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Yelé Oladeinde Finds Home in Her Designs

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Yelé Oladeinde lives by the motto: Fortune favors the prepared. “You have to be prepared. In the fashion industry, most times it’s just by chance,” explains the Baltimore-based fashion designer. “Now, if that chance hits you and you’re not prepared, it is going to pass you by and help someone else that is actually prepared for it.”

This kind of forward-thinking readiness was central to Oladeinde’s upbringing in Nigeria. Her spirited Afrofuturistic designs encapsulate her love for her culture and home country, utilizing bold pattern fabrics designed just for her in Nigeria. Her prolific series of gowns, suits, jackets, workwear, and custom-made garments embody a bright personality and attention to detail. Oladeinde’s confidence in her skills as a fashion designer and entrepreneur, as well as her Christian faith, radiates from her as she affirms that, little by little, she is building a leading fashion house in the East Coast area, where emerging designers can come and learn from her experience through mentorship programs.

It’s worth noting that a career in fashion was not her original intent. As a student in Nigeria, Oladeinde was committed to becoming a doctor and focused her studies around prerequisites for medical school. However, fashion had a strong presence throughout her upbringing. Her grandmother and aunt were both seamstresses, so sewing machines were always in close proximity, and her interest in making garments grew out of distaste for store-bought clothes. She recounts memories of her sisters going shopping and buying dresses for her to try, which always left her feeling disappointed.

 

“They would tell me that I’m always complaining,” she says. “That I should go to the market and get clothes for myself because I’m always finding something is wrong.” At first, she didn’t think she could do anything about her frustration until, around the age of sixteen, she decided to try having her clothes custom made.

Her friend’s mother was a tailor, so she brought fabrics and designs to execute, but Oladeinde’s visions never came out just right. The tailor suggested, “You’re going to come to my shop and learn how to sew yourself.” The invitation came during a gap year before college so, with her father’s approval, she was free to go to the tailor’s shop. Initially, she saw it as an opportunity to spend time with her friend, the tailor’s daughter, but she did not realize how intent the tailor was about teaching her. Oladeinde would stand by, watch her cut, and sew. She was required to take the endeavor seriously and, over time, she learned how to effectively use a sewing machine.

By her third year of college at Federal University of Technology Akure, Oladeinde was majoring in microbiology and on track to study medicine. Part of her curriculum included an entrepreneurship course, and she signed up for a class on fashion design. She learned how to draw patterns and create basic pieces, which fueled her interest in making garments. After graduation, she had another gap year, which she dedicated to fashion design. She found herself recreating YouTube videos, learning how to make patterns for trousers, corsets, and other intricate pieces.

Pinpointing when she decided to commit to fashion design is difficult for Oladeinde, almost as if it happened in reverse, as if fashion design committed itself to her. Oladeinde’s passion for the craft followed her as she entered every new facet in life, whether by external forces or her own motivation. She laughs fondly when recounting the realization and exclaims, “I would say, ‘Let me do this real quick, let me just use one year to practice some more on fashion design.’ And it kept happening like that, every time.” Her dad bought her first sewing machine as a gift for her twenty-first birthday, which prompted her to make her own clothes and take the craft seriously, an affirmation that, if she wanted, she could pursue it professionally.

She started making garments for other people around the age of twenty-four. Her first ever clients were her sisters, who would bring her fabrics. According to Oladeinde, she’s responsible for the destruction of many of these textiles. “They would give me five fabrics and maybe one dress would come out of the five. I’d say, ‘I’m trying here!’ At least they got one dress.” She then began making clothes for friends, and later, accepting commissions. Her business flourished and soon she had a studio space with assistants and interns.

 

In the spring of 2019, she moved to Baltimore with her husband, leaving behind friends, family, and her business. While it was an emotional upheaval, she felt comforted knowing she was making this decision in the name of love. After the move, Oladeinde’s designs became much bolder. “It was because I missed home so much.” she says, “I wanted everyone to see Africa in my designs.”

The changes in her designs are also attributed to her changes in clientele. “Here, it’s a mix of different people from different origins,” she explains. “So I have to wrap my head around what my clients want and adapt.” In addition to her fashion brand, Oladeinde creates Yel Magazine, a fashion lookbook with a focus on show-casing upcoming designers twice a year. The periodical also provides informational knowledge on the fashion industry, such as the heart of her brand, a textile called adire.

She explains, “I want people to know more about this print, about my country, about how the prints become dresses and how you can mix fabrics together to create something different with this print. I always use this because it’s authentically made in Nigeria, although I control the symbols that are put on it, the colors. The fabric is unique to my brand and designed by me.”

Now based in a large studio at Motor House, Oladeinde’s years of experience have taught her the importance of being consistent. “As fashion designers, we are doing what we love but it’s not easy. Not everybody understands the narrative, or your drive, or your position,” she says. “So you have to just be consistent, trust yourself, and know that this is what you want to do.”

 

Oladeinde is a firm believer that slow fashion is the future. Slow fashion champions ethical consumption in every aspect of the retail experience, from material sourcing, to manufacturing and packaging. Another forward looking facet of Oladeinde’s practice is convertible fashion, in which one can remove part of a dress and add it to a different piece, resulting in clothing being worn in multiple different ways.

“I’m starting to create custom apparel for people whereby they can go to my website and put in their own measurements,” she says. “My goal is for people to think, ‘This outfit that I’m getting was made for my body. She was thinking of me, my name, and measurements when she was creating it.” The future of Oladeinde’s work is bright and evolving with her eye for innovation and attention to her customers’ experience. She has masterfully shaped her brand as a beacon of the fashion industry, while keeping her Nigerian roots at the forefront of her creative expression.

 

This story is from Issue 15: Migration, available here.

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