nigerian fabrics in my handbags.  They are pretty unique to work with.  It tells my story and celebrates my people.  If you make it desirable, people will want to be a part of it.  We try to encourage people to be proud of where they are and where they come from and not just look totally to the West. Nowadays, lots of people from Nigeria are more patriotic. Who in your field has inspired you and your work?
Yemisii: Deola Sagoe!!!! I like the fact that she’s very unique.  I respect the integrity in her art, and that she has her own voice.  [She’s} not too stuck in “Africanism.”  Is that a word? (laughing)  When you think of Africa you come to expect raw, unfinished things that may not be well done.  African can mean a level of naiveté for lack of a better word.  Her work is sophisticated.  I appreciate that it is not too western or stocked with African expectation.  I am hoping for the same in my work.  I want my creations to be considered the work of an African designer with a global perspective.  I want my work to reach places and people where I am not and to just speak to you. Has your work done that yet?
Yemisii: My work has been displayed in Denmark and other places in Europe, Canada, too.  You never know where your work will reach.  Whenever you put the work out you have to put your best foot forward.  Not perfect [work] but your best. Interesting you mention perfection.  A word that comes to mind with perfection is fear.  Have you had to deal with fear?
Yemisii: Recently, I had a conversation with my best friend, T.Y. Bello, a musician and photographer, about this quest for perfection.  We call it the “Curse of the Artist”.   If there is too much pressure, be it the money, the market, or thinking of a system too much, you lose your voice.  Aiming for perfection can make you lose the message.  All artists go through this.  I say you should celebrate the fact that you can do something [creative].  Celebrate by being better each time.  You know you may never be perfect, but you still try. I understand you are turning your attention back to Nigeria?  Why?
Yemisii: My attention never left Nigeria.  The first time, I created a new collection it was in Nigeria.  Newer pieces were created in and outside of Nigeria.  This time, I wanted to show in Nigeria, where my audience started.  I want to get power at home and then to spread the news abroad.  My story started there.  Nigerians are my family, and I want them to see the new line first. If you could pick anyone in the United States and/or Nigeria, who would you most like to design for?
Yemisii: In the U.S., Michelle Obama no to sound generic.  In Nigeria—that’s a tough one.  I have dressed most everyone I could want.  I would answer Deola Sagoe. Which clothing designers would you most like to collaborate with?
Yemisii: In the U.S., Michael Kors.  He really gets American style.  And for Valentino, I would drop everything I was doing in a heartbeat.  He is a brilliant designer. What makes a brilliant designer to you?
Yemisii: Showing integrity to your art and finding your own voice.  Finding a way to share your experiences with others. What we can expect from Yemisii in the near future?
Yemisii: Expansion and growth! We wish you the best!  Thanks so much for talking with us today!
Yemisii: Thank you!

~Interview by Shana Peete
~Visit to see more of her work

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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