Black fashion has always made an impact, yet in Ireland many creatives of colour don’t always get the support and visibility needed to succeed. Here are six fashion creatives making a difference.
Appoik Tong, 21, model
In June 2018, Appiok made history becoming the first Irish black model to grace the cover of Image magazine photographed by Alex Hutchinson which later won a cover of the year award. “I thought I was just in an inside fashion feature, so my jaw dropped when I saw the cover” recalls the model whose career began at 17 in 2016 when she was spotted handing out flyers in Dublin for a vintage shop by a scout from Notanotheragency.
Her parents from South Sudan came to Dublin in the 1990s after her father received a scholarship to UCD. Growing up with her three siblings in Dún Laoghaire, Appiok’s interest in fashion began in her teenage years following Jourdan Dunn on social media, the British supermodel and the first black model to walk for Prada “because she was someone who represented me”, she says simply.
With her effortless poise and regal profile, Appiok, now 21, has modelled on the catwalk as well as in studio and still remembers the Image shoot as one of her favourites along with another with the photographer Eilish McCormack for Andrea Horan’s Tropical Popical exhibition at the National Gallery.
She loves the catwalk in particular “because of the sheer energy and all the different clothes you get to wear as well as the collaborations on shoots”. Her success has “changed me for the better and given me more confidence”, she says, now hoping to further her career abroad, ideally in Paris or New York.
Bisola Sanusi, 21, founder Brazy Designs
Born in Nigeria, Bisola has been living in Ireland since the age of three in Dundalk and with a mother who is a tailor, learned how to sew from an early age. Her career as a designer of jeans began almost by accident last year when she wore a pair she had designed and made – stitched with patches, bandanas and hand-painted – to a summer concert. “It got a lot of attention and from then on I got a lot of requests”, she recalls.
A brand called Highly Recom admired them and sent her three pairs to customise which she did in the style of Dsquared jeans, all slashes and prints and suddenly interest snowballed.
Everything changed in December when a promotional video called Big Reveal produced by Anderson Luminisa with the aim of launching her brand Brazy Designs in January “got great exposure and promotion”. For it, she customised jeans from Zara for three girls and three boys and orders were starting to go well for concerts and parties when Covid-19 hit.
Each order takes about 1-2 weeks to complete and she also works her magic on old and new jeans as well as denim jackets, skirts and tracksuits. A social care student in Carlow, she had been working part time in Dublin airport when the pandemic hit but is now planning a live catwalk show in September, inviting her customers to come in their jeans and showcasing her new lines with the models from the video.
Thais Muniz, 33, artist, creative director and designer
A Brazilian who studied fashion design in Salvador de Bahia, art direction in Buenos Aires and worked as a producer, art and content creator for various media outlets there before making her base in Ireland six years ago.
Considered one of the most influential black women in Brazil, Muniz is a specialist on the art, history and significance of the turban in Afro-Atlantic culture and diaspora. Passionate about her subject and its place in art, politics and aesthetics which she has researched widely, she also sells selected patterns and textiles from around the world on her Turbante-se website, which she founded in 2012.
Her travels researching head wrap culture and giving tutorials have taken her from museums to various festivals and conferences in Dublin, London, Berlin, Lisbon and other European capitals as well as Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.
Her workshops provide practical lessons on how to tie headwrap styles while also highlighting their tradition and meaning. Her next online workshop is on July 11th – people can subscribe for the class only or get a combo with the scarf/head wrap. Visit turbante-se.com for details.
Oyindamola Animashaun (oyinza), 24, stylist, personal shopper, producer, director and artist
Stylist oyinza’s Instagram posts showing off her “sustainable quarantine purchases” gives some idea of her passion for fashion. Born in Nigeria, she came to Ireland at the age of eight, studied English and Sociology in Maynooth where she “fell into” the university’s StyleSoc as head stylist and realised styling could be a career.
She describes her own style as “eclectic, monochromatic and chaotic and I am big on sustainability in my personal style and my work”.
Having lived in Kilkenny for a few years of college “and suffered a lot of racial stuff”, a chance opportunity to help a stylist at a fashion show led to work on show productions for Dublin City Council, NUIG, DCU and other places.
Since then she has worked for eBay, as a resident stylist in Topshop, as a personal shopper as well as styling many music videos for artists such as Soulé.
A hard worker, she now wants to concentrate on directing music videos ideally with an all-female team. “We already have a musician, a story treatment, a photographer, set designer and producer – I always have a goal and always move forward.”
Fashion, oyinza says, has roots in her childhood and dressing up. “My whole life is about multiple identities – I like dressing up and different looks and growing up I found ways of camouflage and trying on (clothes to look like) other people. I had sensitive skin and had to figure out creative ways of looking the same as others when I couldn’t wear shorts and crop tops and how to dress for my body type and my skin.”
An obsessive bargain hunter, the first thing she does visiting anywhere is to google charity shops. “I love a good root and always have my wipes, even pre-Covid and dry clean everything.”
Enviable finds at bargain prices have included a Vivienne Westwood necklace, a Burberry trouser suit ($10), Dior handbags, sneakers by 500 and a Victorian nightdress.
Fortune Lago, 26, photographer, multi-disciplinary artist
Born in Germany to Nigerian parents, Lago who grew up in Blanchardstown and Kildare has been taking photographs on and off for several years. Having first picked up a camera in December 2018, he started shooting film at festivals and fashion weeks in Paris and elsewhere when his work caught the attention of Brown Thomas who commissioned him to photograph their menswear spring summer collection on social media. Since then has worked on nearly half a dozen shows for the store.
“They could see that I was more than just a photographer”, says this self-taught fashion designer who picked up skills from the internet, studying the work of menswear designers like Virgil Abloah and Kanye West and eventually creating his own brand called Für Immer Lago (Lago Forever). That’s currently on hold because of the pandemic – but he now plans to focus on the market in London to grow his brand.
“I have only recently started getting my talent recognised – BTs reaching out to me proved what I was capable of and my ambition is to be recognised not just a designer or photographer but as a multi-disciplinary artist.” To this end he is working on a photographic exhibition of his prints and posters.
“I want to use my art to raise awareness of various issues like mental health and politics to get my points across. It is reassuring to be told that work is amazing especially from the US, Copenhagen or Paris, but it makes me feel a lot better when Ireland recognises my art.”
Florence Olufemi-Ojo, 26, founder Mio Prints
A social worker who has been living in Ireland for 19 years, Florence has Nigerian roots, sings with the Discovery Gospel Choir and in her spare time operates her lifestyle brand Mio Prints, selling bonnets, hair wraps, fans, pyjamas and aprons all in vivid Ankara and Kente African prints.
This was started two years ago on the side when the trend for natural hair became popular in the African community, a reaction to hair straightening methods.
“I started making bonnets from materials sourced in Nigeria lined with satin to wear in bed because cotton can cause friction and our hair is a lot more coarse and so satin locks in the moisture and keeps the style for longer”, she says.
The patterned fans come from Ghana, the head wraps, robes and pajamas are all made and sourced in Nigeria. “It’s fun and I love it”, she says “and it meets people’s needs and customer base of women and young adults. It sets me apart, so that when someone thinks bonnets, they think Mio.”