Nigerian Designer Andrea Iyamah on the African Roots Behind Her SS21 Harvest Collection
Over the past decade, Nigerian fashion designer Andrea Dumebi Iyamah has cultivated a brand that not only celebrates her African roots but aims to cater to all adventurous women around the world. The eponymous Andrea Iyamah (A.I.) brand produces everything from resort and swimwear to accessories and other ready-to-wear items using bold colors and retro classic silhouettes. The designs draw from ethnic culture and nature, paying close attention to quality and detail, while trying to add a modern twist that appeals to those who want their clothes to express their confidence and fearlessness.
At the young age of 17, Iyamah taught herself about fashion and tailoring out of a desire to build an African-owned brand that could cater to a global audience. She wanted to make the bold and eccentric colors and styles of African culture universally accessible with the brand. Blending influences from various cultures, Iyamah launched her first swim collection in 2013, which turned A.I. into an African resortwear cult favorite among celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union.
This year’s spring/summer collection from A.I. is entitled “Harvest” and is in celebration of the brand’s 10-year anniversary. The collection pays tribute to the farmer, the one who toils and then patiently awaits the harvest, the product of his toils, and displays the fruit of his hard work, representing the A.I. team over the past decade. Signature A.I. styles return in the “Harvest” collection, but new designs and prints can also be found, all in earthly colors such as olive green, papaya orange and coconut white. In this new collection, Iyamah puts forth the progress that the brand has made and presents a glimpse of how the A.I. woman will continue to exude confidence and adventure.
The Folklore spoke with Andrea Iyamah about her African inspirations, her new spring/summer collection and the A.I. woman.
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Tell me about starting the brand at such a young age. What struggles did you face?
I started the brand officially at the age of 17. I always had an affinity to art and design of all kinds, but clothing design really kicked off when I was in university. Having a formal education and vocational skills were very important, so the challenge was balancing both without losing on either. Thankfully, I always had God answer my prayer for help when things got busier and that has not changed. I started to learn how to delegate from a young age.
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How did you get things up and running?
I initially started with a simple blog to share my sketches and artwork, but that quickly changed into a full fledged business when I hand sewed my first few sketches and readers actually wanted to purchase them. That’s really how it all started.
How do you tie your Nigerian roots into your designs?
My Nigerian roots are quite a part and parcel of me that it comes quite natural to include some elements that portray the culture. Nigerians are energetic, vibrant and confident which are elements that are evident in A.I. designs. Also having our flagship A.I. studio, and operating out of there, keeps the inspiration fresh and relevant.
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What drew you to design swimwear and resort wear?
That’s a great question I get quite often. It was both an operational decision that also conveniently filled a gap in the market at the time. We initially started designing couture dresses, and the business model worked but we also saw its seasonality. I love travel and exploring new cities so I was eager to design appropriate clothing that reflects the beautiful destinations I get to visit. I decided to add swimwear in particular because I just couldn’t find the kind of swimwear I would like to wear that worked for my body.
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Can you tell me more about your target audience? Who is the Andrea Iyamah woman?
The A.I. woman is confident in her femininity and an adventurer in spirit, mind and style. Discovery is a big part of who she is, and that comes from exploring cultures through travel, sight and sound. The woman who resonates with this life philosophy is our target audience.
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Tell me about the inspiration behind your spring/summer 2021 collection? Why the “Harvest”?
The Andrea Iyamah “Harvest” collection is a story of the road to abundance. It is a celebratory display of the fulfilment of “the work of our hands.” The colours this season are intentional hues of mélange of olive green, papaya orange, eggplant purple, cocoa brown and coconut white. The harvest is the vantage point that shows work as fulfilling, sacred, a gift and an honour. That the ground yields its harvest is a journey of toil, prayer and patience that only the farmer knows too well.
What materials did you work with for this collection?
Fabrics in this collection are soft and delicate to the touch, with silk finishes seen in the Reni dress and Rya scarf and pants for an extra level of decadence. For a bold look, the Kokos top and shorts are a beautiful coconut print on organza fabric.
How does this new collection cater to the Andrea Iyamah woman?
Each collection that is created for our treasures is designed with purpose to make every woman feel their most amazing. This year the colours, styles and cuts are our most flattering yet; we know that there will be pieces for all our treasures. Style, comfort and support have always been key points that our treasures look out for and we aim to deliver that each time. The response to the SS21 launch has been very well received so we believe we hit the right spot.
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This year is the ten-year anniversary of Andrea Iyamah, congratulations! How has the brand evolved with time and changing trends?
Thank you! It has been a lot of grace, hard work and a dedicated team of passionate people who believe in the vision of the brand. Adaptability with the times is just as important as maintaining the brand’s vision, so the constant pendulum dance between both is what we do to try to arrive at the centre.
Words by Claire Blaha