Famuyiwa, at work.
Ayodeji Rotinwa profiles a New York-based stylist turned fashion designer of Nigerian descent who is working hard to make a name for himself against all odds in the world’s fashion capital and largest cosmopolitan city
The Empire State, New York, U.S.A., is arguably every creative artist’s dream. For those blessed with the gift of artistic expression, New York is a Mecca of sorts where such expression can be showcased on the biggest stage possible. However, conquering New York is a daunting task which many have found near impossible to overcome. It is this great task that Toriola Famuyiwa, stylist and fashion designer, has set out on.
“New York is extremely competitive in any and every work industry,” he said. “Imagine competing in your field of work with the best people from all over the world, all converged in one place. It gets even more challenging when it comes to the fashion industry, given that New York is one of the first and major fashion capitals in the world. The saying is very true, ‘if you can make it in New York, you can survive everywhere’.”
Famuyiwa does not mince words when describing the city and industry he is set on making a mark in. It is however an industry in which he has garnered some invaluable experience, having cut his teeth at world-renowned companies such as American Eagle and Victoria’s Secret and he believes such experience is the perfect launching pad to greater things. “My experience at American Eagle and Victoria’s Secret were the foundation and building blocks to who I have become today. Without that comprehensive experience, I would not be where I am now in my career as a stylist turned fashion designer. I call that experience home work.”
It would however seem Famuyiwa has had it easy, having enjoyed stints in such high-profile companies, in an industry where the “survival of the fittest” phrase applies strictly, indeed more than anywhere else. He disagrees.
The point he has reached today, he firmly insists, has been a long time in coming. “I took my first fashion job at Eddie Bauer after attempting door to door sales, selling home improvement to home owners. I was not very good at this at all and didn’t land many clients for the company I was representing hence not making commission. I just couldn’t lie to unsuspecting home owners that they should buy a new roof that they didn’t need.”
He recalled of his very humble beginnings. It was from this he moved on to fashion companies, rising steadily through the ranks, over the span of almost two decades, but it was not all rosy as he was laid off from his last job at Victoria’s Secret. It was then he decided it was time to strike it out on his own; a decision which has so far brought tremendous reward. “My work as a stylist has always been very well received and acknowledged. I would constantly get stopped in the streets to either do model look books or TV shows. It got interesting when I started designing as a hobby and I had the opportunity to show at a large venue. The reactions I got overall were very overwhelming and I did not expect or anticipate it. I felt completely validated by my peers in the industry,” he said.
However, while recognised as a stylist and designer, Famuyiwa explains that professionally these are not his only functions and the two titles involve a lot more work than what is projected. “I am categorised as a creative director on many levels because I have the ability to take development from just a simple piece of fabric to the end point where it gets into the hands of the clients. What’s in between is sewing the fabric, styling the fabric on a model, picking the right hair and makeup to convey my vision to its particular target audience, directing the editorial shoots, creating show to showcase the work, getting the products into magazines and from there giving the end user access to get the product into their hands.”
Famuyiwa realises that even with his impeccable work ethic and handy experience, the odds are against him, especially seeing as he is in an industry that, till date, favours stakeholders of Caucasian descent. He has, however, armed himself with a psychological shield. “I don’t look at it from the point of view of race/colour which I consider abstract; I take it from a substance point of view which is actual. I believe acknowledging it as a hindrance sets a tone before you come out the gates and you are already half defeated because that thought will always hold you back at some capacity in your subconscious.”
Against all odds, Famuyiwa remains very ambitious and has got his eyes on the prize, dead set on reaching the zenith of his career, his name mentioned in the same breath as world-class designers. He intimates the lofty goals he has set himself, “In five years, I want to open boutiques in New York, Atlanta, London, Nigeria and South Africa.”