Photography: Aidan Zamiri
Hair: Issac Poleon
Hair Assistant: Harriet Beidleman
Make-Up: Grace Sinnott
Nails: Sylvie Macmillan
Creative Assistant: Emma Ehimiaghe
Body Double: Emmanuelle Loca-Gisquet
Videography: Barbara Broadley
Production: Object & Animal
Producer: Millie Yoxen
Production Assistant: Ivan Stoyanov
Digital Operator: Laura Heckford
Light Assistant: Arthur Comley
Location: Gas Studio
Fashion designer. Creative director. Promoter. Selector. Artist. MC. These are various titles you could bestow upon Mowalola, just by looking at everything she’s done in her brief 26 years on the planet. But if you asked her if she was any one of these things, she’d probably say none. She could say all of them. She is Mowalola. As cliche as it may sound, she is the brand. Her name is the value. You’re just as likely to see her showing a new collection at Fashion Week, as you are to see her collaborating with Boiler Room to sell out a 1,000+ capacity venue. You may see her taking a bow on a Paris runway, but the night before, she was probably producing and directing a fashion editorial for a magazine. Or going through Soundcloud mixes, finalizing the line-up for the after-party. Or custom-designing birthday outfits for The First Family of Calabasas.
She is Jerry Seinfeld. She is Oprah. She is Diddy. She is Issa Rae. She is Kanye West. She is Elon Musk. That is to say, she is what puts asses in seats. In the phenomenally content-saturated world we find ourselves in, your audience is everything. This is true for anyone trying to sell just about anything. As the decades have flown by, the question has slowly changed from “how many?” to “who are they?”. The truly great brands (read: people) of the 21st Century are built on who they are, rather than what they are selling. It doesn’t matter what Mowalola sells: whether its clothes, exhibition tickets, or party wristbands, she has developed a cult following who want to buy. And she’s done it by staying true to herself: no gimmicks, no cribbing, just her doing what she wants, almost to a fault. And it’s proved successful, as, over the years, her idols have become her peers, and the leading brands have lined up just to get a splash of her essence.
For most, the events of this year have been a rude and unwelcome shock. Maybe not so much for Mowalola, though: she kind of predicted it. In late January, she threw a party in collaboration with Boiler Room, led by the eerie slogan, “You Have One Week To Live.” Whilst she could never have predicted what was to come, Mowalola has always had a clairvoyant element about her: every decision she makes is from her gut feeling, and she’s usually proven to be right. She has spent the time in isolation counting missed opportunities as blessings in disguise, re-centering herself, and deciding exactly how she wants to change the world. For her, it really is a question of how, and not if. In a sprawling, intimate conversation with one of her closest friends and confidants, she lets us into her mind.
Odunsi: How are you? How are you feeling about everything right now?
Mowalola: I think I’m happy. I’m feeling happy. Today I’m happy. I’m kind of just moving through it, and just want to see what [life] ends up being.
Odunsi: The [COVID-19] situation that the world is facing now, how hard did it hit you as a person and how hard did it hit you as a brand?
Mowalola: Um, at first I thought it wasn’t gonna affect me? [laughs] And then when I realised the [obvious] effects, it hit me really hard as a brand; and my brand is a large part of who I am, because that’s how I express myself. So it was a lot to deal with for some weeks and [how I felt] just kept on fluctuating. It wasn’t until I just kinda let it go that I actually found some peace in everything.
Odunsi: Yeah, it’s been tough, I can’t lie. What was your initial reaction, work wise?
Mowalola: I was kinda relieved about some stuff. Cos before Corona, I was about to do some stuff that I didn’t really feel in my heart was the best thing for me. So I almost felt like, although this is painful, it needed to happen for me to realise certain things and not go down a road I had no business going down. In a way, it’s been a really deep experience, but it’s been like a blessing as well. I think the way the fashion industry is, it can almost suck you dry, making you do so much and not really having time to pause and think about everything, and what you actually want to do, not what you’re supposed to do.
Odunsi: Back in January, your capsule collection and party with Boiler Room was all based around The End Of The World, it was literally called “You Have One Week To Live". That’s kind of eerie with the current situation now. What did it mean to you then, and what does it mean to you now?
Mowalola: Um, when I designed the Boiler Room tee, it was actually last year October, so it wasn’t even now. But I had just been feeling in my body like it was the end of the world. I think I was actually just saying how I felt. It was the end of my world. I felt like I was being made to be all these things I wasn’t even sure if I was ready for. I guess because I create with how I feel, it just felt natural to me to do something like that – to actually just say “you have one week to live” – cos that’s what I felt like. If I was making anything else, and it didn’t relate to how I felt…
Odunsi: You’d feel fake about it
Mowalola: Yeah, I don’t create like that. So, with the tee… I think a lot of the stuff I do, I don’t really understand why I do the things I do ’till afterward and I get to see everything in relation and I’m like “oh wow”. It’s kind of like therapy for me in away. It’s like my body gets ready for something that I don’t know is happening, so when I go through it all I actually have some peace about it. But I don’t know, I think back then I was drawn to a lot of dark stuff, maybe cos I had kind of a dark year and my mind was still in that place... But weirdly, this pandemic and [global feeling of] “this is the end of the world” has given me a lot more peace and I’m seeing a lot more light than I was when it wasn’t real life.
Odunsi: Yeah I get that. I want to take it back a bit, to when you were growing up. What did you gravitate towards while growing up that you think contributed to the person you are now?
Mowalola: Mmm, I feel like it changed with my age.
Odunsi: Yeah, it always does.
Mowalola: I think when I was really young I’d spend a lot of time playing, just by myself. When I couldn’t watch TV I would do things with my hands and I would always try and make things – not everything needed to make sense, but I would just try and make things, things I thought would make my life easier. I really enjoy just creating things out of nothing.
The more I grew up and started figuring out what kind of stuff I liked, I knew I just liked making shit and being creative, and I knew that I really liked music and film. I didn’t really look at fashion. Growing up in Nigeria, my mum was a designer, my grandma was a designer but we were still kind of like out of the fashion world, like I had no idea about anything that was going on. So, [my] interests [were] just very much based on what was around me and what I could see.
Also being exposed to MTV in the early 2000s and just seeing how real [it was]. Seeing a different kind of black person on my screen than what I was used to seeing also just made me feel like I could dream to be bigger than anything… or [be] opposed to what I was being taught in school. I guess to me, like MTV and that stuff did more for me than like going to school and learning about everything else, y’know?
Odunsi: Yeah, more than the orthodox style of learning
Mowalola: Yeah, I feel like [MTV] taught me more about life, in like what is possible, rather than learning all this shit about all these things that don’t really make sense, or you don’t need to know. Cos like, why was I learning about Henry VIII? How has that helped me in life today?
Odunsi: [laughs] Well, some could say otherwise for themselves I guess.
Mowalola: It’s about what you’re into
Odunsi: Yeah, it depends on what your needs are.
You mentioned how you didn’t really look at fashion as something that your eyes were set on. I remember [laughs] I missed half of my graduation because I got the wrong coloured pants, and my mum went to get pants from RUFF ’N’ TUMBLE for me and that’s what I wore for my graduation. It's an iconic brand for kids who grew up in Nigeria. So I wanted to ask, how did your parents being people that broke boundaries really early shape how you viewed the world? Was there pressure?
Mowalola: I think seeing them do exactly what they wanted to do made me fearless and more free in finding myself and free in what I wanted to do. Although, [at the same time] I was inspired by them. I wanted to do exactly what my dad did at some point, and I wanted to also do exactly what my mum did, but at least I was being true to how and what I felt, y’know? I was genuinely interested in what they were doing. I guess I took the power of them going out of their way to create something new to do that in my own way, rather than just doing exactly what they do.
Also, when I think about fashion, I guess I didn’t think about it then in a worldwide context because I just wasn’t aware of anything like Vogue or the brands, but I was aware of what I would see people wear in the music videos, and that would inspire me. My mum having her own clothing store allowed me to be able to express myself on my own terms, I got to pick what I wanted to wear [all the time]. From early I was already able to be in control of myself, artistically, on the outside as well as the inside. I really appreciate them for [giving] me [the] freedom to find myself and not being worried that me finding myself would lead to me being self-destructive and not really being successful in life. That was never the important thing to seek out in life. They kind of taught me to follow my heart and work hard, go the extra mile in what I deemed to be interesting to me.
Odunsi: That’s interesting because a lot of the time when your parents have a successful business, and you gain interest in it, it’s assumed the kids will just take over. So for you to have created your own thing [whilst working in fashion] is pretty special.
Mowalola: I think [that’s what] they taught me… They didn’t take over anything, they both created their own futures. That showed me that I could do the same thing.
Odunsi: You design your clothes, you curate your parties, you direct your campaigns, you co-produce your shoots... You've told me before about people messaging you on Instagram or whatever and saying “you guys”, and you find it weird.
Mowalola: [laughs] Mhmm.
Odunsi: Not necessarily because you feel like you do everything alone but because “you guys” kind of represents this large corporation that is behind everything you’re doing – people don’t realise they’re speaking directly to the owner of the brand. They probably think [at the very least] there’s a creative director for your page on Instagram or something. Is it essential for you to be in control of every aspect of your brand?
Mowalola: I definitely do know for sure I have control issues [laughs], but I’m also really young and I enjoy doing a lot of these things. I feel like this is my platform, my brand to express myself freely, so if I don’t do that I don’t know what else I’d be doing. I also don’t want my brand to be like every [other] brand, I don’t want it to be like a corporate brand where it’s solely based [on the] clothes. To me, I want to do more than just make clothes.
Odunsi: You want to be a household name.
Mowalola: Yeah. I don’t even know what that is, but I just want to be.
Odunsi: A household name, to me, is something that represents more than the product.
Mowalola: More than like one industry?
Odunsi: Yeah. The name is trusted and it brings comfort to people. Look at how big Coca-Cola is, you almost forget that it’s actually just soda. Because it’s not, it’s like…
Odunsi: It’s everything! It means so much more, the name… like what you said about MTV, it’s more [than that].
Mowalola: That’s the thing, I think I try to promote [an] experience of life, rather than just select products. If I don’t make anything for a year I feel like I’m still going to be okay because I’m going to be doing something else.
Odunsi: Do you feel alienated in the fashion industry? Because you have certain beliefs about how things should be?
Mowalola: Um, [laughs]. Yes, I do. But then I also feel like... It wouldn’t make sense for anyone to want to do exactly what I do because this is so particular to me. But I mean I guess I think of things, I guess I have more questions than [feelings of] not [being] understood. Cos I feel like I do everything that is required in an industry, and then I feel like I also do more than that, in my own way, you know? And I feel like maybe my industry is very afraid to confront the now. I guess this whole corona situation has given me time to think. Like wow, as soon as I came out of uni I’ve been fighting against them, which is why we could never be on the same side.
Odunsi: So the alienation is less “I hate everyone in my industry”, but more “all the things I want to change are the exact same things the people I consider my peers are doing.” Do you feel like they will have to catch up eventually? I mean, because of the pandemic, there are things that have been forced. I saw an announcement about Fashion Week changing...
Mowalola: London Fashion Week, they’re gonna bring both men’s and women’s together.
Odunsi: You’ve always championed that
Mowalola: To me it just makes the most sense compared to what they had in place. I just didn’t understand, why would I want to do two collections back to back just to be able to show at both women’s and men’s [fashion weeks]? Why should I have to pick either women’s or men’s to fit into place? I feel like I’m just showing the fashion industry that these rules don’t exist. Because I combined my men’s and women’s shows and it was just as strong as anybody else. Then I decided not to show, after showing for a year, and now everyone is like “ok, maybe we do less shows”. I guess I just wish people listened more and try to see other points of view, rather than being forced to see it when it’s the end of the road. Because…
Odunsi: It’s like constantly playing catch-up when we could all just be
Mowalola: On the same page
Odunsi: Setting the same pace
Mowalola: Because even now they’re acting like, “woah, this is actually the future”, but it’s still not. There are still conversations that could be had. But it’s almost like if I’m not loud [when voicing my opinion about this stuff] I’m not doing it. But I do it in a way where I talk about it when I need to talk about it, but I don’t scream it.
Odunsi: I don’t think you screaming it changes anything, I think that just makes you a screamer [laughs]. I think showing how things could be done is a better example. There’s one person we always fall back on whenever we talk about industry politics and [people] catching up to a vision, and that's Kanye West. He’s basically the Christ of..
Mowalola: He’s Jesus of the world
Odunsi: [laughing] of new design
Mowalola: [laughing] Jesus of everything. That’s the thing, he stood up [to the industry] so many times and it damaged him, because everyone was not ready to change. He did that – although he did it in his own way – he did that, and he’s done so much [more] for everyone else. So, now that Kanye is not in it anymore does someone else need to shout it?
Odunsi: I feel like there are different ways change happens. Before Kanye, there were revolutions in the fashion industry. It might not have been someone shouting it, it might have been like someone doing a show. For example, I’m sure McQueen dying definitely had an effect on the industry. Right?
Mowalola: I think it made things a lot more corporate and less about the art of the creation. A lot of art lost its soul.
Odunsi: Exactly, so I feel like at different points there is something that happens that is so strong and [impactful] that changes the entire trajectory.
Mowalola: Sometimes it’s a person, sometimes it’s a disease.
Odunsi: Like right now, it’s taken a whole pandemic for the world and a lot of industries to reconsider structures that have been in place for years.
Mowalola wearing Mowalola
Odunsi: Umm, do you naturally like to multi-task? Because you throw parties, you want to do movies, you want to do festivals, so many different things.
Mowalola: I think the way my brain is, it’s like if I’m doing something, it always figures out what else I can do to make this experience larger than what the initial thought was. If I design something, I might change it a couple more ways cos I feel like there’s still more that can be done to it. So, if I have an idea for a project I’m thinking “but wait I like doing this as well, so why not bring them together.” I guess I use my creative ideas to explore things that I’m interested in.
Odunsi: Adding different things together
Mowalola: Yeah, and like developing into...
Odunsi: into a bigger vision
Mowalola: Yeah. To me, it comes naturally cos I just see so much in a lot of things. I just want things to grow.
Odunsi: To spread, as far as you can push it.
Mowalola: Yeah, just as far as you can push it, because then once you are at that edge it’s gonna lead to something else. I constantly want to… not up myself, but just keep pushing myself, like that’s what I enjoy out of life. I don’t like routine. I enjoy [life] more when I’m gambling, when I’m taking risks.
Odunsi: As a Nigerian woman, or even just as a black woman excelling in her field, do you feel a responsibility to directly connect with young girls, to help them find [their] potential?
Mowalola: I guess I [already] do through my work, I do it through throwing parties. When I started making my films or just doing my collections, I would get messages from girls saying that seeing what I’ve done has made them feel like they can do anything and it’s led them to do what they want to do. Although, within my work I talk about things I’m [also] thinking about and that I want to share with people – I don’t necessarily know what the best way is to say it, but I know how to express it. So, I guess I do it like that. I think, with how frequent everything is always changing, that’s still going to be developing into a new language every so often. But I’m excited about that, it’s not something I’m scared of. I want to figure out new ways to talk to people. I never want to feel like I’m disconnected.
Odunsi: Do you feel like you have a higher purpose to utilize your talent?
Mowalola: I guess looking at my mum, looking at my grandma, and looking at someone like Grace Wales Bonner, seeing them do what they did, that did something for me. I can understand what seeing me and what I want to do can do for other people. But I feel like we can take it further than that, further than just seeing, [to the point] where we’re having actual conversations and talking. Cos I know that I deal with things best when I say it out loud, when I have a conversation with someone I trust, that can understand how I feel creatively, and can guide me. So I feel like with Nigerian girls, I know they’re capable of so much, and I understand why they have so much fear in them and don’t see themselves as being able to do certain things, cos we’ve all been there. I want to figure out a way to help them let go of that fear; because once you do it the first time, you just gain some kind of confidence that you just go. And you won’t even need validation [after that] because you’ll feel it…
Odunsi: Inside of you, that you have it
Mowalola: Yeah, it’s all a journey of trying to develop and grow. Like, you’re not looking left and right, you’re just focussed on what you are trying to get out of it at the end. I think the reason why Nigerians want more for themselves or think of different ideas of how things can be, or should be, it’s because of people like Fela, speaking about important issues. He was able to wield so much power within Nigerians to question certain things they wouldn’t have questioned before, and care more about their minds.
Deto [Black] has been my best friend since I was five and growing up in Nigeria, we’ve always been talking about the country, everything that’s going on – from people to government – and what could be done, what we could try to do to just do something. We see our parents, if they feel as stuck as they do, how do we think that we could even do anything? But I realized that me just being myself, and doing what I do, is doing something in its small way, and the more I can do maybe the more power I can acquire to bring back [home] and do more.
Odunsi: You’ve had a really busy few months. From the Silent Madness exhibition, to going out to LA to work with Kanye, to the Boiler Room collaboration, and a bunch of costuming of music videos in between.
Mowalola: You make it sound like a lot. I don’t even think about it.
Odunsi: I think it’s special. There are artists that are just having exhibitions, there are designers that are just doing runways, and there are people that just have parties. So, you doing all of that in such a short space of time... it’s kinda special. I mean, it’s not something to overly dwell on like “oh I did this and I did that”, but I think it’s really special, and it’s something that definitely even I am inspired by. It lets me think “yeah you know what, there’s nothing I can’t do and there’s nothing I can’t really go for.”
Before your last collection you broke your foot. What was that like?
Mowalola: Lowkey, I feel like God just needed me to chill.
Odunsi: You were too LIT!
Mowalola: I really feel God was just like “bitch you need to sit down, and like not go out and do what you want to do, you have work to do”, and I get that. So, when it happened I wasn’t even really that upset, cos I understood what it was.
I see my life as teachings, so if something is happening, then it must be for a reason, cos I work and move on my heart and my gut most of the time. I feel like when outside things are being shown to me it’s also part of what I need to be right now.
I didn’t think me breaking my foot was going to destroy anything that was coming for me, and it actually didn’t because I did a collection that I was completely happy with. I just wasn’t happy with my life at that time. I was happy that I got to sit down and get more in touch with my work and do more of that, but it also made me a little depressed because my relationship fell apart and I also felt like I became so dependent on people and I’m [usually] so dependent on myself. So, it really made me kind of have to depend on people again and trust people, and that was hard ‘cause I like to have full control all the time.
Odunsi: You know me, I’m always doing stuff or finding something to keep my mind occupied. Even after a record is done and I’ve achieved something, or someone I admire is like “oh this is fire”, I may not notice at the time but after a while I think back and I’m like “yo this is crazy, this is someone that I grew up watching”. Is it weird for you when people like Solange, Naomi and Kanye, people you grew up listening to or admiring, end up becoming fans of yours? Do you even think about it?
Mowalola: I don’t know. I think about it a lot and I still don’t know. I don’t understand it, but why am I even trying to understand it? Everyone – as much as someone is a celebrity and has success in what they do – they're actually still a person at the end of the day. Growing up, I realised that from early, so people I looked up to, I was never any super Stan of anyone. If I fucked with you, I liked what you did, I liked you. I would never try and put you on some pedestal, like you’re some...
Odunsi: Perfect person
Mowalola: Yeah. But someone like Kanye, the amount of things he has produced and the art he gave the world got me dreaming so big, in terms of things I can actually do. Being able to meet someone like that now was…[laughs] I dunno.
I kind of think life is like an actual dream, or a movie that just doesn’t make sense. I almost feel like I’m being played with. Like why is this even happening? Cos it’s not like I sought out for this specifically. But I realised most of the things you get are things you don’t even think about. When your heart is really in the right place and you’re creating from a real place of vulnerability, I think people are able to see that and connect with you. So, creating for yourself but to communicate with people is what I do. So it makes sense to me that I would communicate with someone like that because if I can communicate with people around me, then people I look up to, they should be able understand.
Odunsi: They should be able to relate to you too
Mowalola: Yeah, so the same way I looked at him and I was like “woah” I guess is the same way…
Odunsi: He’s finding things in you that he’s relating to
Mowalola: Yeah. It doesn’t mean I see myself as like…I try not to look at myself. I just try to do.
Odunsi: Do stuff, more that look
Odunsi: Yeah, I think that’s very important. Reflection should mostly be how you can deal with stuff better, rather than always what you’ve already done
Mowalola: I think I’m also quite curious about people. I get a lot of inspiration from just mixing and connecting with different energies. So it’s almost like I also wanna know, I wanna have a conversation with this person more than them accepting [me]
Odunsi: [More than] them even having to validate you
Mowalola: I wanna talk to you
Odunsi: Yeah, I relate to that a lot too. I’m like a conversation whore. There [are] so many people I want to ask so many questions. I don’t even care if no one ever knows we’ve spoken.
Mowalola: Yeah, it’s not about that. It’s very selfish, it’s for you. Cos there’s very few people that I think that about. I look around and I don’t really see that much shit that I’m like “wow this is amazing”, so when I do meet people like that, I’m like “wow, you are kinda sick, I wanna talk to you, I wanna know more”. I think most people should just see things like that – [cherish] human interactions more than like “I met a celebrity and this is our picture together”. Although if you’re gassed be gassed, have the truest emotion you have, but still remember that everyone is a person.
Odunsi: One thing that scares me, especially back home, when I meet people, I get this feeling of paranoia like “this person has probably heard something about me” or “this person already has an idea of what they think about me” and it might affect the way I even open up or have conversations because I’m not sure what the person knows, or thinks they know. Have you started to experience that?
Mowalola: I only just started realising now that people even think about me. That never really crossed my mind. I think when I meet people I’m just more… I don’t think about that. I’m more interested in the person than how they see me, you know? Cos I only really want friendships where it’s actually with people that I’m interested in.
Odunsi: Conversations are like currency in a way – in the sense that both of you leave with something. Do you go into exchanges with the mindset of: “I’m going to keep as much as I can” or “I’m going to give as much as I can”?
Mowalola: The way my personality is, my mouth is open as fuck. I will literally say everything. I will be very transparent with how I feel, I might tell you some things that I’ve been through. And this is me without thinking. Like, this is me just being myself.
Odunsi: Just being yourself, without calculation
Mowalola: Yeah, cos I don’t do much of that. But being in this industry and meeting people and realising “oh wow, not everyone is as genuine as you think”, people actually are just trying to collect information from you, rather than just get to know you. So, I feel like that has just made me a lot more cautious in how I express myself. Now I’m a bit more… I take more time to open up.
But I don’t know, I feel like, at the end of the day I’ll be okay. I feel like I’m protected. So I just try to still treat everything as childlike as I can. And then in that way maybe I don’t mix with so many people, maybe I only just mix with people sometimes. Like in a party, I think that’s the safest space for me because I don’t have to talk to you and we can dance together and we can vibe on something else, y’know?
Odunsi: When people make clothes that seem very similar to yours, I’ve seen your fans comment on social media with saying stuff like “just buy MOWALOLA” [laughs]. Did you set out to have such a signature aesthetic?
Mowalola: I don’t really set out thinking I want to make a signature thing. I just think “what do I wanna make?” I think that’s pretty much all. I’m not trying to set [myself] aside from anyone because I already know I’m not that person, that person is not me. They don’t have my mind, they don’t have what I’m thinking. So, I think I bet on myself more than I bet on what the climate of the world is [in relation] to accepting what I have to give. I’m gonna give what I’m going to give, people who understand it will understand it. I’m not in a rush to create something that’s available to everyone just yet. Because everything is still really special to me, I wanna take baby steps with everything.
At this point I don’t even get mad if I see something that’s similar to mine. Before it used to upset me because I was like “wow, I’m literally a kid trying to make a name for myself in this industry and you’re doing things before I even get a chance to do it on a big level?”. But I realised if I keep thinking like that then it will hurt the way I create, so I just need to let go. So I just try not to focus on “uhh, that looks like me”. I’m just like “it’s calm, it’s cool, I’ll just keep focussing on what I want to do”. Which is like “oh actually maybe fuck clothes this season, I wanna make a film. And I dare you to try and copy that”. So it’s okay. I feel like if you copy me, then it was meant to happen and I was meant to do something else because of that.
Odunsi: How do you think you can keep your essence as you grow, as a brand? Without being commercialized.
Mowalola: I mean, that’s the whole point of this current time. I’ve actually been able to really think about how I want to expand in my own way, not in industry standards, which has been so helpful. Cos all the things that are like [being] done ‘the right way’ are not necessarily things that are gonna move forward. So, it kinda makes everything “you can do what you wanna do” – it doesn’t have to be a certain way.
I do want to be able to be more accessible to more people, but I realize it’s all just gradual. I’m not in a rush to do anything. Before I was very much impatient, just because of how everything has been for me. Weirdly, there hasn’t been a thing that I’ve done that hasn’t been exactly what I wanted, so I wanted more and more and more. I had to pause and tell myself “you’re moving into a space that’s a lot deeper than where you were, so you actually need time to reassess and figure out how you’ll move in this space”.
Mowalola wearing Mowalola
Odunsi: Yeah, I completely understand that because I definitely have been thinking about it more. I want to share my voice with people, I want to hear what people have going on too. I feel like that is part of what makes us human, that’s part of what makes us alive. A lot of what has transpired in my career has been me isolating, which is because a lot of things I’ve been through personally, or the way people have approached me or treated me in my industry, it kind of made me reclusive to an extent. But I guess part of maturity is outgrowing certain experiences that may have weighed you down or made you make mistakes. So I feel for sure that that’s something I want to do.
Are you ever worried about letting people into your vision?
Mowalola: Do you mean [being] shy [when] showing what I want to do to people before I do it?
Odunsi: Yeah! Because I think that’s something a lot of young people struggle with. They always feel like because it’s a fresh idea it’s so…
Odunsi: Yeah, or you doubt yourself, like “this could be stupid”.
Mowalola: Umm, I think the way I have done things has been that way, so my past is kind of my safety net. I don’t feel shy about saying a wacky idea, cos I’m like “look that whacky idea is actually working, it’s worked every time, so why are we gonna keep it safe?” Like why not? I don’t think about “I have so much to lose”, I’m thinking about what’s to come. I don’t know and I’m excited. I guess some brands will be scared of that, but I’m not scared of that. I’m not shy. I think it’s important to say what you actually feel and what you think, rather than what you think people will wanna hear. Cos at the end of the day, they actually called you for a reason, you know? I think people need to bet on themselves more. Take more risks.
Odunsi: Ok, some questions from your family. Tiwa [Mowalola’s sister] says: “where do you get the confidence to be so unapologetic and fearless about the way you live your life?”
Mowalola: Umm, when I was growing up, I was very much myself and the kind of things I did I look back and I’m like “what the fuck, did you actually do that?”
I remember I did a talent competition in Lagos when I was in school there and I did hip-hop dancing in front of the whole school. Then when I went to boarding school I would think back on that Mowa, and I was just like “who was that person” and I’d be like “oh you were a kid so nothing was scary to you, but now you’re a teenager…” So I was in a place – when I was a teenager – where so many things were scary to me, cos I got to an environment which made me shrink myself and my personality and I was in this box for so many years. And [then] I got to a point where I knew what was happening to me and I had to be stronger than what was happening to me and be like “you don’t actually want this so what are we gonna do to get out of this”.
It wasn’t easy – I cried a lot – but I managed to take baby steps to be the person that I wanted to be. Even today, I’m still figuring out myself. Sometimes I feel fearless, sometimes I feel like “woah, I’m not so sure”, but I know that’s still part of being human and going through emotions. But I’ve just realised, not being confident only affects me, nobody else. And I care about myself the most, so I want myself to be good, so let me just do what I need to do so I’m not putting myself down. Like if I do something and it doesn’t work out I’m still proud of myself for doing that thing. I still look at the little things that I managed to overcome in myself, that’s more important to me than the world.
Odunsi: You should always still be proud no matter what. Ade [Mowalola’s brother] says, “is this where you pictured you would be in your life at 26?”
Mowalola: Hell no!
Odunsi: What did you picture for yourself?
Mowalola: I don’t even wanna say my picture!
Odunsi: No no no, say it!
Mowalola: My picture was defined by the time I was in, so it wasn’t actually what I wanted… I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted – I still don’t know what I want.
Honestly what I knew… I knew what I didn’t want. So I knew at 26 I wasn’t gonna have any kids. But I did think I’d be married. At least I’d be married, I don’t have to have kids till like I’m thirty but I’d be married and I’d be good. But [between] that age, when I decided those things, [and] now I’m 26, so many things happened in my life that I had to deal with on my own. So I made decisions on my own, like “wait, I actually like doing the thing that society tells you not to want to do and this is what makes me feel best!” I wanna continue living my life where I feel good, cos if I don’t then I’m doing myself a disservice. So, I don’t look down on anyone who decides to start a family, I feel like everyone’s life decisions are on them, but I know for my own happiness, it’s on this path that I’m on. And I don’t have any regrets for being what I am or doing what I’m doing. I’m really more excited about my future.
Odunsi: Your mum asks, “are you driven purely by ambition or pulled by a vision?”
Mowalola: Haha, tongue twister!
Odunsi: That’s so your mum, like so on brand!
Mowalola: Can you say that again?
Odunsi: “Are you driven purely by ambition or pulled by a vision?” Oh my god, the question is so on brand
Mowalola: Are you what?
Odunsi: “Are you driven purely by ambition or pulled by a vision?” I don’t even know what that means!
Mowalola: Oh I get what she means, but she doesn’t understand my ambition is the vision.
Odunsi: I get it… I think what she’s trying to say is, is it the need to create that’s pushing you or the fact that you can see the end already?
Mowalola: From the initial idea
Odunsi: From the beginning, yeah. I think that’s what she means
Mowalola: So what does the ambition have to do with that?
Odunsi: Ambition is just basically hunger!
Mowalola: Oh like! So it’s basically like people can have vision but they never do it so it’s the ambition that makes the vision happen?
Odunsi: So basically, for example, I feel like I’m driven by vision, where with me, I don’t necessarily need to feel the need to get successful to do something, I just understand that when I do it eventually it’s gonna make sense. Whatever I do, I feel like it may not catch up now, but eventually it will. But I think being driven by ambition is more like, [when] you wake up in the morning you feel the need to create.
Mowalola: Oooh, no, I don’t make shit just because I feel like I have to. But I don’t know, because even the way I look at the way I create, I push myself a lot when I need to.
Mowalola wearing Mowalola
Mowalola wearing Mowalola
*Seni walks in*
Mowalola: Hey Seni!
Seni: What are you guys watching?
Odunsi: Who Shot Andy Warhol
Mowalola: I Shot Andy Warhol
[Mowalola & Odunsi laugh]
Odunsi: Ok, so your dad says “what qualities are you looking for in a boyfriend?”
Seni: And he knew Odunsi was doing the interview, that’s why this is so funny.
Mowalola: Ummmm, daddy!
Mowalola: Okay, I’ll tell you the truth now. I actually just like people
Seni: Okay, I think I’m gonna leave now.
[Mowalola & Odunsi laugh]
*Seni walks out*
Odunsi: First of all do you believe in having a boyfriend?
Mowalola: Mm, I could have a boyfriend, I could have a girlfriend, I could have anyone. I believe in true love and real relationships between two individuals. I think I’m more attracted to minds than physical things.
Odunsi: [laughs] So you’re basically like all those Twitter girls with “sapiosexual” in their bios
Mowalola: I’ve never heard “sapiosexual” before
Odunsi: Basically it’s like “I’m attracted to the mind”, all of that
Mowalola: Yeah, I say that – I don’t seek out for it – I just say that because of what I’ve been through. I haven’t even shared my life with so many people cos I’m just like…
Odunsi: Very protective
Mowalola: Yeah, so I guess I’m not necessarily looking for certain qualities in a boyfriend because the person I was with last year is very different from the person I’m with this year
Odunsi: So you’re a player to the game
Mowalola: I’m a player, for life
Odunsi: Player for life!
Mowalola: What I know, what I’ve seen from my past, is that I’m attracted to people who… I thought “am I a groupie?” cos I’m attracted to people who make music, but it’s not that. I think people who make music have a certain energy that I like.
Odunsi: Or maybe you’re a groupie
Mowalola: Maybe they’re my groupies.
Odunsi: Maybe you’re a groupie
Mowalola: I’m not a groupie! Because it doesn’t mean… I don’t like them for their music, do you understand? A groupie likes people for their music. I don’t even care about the music, I might date you and not listen to their music
Odunsi: You don’t [have to] like the music but you like their mind.
Mowalola: I like their mind… Like I don’t listen to any of my exes music cos I wasn’t listening to her music before we got together. Like, it wasn’t about that. I think I like the fact that they…
Odunsi: Are very intelligent people. You like very intelligent people.
Odunsi: That’s what you like! You like very intelligent people that stimulate your mind, and make you feel like you can dream? [laughing] Is that what you’re trying to say?
Mowalola: I think so, I think so. That’s what makes me happy, so that’s what I like to do. Cos I’ve had a boyfriend and it was not what I wanted, like at all. It…
Mowalola: Wait, I think this needs to be said. It made me… I felt like I was very much… like I was single for most of my life until I had this boyfriend. I felt like in those single times I was spending more time growing myself than looking for a partner, so when I found this person I was also doing that with them. So, I was learning from them but I didn’t realise the way people were and how people can push their insecurities on your life and how it can actually affect how you grow or what happens to you. So I think when I realised that with the first ever boyfriend I had, I was like “I need to figure out a way that I can love and it wouldn’t have to be destructive towards me”. Cos I don’t want that. I’ve seen people get lost in their relationships, and for me I care more about creating than I do for anything else. So if I’m with you, you’re part of that. Me wanting to be with someone that’s intelligent, their intelligence adds to what I create. So it’s selfish but that’s what I like. I’m not mad about it.