Nigerian Designer Ivy Ekong Uses Her Influence to Encourage Diversity in the Fashion Industry (Q & A)
The fashion industry is evolving. POC are being represented more in popular magazines like Essence, Marie Claire, and Vogue. We’re seeing more and more black designers popping up on the runway each year. Society is embracing concepts like diversity and inclusion in an attempt to change the narrative that euro centricity is the standard of beauty. The truth is that people of color have always and will continue to influence the way we live, look, dress, talk, act, etc. Our dominance in the culture isn’t something that is overlooked anymore and we love to see it! But this is only the beginning. There’s plenty of work that needs to be done as a collective but I think we’re headed in the right direction. In today’s blog post we’re chatting with Ivy Ekong, the Founder and Creative Director of Ivy Ekong Fashion, to get her perspective on what it was like growing up in Nigeria, moving to the UK to pursue a career in fashion, and becoming the successful entrepreneur she is today.
B: It’s devastating to see what’s been happening in Nigeria. What were your thoughts when you first saw the hashtag #EndSARS?
Ivy: Yes, it’s very devastating. When I first saw the hashtag my first thought was “yes it’s about time”. Police brutality and corruption has gone on for too long in Nigeria. I’m so glad to see that the young people of my country have taken it upon themselves to stand up and create a new Nigeria. If we can hold our government accountable for its inhuman actions and lack of empathy to its citizens, then I think that will be a great start. The #ENDSARS movement is just the tip of the iceberg to the years of deprivation, corruption, and all Nigerians have had to endure in the hands of a government that gives so little yet expect so much from its citizens.
B: Can you give us some background on what it was for you growing up? How do you feel about the youth rising and protesting against police brutality?
Ivy: I grew up in Edo state Nigeria. Edo state has its challenges and most times it is due to bad governance and lack of empathy from the government to its people. I haven’t experienced any police brutality while growing up, but I do know a lot of people who have. The numbers are overwhelming. Growing up, I will say my parents did all they could to shield us from the reality of the true nature of the country.
HER EARLY LIFE
B: What were some of your early experiences that led you to a career in fashion?
Ivy: I have always been a fashion girl right from my early years. Some people go to school to be good at something, for me, it was a natural-born talent. In my teenage years, I was already styling adults who were much taller than I am (laughs). I would tell them what colours to wear together. I was like the Kim Kardashian of the family. The one that styles everyone’s outfit even those of our family friends. While in high school, I would gather my friends during break time and we would talk about fashion, hair, and makeup. Everyone always came to me for style advice. It was just natural to me.
When I knew that this is probably my life’s purpose was when I was in a beauty pageant back home and was crowned a Queen (The Face of Esan). This opened up more opportunities to model and wear different haute couture dresses for designers. It was just a natural progression. Fast forward to years later, I have my fashion brand, I’m a qualified fashion stylist and Image consultant, and hope to expand my fashion empire in the future.
B: At what point did you know that you wanted to go further and turn Ivy Ekong Fashion into a brand?
Ivy: It was after I became a mum. I had a conviction that it was time to start my brand. Also, I was being pressured by my fans/followers to start my brand. People would leave comments saying; “I love your style and would totally buy anything you design” or some will say “ why are you advertising for these brands when you can start your own and we would so buy every piece”. I knew I wanted to have my own fashion brand but I didn’t know when and how to go about it until I became a mum. When you’re a mum, you start to see things a bit differently and that includes fashion. You want to look and feel sexy. Also, I think motherhood gave me the confidence I needed to start. When I had my first daughter, I had this rush of energy and feeling that I can take on the world and achieve just about anything. I think bringing a human being into this world gives you another level of confidence that anything is possible.
B: Where do you draw inspiration when coming up with ideas? How do you want women to feel in your designs?
Ivy: I draw inspiration from the everyday woman, women who are doing their best to juggle motherhood and career, women who are multi-taskers, those breaking boundaries, women who look like me, and those who don’t. I also get inspiration from architecture, sometimes when I travel and see the world through a different lens. Inspiration is everywhere depending on what you are looking at and what you want to see.
I want women to feel and look their best in my pieces. I want them to have a rush and boost of confidence to take on the world. I want women to feel confident enough to be exactly who they are and who they’re aspiring to be in Ivy Ekong Fashion. Women are the most strongest and resilient people I know. With the right outfit and heels, we are unstoppable.
B: What’s it like working with huge brands and retailers such as Hilton, Stuart Weitzman, Uber, Saks Fifth Avenue, and House of Fraser?
Ivy: Being an influencer has its ups and downs especially now that there’s a lot of competition in the influencer industry. I have been amazingly blessed to work with the brands that I have worked with over the years either through affiliations, paid and sponsored posts, etc. I also feel more blessed to still be relevant in a very saturated industry. It goes to show that you can do anything and be anything you want to be. Founding my business has not stopped me from still working as an influencer and achieving other goals as well.
B: How can fashion be used to elevate cultural awareness and promote inclusivity?
Ivy: As a brand, diversity, and inclusion are in our DNA. With today’s younger consumers who are pivoting for a better world, the importance of cultural awareness and inclusivity cannot be overemphasized. Fashion is an art and like any other art, fashion speaks to most people and a lot of people despite their age, background, size, nationality, we all unite in some way in the name of “fashion”. Fashion and style is something we all have in common. Every human being from the moment they are born is dressed in a piece of cloth. As we grow up we begin to develop our sense of style. Due to this fact, we can use fashion to promote diverse voices and role models while also decreasing cultural bias.
Ivy Ekong Fashion brands Motto is “for women to be whoever they want to be without feeling the need to apologize for who they are”. We all should be able to express ourselves the way we want to through fashion whether you’re black, white, gay, lesbian, big, small, etc without having to apologize for it.
BUILDING A LEGACY
B: Where do you see Ivy Ekong Fashion 5-10 years from now?
Ivy: As a brand, we continue to grow. There’s no set pace really for us as long as we are growing and growing together with our community of IEF babes that we have built over the years. I do hope that we are global and also hope to create not just a fashion brand but a lifestyle brand as well. That means we will be introducing and launching new products outside fashion in the coming years.
B: As a mom of two young girls, what is the legacy you want to leave for them?
Ivy: I want my girls to know that hard work pays. I want them not to bet on anyone but themselves by working hard and creating the life they want for themselves. I want them to know that anything and everything is possible if they work hard for it. I also want them to know that the future is female and they can pave way for others behind them.
THOUGHTS ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE
B: How do you relate to the idea of a work-life balance? Is that at all possible being a mom of two, wife, designer, influencer, and entrepreneur?
Ivy: Work-life balance is hardly possible for me but I continue to try to make it possible. That may mean disappointing a few people or turning down a few social invites to spend time with my family. I think if you know what the priority is then you can work to prioritize your time. It is very challenging to balance motherhood and business. I work everywhere and anywhere. Most times on my kitchen table.
Multi-tasking is a word that’s constantly used in my home. My kids call me “mummy the multitasker” (laughs). That’s just the way it is. My family is my priority because they are my biggest achievement and accomplishment, but also, my brand is my baby. I want to see it thrive too. So I have to try and balance both so that none lacks my attention. This sometimes makes me work everywhere. I’m working on my kitchen tables, I’m working while watching my girls play tennis or during game time in school and their extra curriculum activities. Let’s just say I work everywhere (laughs). We do have family time when we put our phones and computer down to connect with each other and the kids. Those are my best times. I have also started introducing my girls to my business. I take them with me to the warehouse and my office. They help pack and see how everything goes. While doing this I get to spend time with them too while they get to learn about my business. They enjoy those times.
ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP & REPRESENTATION
B: Do you feel as though the call for entrepreneurship is growing within the black community? Why is it important that we support black-owned businesses?
Ivy: Yes, I do feel so. It is amazing to see more black women launching new businesses and doing it so well too. I am big on women’s empowerment and women supporting women. I feel it’s important to support black-owned businesses in other to break the stereotype circle. Also, it encourages other black women to start their own when they see the support that their mates are getting. Gone are the days when women competed against one another. I think we need to build each other up and help one another succeed. When black women succeed, it draws us a step closer to the high table where we all want to have a sit. We should all be represented in these high tables. A representation for one black woman is a representation for all.
B: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Ivy: Never doubt yourself.
B: Where can we find you on social media?
Ivy: You can find me on Instagram at @ivyekong and @ivyekongfashion.