Designer Toyosi Shusi Wants to Change the Way People View African Fashion
Meet Toyosi Shusi, a Nigerian born designer whose mission is to educate people on the nuances within African fashion culture, and also to bring African fashion to the forefront. At the age of two, Toyosi moved from Nigeria to Houston, Texas, but was still immersed in the Nigerian culture while in America. She grew up in an African church and was introduced to the West African fashion first hand. That’s when her interest in fashion ignited.
Toyosi attended college at the University of Texas in Austin studying in Chemical Engineering. During her sophomore year, Toyosi needed a creative outlet and decided to teach herself how to sew. She took a class in sewing, used her mother's fabrics to practice and ended up making her own designs for herself. She later gained the attention of her peers and her custom designs became high in demand. At that moment, Toyosi created her self-titled designer label, “Shusi”.
Toyosi studied the history of African fashion because she said she felt it wasn’t enough to just wear “African” print. She wanted to know the difference between each textile and the origin of it, “I don’t want this to be a trend where we just create all these [prints] and forget what they mean or where they came from and they get exploited by capitalism.” Toyosi once created a fanny pack mimicking the technique used in Cameroon where she used their Toghu cloth and lined it with a velvet cloth. She was inspired by her Cameroonian church member who used the same technique to make a shirt for their pastor.
Toyosi said her perspective on fashion changed when she researched the origin of African print and how it became used in Africa. She discovered that Ankara, which is commonly used in West Africa, was originally from Indonesia and is referred to as Batik. It was brought over by the Dutch through colonization. In 1846, Dutch “entrepreneur”, Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen, found that the wax print sold better in sub-Saharian African rather than in Indonesia. Since then, Batik-or wax print-has been ingrained into the West African fashion culture. Since learning this information, Toyosi made it known that not only is her brand primarily for African people, but it’s really for others to wear her clothes and learn more about some of the African cultures, “When I ship out my orders, I include a note about the the print that they’re wearing and where it came from”.
With no expectation of her own, Toyosi had been featured in British Vogue, i-D, Huffington Post and many more. Her recognition started once Toyosi was featured in Austin Fashion Week. “I remember in 2017 one of my New Year resolutions was to create a collection...I wanted people to see [my collection] on a platform for not just college students.” Toyosi said she wanted to compete to be in Austin Fashion Week to have the opportunity for people who did not identify with being African to see Shusi, but she was not expecting to win. “I was at work, and for some reason, I googled myself and found an article where people were talking about the show the next day and they were like ‘be on the lookout’ for like me and I was like ‘wait, what?’” “It was really an encouraging moment being recognized for what I was doing and people resonating with that.”
Long term, Toyosi says she hopes to have textiles manufactured in Nigeria and build an educational program where people can learn the skills of this trade and then be recognized for it, “I want people to recognize the creativity and talent in Africa”.
Article by Chinazo Enigwe