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By Aswan Magumbe
If you'd asked me this yesterday at about 6pm, I would have told you I'm cancelling everything,” said the London-based designer in response to my asking how she’s doing - she’s also one of my bosses. Currently, it’s a Monday morning and we’re preparing for her lookbook shoot which is taking place the following day. “The irony that the collection is called ‘L’Intrepide’ (which translates to ‘Fearless’) is just ironic because I am very scared but I'm also so excited.” This collection has been lockdowns in the making and introduces a reset. “With everything that's happened over the past two years, I'm not the same person that I was two years ago - I'm not the same person that I was at the first collection.”
I wonder how Aissata does it all. Four jobs and she does it so effortlessly while being passionate about them all. We’re both young creatives navigating our way through the industry the best way we can, and admittedly it can be tiresome and strenuous but there are glints of hope, freedom and joy when we finally do something that is helping us get that step closer. “I want my work to be seen as fearlessness,” she said, and it’s something she seeks to embody in every aspect. Though she has done a lot of it off her own merit, it’s also been a labour of love with women at the centre.
“All the women that I love at The Stack, all the women that I love in the team, and my friends, I see a fearlessness in them as well that I feel like my clothes slot perfectly into.” Perhaps it was this solid community - and just how rapidly things were progressing for the designer - that sparked the need for something bigger. “It's a really lonely process when you're designing for your own brand but I wanted a team because I really missed being a part of one,” she said.
With that, Aissata set out on building her team: her skilled design assistant Talia, a budding casting assistant Jada whom she met through R.O.O.M Mentoring, a scheme launched by ELLE UK’s new Editor-in-Chief Kenya Hunt, and a press assistant (yours truly). However, the growth of this team creates a need for a bigger budget - where there isn’t one at all. “I need to get an accountant this year,” she said wide-eyed. “That's something that's on my list of things to get ASAP because my budget is making it happen and winging it but that's not how our business should be run. And it's coming out of my own pocket - it doesn’t feel structured.” This factor is something that has proved difficult for young creatives seeking to develop their own businesses, especially in the last three years. According to The Federation of Small Businesses, 2021 began with the UK private sector business population being made up of 3.2 million sole proprietorships, making up 56% of its total - one can only imagine how many creative businesses make up this statistic.
Shoot day calls and looks are yet to be completed; rapidly being sewn together by Talia. The room quickly fills, accommodating stylist and longtime friend Rhona, makeup artist Michelle, hairstylist Sabrina, photographer Jessica, and videographer Destinie, a team of women helping with the lookbook. Unbeknownst to Aissata, who is running around accommodating to and liaising with the creative team, ‘That dress is so beautiful’, ‘I need that blazer’, and ‘That colour!’ echo through the room.
Just two weeks prior, while still working on her collection, Aissata was standing proudly beside The Stack founder Sharmadean Reid at the launch of their newspaper. The designer had collaborated with Reid, who specifically requested her skill, to create the dress she wore, inspired by Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. The beautiful satin cowl dress was emblazoned with a silk print featuring The Stack’s logo amongst other motifs as a nod to the newspaper - and was completed in three days.
It’s a stark difference from the designer’s collection ahead of London Fashion Week which is ‘more refined’. The 10-look lineup bursts with royal reds and blues and slithers of lime. The garments boast effortlessly sexy waist cutouts, high-leg slits amidst long a-line skirts and bold-shouldered blazers. As intended, all of the looks can be dressed up or down, and are neither explicitly masculine nor feminine. Her garments fit right in between, allowing for them to be worn by anyone and everyone.
Despite the gloom and rainfall, late model cancellations (which she has to compensate for) and a need for overtime, the shoot was a success. But this is Aissata’s brand and passion, and her vision was not executed to perfection in the way she intended. “I’m not 100% with how things turned out,” she admitted the afternoon after. Like the natural leader she is, she began consulting me on our next plans of action, all of which detail bigger and better plans - with the same team - and giving me room for input also.
“In my mind, sometimes, I'm still that 13-year-old designer chasing her dreams,” she said in our first call. This most recent conversation reminds me again of that ambition that I’ve witnessed while working with her for almost a month. We’re all aware within the fashion industry that everything is not as it seems, but we’re never usually exposed to how this can be used to one’s advantage. As she tells her students at UCA Rochester, ‘Push your ideas as far as they can go’. In Aissata’s case, this leaves room for greater plans to come to fruition, making all the sleepless nights and challenges worth it. And she‘s so close - if not already there.
Aissata Ibrahima is the Dalston-based fashion designer navigating building a team and being a boss for the first time, all in the lead up to her London Fashion Week launch…and out of her own pocket
By Aswan Magumbe
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