An exclusive interview with Ebele Ojechi, the designer of London’s emerging sportswear brand, BËLË.
The concept of BËLË came to life while designer, Ebele Ojechi, was a BA Fashion Sportswear student at London College of Fashion. Having recently graduated, Ebele Ojechi now unveils AREA BOYS, BËLË’s debut collection. We sat down and talked fashion design, university, Instagram and police brutality. Check this out.
How did you come up with the concept of BËLË?
I noticed a distinct lack of diversity in the sportswear market. From brand to brand, silhouettes and styles are quite similar; in my opinion sportswear brands aren’t taking as many risks as they did in the past. BËLË was created to bring more diverse and culturally inspired sportswear into the market. Spice things up a bit.
What is BËLË’s mission?
Our mission is to provide men’s sportswear with an innovative combination of culture, style, functionality and technicality; rooted in experimentalism and authenticity.
The silhouettes in your debut collection, AREA BOYS, are oversized, eclectic, airy and casual. Can you tell us about your inspirations for the collection..
During my research stage I spent a lot of time looking through my parents old photos from Nigeria. This led to nostalgia being a main theme for the collection. My main inspirations were Nigeria in the 80’s and London youth culture in the early 2000’s. Functionality in clothing is very important to me and I love designing outerwear. So I channelled these inspirations into functional lifestyle sportswear for men – with a strong focus on adaptable outerwear and design for a city lifestyle.
Has creating BËLË helped you to embrace your Nigerian heritage?
I’ve always been proud of my Nigerian heritage, but before BËLË I categorically stirred clear of using it as an inspiration for design. I especially avoided using Nigerian textiles. I felt it was all too obvious. Creating BËLË has shown me that Nigeria can provide me with a wealth of unique inspiration; all I have to do is look past the obvious.
So you just graduated from London College of Fashion, how was your degree?
It was the best (and most stressful) four years of my adult life. I had a very good experience thanks to my tutor: Claudine Rousseau – she’s the best. My class was quite small so we got a lot of one-on-one time with our tutors, which helped massively. After my second year, I did a placement year and interned at Tommy Hilfiger then Nike for the summer. That was definitely the best year of my degree; I learnt way more than I’d ever expected to and got to live in two amazing cities whist doing so.
Tell us more about how you entered LCF?
Originally I applied to do Menswear at LCF. On the portfolio review day my future tutor, Claudine, asked me to come and have a chat with her privately. She was like: ‘your work isn’t really suited to menswear but I think you’d be good on the sportswear course. Have you ever thought about it?’ I’d thought about it before, because most of my designs were sportswear anyway.
So she kind of had an instinct about it?
Yes, she saw my work and said ‘apply for my course’, I applied, and the rest is history. If it wasn’t for her I may have never truly developed my love for sportswear design.
Are you still in touch with her?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t think she knows this, but she’ll be my mentor forever.
Do you have any favourite designers or brands?
My favourite menswear brand is Stone Island by far; they’re levels. Fave women’s is definitely Celine. When I’m rich my wardrobe will consist mainly of these two brands. I’ll still frequent the charity shops though; I love a vintage bargain. Smaller brands like Acronym, Agi & Sam, Craig Green and Ader are also on my list of faves right now.
Have you been a part of the recent Black Lives Matter marches in London?
I’ve wanted to go so bad! But I managed to miss all of them. The police brutality in America is getting so out of hand. Although it’s not as prevalent in the UK, there’s definitely issues here that need addressing. I’m glad that the BLM movement are raising awareness and starting a conversation.
So tell us, who are your favourite Instagramers?
Girls like Paloma Elsesser, (@palomija) a gorg model from New York. I love how confident she is. I feel like she can pull off anything. And Aleali May, (@alealimay): her outfits are everything! She makes me want to blow all my money on off-white boots.
What are your dreams over the next few years?
I’m thinking more about the next few months right now! Ideally BËLË will be more established this time next year. To me, quality is more important than quantity, so I may only produce one collection a year. I’d definitely like to collaborate with bigger sportswear brands too, like Stone Island and Nike. Overall my dream for the next few years is to be happy in whatever I’m doing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
I would say, if you’re a student get as much work experience as you can before you graduate. If your course offers a placement year, definitely do it. And try to spend it abroad. You’ll learn so much about the industry and other cultures. Utilise your university’s resources: workshops, specialist machinery, computer software, everything. Also, network, network, network! I never really go to Fashion Week – it’s not my scene. But I used to work at some of the shows when I was younger. I say that as if it was ages ago – it was only a few years back! Aspiring designers should definitely do that though. It’s a good opportunity to network and it will give them an insight into the goings on of fashion week behind the scenes; catwalk show organisation, building collections and all that good stuff.
And for young designers in London?
I’m still a young designer myself so there’s only so much advice I can give. Take advantage of being in London. Go to exhibitions, and those Thursday night parties that always have free drinks – great place to meet people (laughs). Most importantly, never forget to play; have fun with it, take risks. Life’s too short to play it safe.
What’s can we expect from BËLË in the near future?
I’ll be presenting BËLË’s debut collection AREA BOYS this Friday at 6pm. For those that want to come through, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. It’s going to be lit and not to be missed!