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Fashion By Felicia

Felicia Caponigri | Friday, April 13, 2012

This fashionista first laid stylish eyes on senior Bayo Omoyeni at a house party last fall. In a simple ensemble of jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket, he stood head and shoulders above the crowd. While a conversation sparked by said leather jacket evolved into larger musings on greater fashion trends, including Mr. Omoyeni’s Nigerian fashion origins, it became clear that this was a fashion summit led by Fashion Ambassador Mr. Omoyeni. Of course, the logical next step was a column. Without further fashion ado, read on as Mr. Omoyeni lets us in on the Nigerian fashion aesthetic.

Fashion by Felicia: So, Bayo tell us a little about your home fashion aesthetic.

Bayo Omoyeni: Well Nigeria is very diverse. With many different ethnic groups with different identities, there are over 300 languages which come with the people. In general, we divide Nigeria into three bigger groups. The north is home to the Hausa people, for example, and their traditional style is “kaftans”, and “babban riga”. They use a lot of plain white in their color palette and plain colors. For the men, you notice a lot of white attire with embroidery designs and colorful hats. Ladies don “abayas.” The people of the east and partly the south are generally referred to as the Igbo. The Igbo are known for the material they use, and patterns are their default – lots of black with red accents, such as necklaces. They also use walking sticks as part of traditional dress. I’m from the west, from the Yoruba people. As part of our traditional dress we have, for example, the Yoruba hat, made of a hand-woven fabric, cotton, velvet or damask, and free in form so that you push it easily to one side when you wear it. Of course, there are combinations of these traditional fashion pieces between regions, it depends on your personal preference. For example, the Yoruba are known for the “agbada,” but it’s commonplace to see the Hausas wearing agbadas at different occasions.

F by F: So it’s practically an exchange of cultures through clothing?

Bayo: Yes, you can say that. This exchange happens on two levels. First off, we exchange within the country. For example, it is common to see someone from the west dressed in a loose fitting kaftan or an eastern lady wearing a traditional Yoruba attire of “iro” and “bubba” for an occasion. Another level of this cultural exchange is a mixture of traditional Nigerian fashion with Western widespread fashion. For example, using traditional Nigerian fabrics and materials to make clothes of Western designs, or simply mixing up traditional and western clothing elements.

F by F:  When do you wear Western clothing, traditional or this mix of the two?

Bayo: Well, of course, we were a British colony, so as Nigerians, we’re extremely influenced by both our traditional dress and Western dress. What you wear really depends on the occasion and your age. For example, to a wedding reception or birthday celebration for an older relative (basically the older crowd in general) you would wear traditional dress. An agbada made of the highest quality fine lace is a way of showing class and the time and money you’ve spent on your dress. What you wear is definitely a reflection on your family and their status, just like going out dressed nicely – being presentable – is. At a more casual party with my friends, to relax, it’s mostly wWestern fashion and relaxed traditional attires – just like in the States. Fashion is here today, and in Nigeria tomorrow.  Because of the weather it’s generally a t-shirt, khakis or shorts, and not a lot of layers because it is so hot. Generally, if you’re in your teens and twenties, you’re in Western clothing. Nigerians are very conscious of labels, just like Americans. You do see a lot of people mixing jeans with a shirt, and then a Yoruba or Hausa hat. Towards your late 20s and 30s, you’re more towards the traditional- a kaftan for a chill vibe may be the default.

F by F: So, apart from these cultural influences of both tradition and the West, what were your style influences growing up?

Bayo: My dad is definitely the most fashionable man I know. He dresses crazy well. I remember he taught me since I was a kid, noticing my clothes when I would go out, saying, “No, Bayo that shirt’s faded” or “The collar’s too big.”

He definitely highly influenced my dress style. He also taught me it’s not what you have but how you wear what you have that counts. The fit is so important, not so much the label. My mother always taught me to make the best impression when I left the house. She always says you don’t know who you will run into during the day; you should strive to leave them with an impression of you that you’d be happy with and proud of.

F by F: When you came to Notre Dame, what was different about the fashion aesthetic?

Bayo:  Well, my biggest surprise about Notre Dame was just how nonchalant people were, or at least guys were, concerning their dress. Even something small like wearing sweatpants multiple times a week, letting shoes get dirty or wearing sneakers pretty much constantly was all sort of new to me. Back home, I can say that we are more involved in our dressing, at least for guys.

As a freshman, I couldn’t go out with my friends without ironing my shirt the way I wanted it. If it wasn’t ironed properly I couldn’t go out because I didn’t feel comfortable. When I came to ND, I was very much a “prep boy” in my style. I could never layer back home but because of the cold here I had to layer, so I’d make an effort to pick color schemes and layer. I used to think and plan more than the average Notre Dame dude when it came to clothing. For example, I would wear sweater vests over nice shirts, khakis on a normal day. I wasn’t comfortable wearing trainers a lot, so I think I’d default once in a while to my respectable collection of leather shoes.

F by F: How has your style changed since coming to ND?

Bayo: It has significantly changed. In general now, I pay less attention to the detail of my clothes and I’m way more relaxed.

When I’m in London, though, with a lot of my Nigerian friends who study there, they’re so fashion-forward. It takes a bit of time for me to stop myself from defaulting to a simple t-shirt, trainers and jeans look.

When I still do they ask, “Is this the new fashion? What’s going on?” I still go for the chill vibe, though I’m easily the odd one out for a while. [I’m] just so chill now.

Whether Western, traditional or both, it turns out fashion is universal. Here’s to keeping the chill vibe going, fashionistas, internationally.



The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Fashion by Felicia

Felicia Caponigri | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When Anthony Thomas talks about the origins of KNO Clothing, the company he helped co-found, his story starts on the streets of New York. He tells the story of a man one of his colleagues met on the street. He held an MBA degree and possessed a stellar education, but this man had few close connections. In the recent past, he had undergone an accident that left him in a coma. Despite his higher education, when he awoke, he was without a support network. He was homeless.

It is the ease with which that story could be his, yours, mine or any one of our friends or acquaintances that spurred Thomas, along with his partner and college buddy Stephen Caldwell, to found KNO Clothing, a non-profit fashion line. For every piece of KNO clothing you buy, a piece of clothing is given to a person experiencing homelessness. Funds for shelter are also donated to the company’s partners, such as the Bethesda Mission.

KNO unites the right to clothing and the right to shelter through their designs, and reflects this sentiment in their name. It combines the ideology that “Knowledge” about homelessness destroys stereotypes associated with the homeless with the belief “No One” should go without the physical protection both a home and clothing provide. Indeed, the company’s website, knoclothing.com, emphasizes housing is a human right under international law.

So many of us Notre Dame fashionistas take for granted on a daily basis such a basic human right so many lack. Fashion is a nonverbal, visual language and we are its most avid speakers. It is most apt, appropriate and indeed, our fashion responsibility to use its communicative powers to combat an injustice. By supporting KNO, we can do so.

KNO’s fashion options combine relaxed, casual wardrobe staples with innovative designs inspired by college fashion moments when Caldwell had an almost-Pollack penchant for splashing paint on his own graphic t-shirts. The “Fashioned to Love T-shirt,” launched a year ago in honor of Valentine’s Day, emphasizes communicating love and concern for the homeless through its superimposition and submission of a heart into complicated latticework. Letters inside each compartment spell the company’s slogan, “Fashioned to End Homelessness.”

The design seemingly conveys all of Thomas’ points – like each part of the lattice in the design, we all have an individual responsibility to help the homeless. However, to accomplish this, we all must work together and become whole, banding our hearts and minds together to fashion an end to the problem. The “And We Love That T-Shirt” boldly displays KNO’s last sentence of their mission statement over bright neon paint streaks, emphasizing the fact anyone can help end homelessness. The company also offers items with a more bohemian vibe, such as a violet flower-motif dress. Whoever said being socially conscious was incompatible with chic has clearly never heard of KNO.

I have heard people deride an interest in fashion. They call it fluff, even going so far as to call an interest in clothes a luxury. In fact, an interest in fashion and how we adorn ourselves helps us to create our own individuality, our own sense of personal pride, a knowledge of who we are. We use clothing and fashion not only to shelter ourselves from the elements, but also to communicate our solidarity with a group, our common beliefs. Does it not make sense that the first step to fighting homelessness is not only to actually help give homeless people shelter, but to grant them a tool with which to recreate their own individuality, find common bonds with a group and rebuild their lives with visual fashion communication?

Fashion as it turns out is not fl far from it. It is a tool with which we can affect social change. Dear Fashionistas, let’s show the world how powerful we can be.

To support the fight to end homelessness you can buy a fashion item from KNO’s website at knoclothing.com. On Saturday, Sept. 22, the company will also hold a 5K race in Chicago, titled “Change of Pace,” to encourage involvement in the Fashioning to End Homelessness movement. Visit their website for more details.

Contact Felicia Caponigri at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.