Meet the minds behind PITH Africa
making sustainable fashion in Lagos
making sustainable fashion in Lagos
These days, Nigeria’s creative scene is as inventive as it is highly collaborative. In the fashion space, which continues to bubble with a new edge, collaboration is invaluable to curating great pieces and a unique brand identity. With this spirit imbued into its very foundation, PITH Africa is one of the more unique brands to have emerged in the last few years.
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Spontaneously conceived on a night out in 2017, while in university, friends Nezodo, Ojemen Cosmas and Adedayo Laketu formed PITH Africa through common affinity and a collectively evolving vision. This shared passion seems to have only grown stronger, and broader over the years. They all have a commitment to surpassing any creative limits and instead seem to use fashion as a medium to explore different forms of their creativity.
Part of this artistry is displayed through their poignant short films. ‘Dilly 1’, a short created by the trio was borne out of their unconventional way of releasing their collections. Since the birth of their first collection, PITH have also created ‘Dilly 2’ and ‘Dilly 3,’ which aptly serve as references to their state of mind. “The first was the inception, the second was more us digging deeper into what PITH is to us. The third collection started when we took a hiatus and came back with a more reformed focus,” Ojemen Cosmas, the brand’s creative director tells the NATIVE.
Indeed it feels like PITH is a brand that is still in the middle of a great journey and transformation. Through talking to them, it feels as though we’ve taken a peek beneath the chrysalis to observe a unique metamorphosis that is taking shape right here in Lagos, Nigeria.
Their different roles within PITH also allow them to contribute to its unique growth in their own ways. Adedayo, Nezodo and Ojemen work as the Artistic Director, the Head of Operations and Creative Director respectively. While their roles may be varied, they all coincide in prioritising the expression of the artistic vision of the brand.
Operating any kind of business in Nigeria is not an easy task, but running a fashion brand is particularly difficult. Getting consistent access to the necessary materials has been a struggle for them and is something they need to deal with frequently during their day-to-day. However, all three co-founders and friends seem to be taking these challenges in stride.
Their goals for their brand seem to have only strengthened, as PITH aims to compete with large fashion houses with international recognition, while still maintaining sustainable practices. Through their success, they aim to prove to other young Black creatives that their dreams are within reach. Their focus on cultivating their community is what allows them to be so determined–as gleaned from an Instagram account titled ‘peoplewearingpith’ which has featured notable faces such as BOJ, Blessing Ewona, Matthew Blaise and more. It certainly seems that with the strong backing of their community and the drive of its core team that PITH Africa aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
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NATIVE: Could you please tell me a bit about yourselves and how you all met each other?
Ojemen: We actually met in university. I think this was 2015, I actually met Nez first. I think I met Ade through Nez, it was on a random night. We had this wild conversation about fashion in Nigeria and our influences, we shared similar perspectives. At that time Virgil Abloh was pushing the Off White movement and it was an idea we all related to, shifting narratives using streetwear. It was something within the black community and how streetwear is not seen as luxury. His narrative of breaking down that idea was something we all vibed to. We ended up having this conversation about fashion and how we wanted to make an impact on the fashion community in Nigeria. By the next day we just founded PITH. It was like you know what let’s just do this now, let’s just start a company and see how it goes. There was no name but we were like let’s just do this.
NATIVE: Speaking of the name, I don’t think a lot of people know what PITH means. What does PITH mean in a general sense, and what does it mean to you as individuals?
Ojemen: PITH is actually an English word. I think there are two meanings. One is essence and the other one is the innermost layer of the plant, the part that lets it grow. So from a general standpoint you can see that PITH is a fashion company that is connecting the world to Africa using clothes, fashion style and community building. Aside from what we’re doing with the brand, for me PITH was like our personal awakening. Being able to explore different ideas using fashion has helped me develop myself.
Adedayo: For us there weren’t so many brands when we started as kids. Now you have Vivendii, Kenneth Ize. In 2015, there weren’t so many subcultures like if you grow up in America, as a skateboarder you rocked with Supreme. We didn’t have subcultures that tapped into the individualism of the youth. That was where we really connected with Off White, they were identifying with people in fashion that luxury didn’t identify with.
We felt like our generation was changing, there was a new era of young people coming up. With that new era, there’d be a new style taking shape. We weren’t all going to wear traditional clothes and it’s not every time you’d want to shop on ASOS. We wanted to build a brand that was African but eventually could cater to our generation and individual expressions, but also have the culture of a brand like Nike. In this generation, we’re dreaming to build companies that can rival the Western conversation. The name is very organic because we wanted to express something that had a high quality.
NATIVE: What role do each of you play at PITH and how do you ensure that everyone’s creative vision is represented in the final output?
Adedayo: I’m the artistic director. Our roles are kind of intertwined, but I mostly help with the artistic vision and how the vibe comes out. We don’t really see ourselves just as a fashion company, but a company that creates products and experiences. We have a joke that we eventually want to be able to just put PITH on a brick and have people still buy it. Like how people are obsessed with the latest iPhone, to create that enthusiasm for our product.
Nezodo: I work as the Head of Operations and as the Style Director. I’d like to say we consider ourselves designers first, that’s how we’re able to come together with this idea. I basically ensure everything that makes a good product down to its quality control.
Ojemen: I work as the Creative Director. Like Ade said our roles intertwine. Basically focusing on our products and how it influences how the brand is perceived.
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NATIVE: Has streetwear always been something all the founders have been interested in?
Ojemen: For me, yeah. I vibed with streetwear. But on the flip side, I’m a womenswear designer. PITH is not even a streetwear brand. I feel like the phase we’re in right now, we’re here because this is the way that we know how to interpret our ideas. In the next few years, there could be multiple fronts on which we explore fashion. As we grow as people the brand also grows. I don’t know if you’ve seen our collaboration with Kkerelé but it isn’t streetwear. But regardless of that, streetwear has really informed our ideas of fashion.
Nezodo: My first advent into fashion was actually streetwear. It informs our design ethos but that doesn’t make us a streetwear brand. We want to play around in the four walls of fashion. We’ll always want to make anything that can be considered a product for us. The end goal is creating something more elaborate.
Adedayo: This is why we love Virgil. He expanded the idea of streetwear. For us, streetwear is not about jeans or T-shirts, it’s an idea and a narrative. Our first call of action when we started PITH was to communicate directly with young people. The easiest way to do that was to use a subject that everyone could relate with. Everyone wears T-shirts, jeans and trucker hats. But we’ve made things that are not streetwear. For us, the basic Nigerian fashion outside of traditional wear is streetwear. That was one of the things we were trying to tap into, the fact that even when you want to buy basic clothing, you have to go online to ASOS. WAFFLESNCREAM have started making boxers now. That shows a lot for the community because before them, I didn’t know any Nigerian brands where you could be like ‘Mom I want to get their boxers’. For us, it was about filling certain gaps. The young person now just wants clothes they can wear from a brand they trust. When the next generation grows up, they can say ‘I want to get PITH’ for anything they want.
NATIVE: What was the first collection you created?
Nezodo: The first collection was called ‘Dilly.’ Before making clothes, we wanted to make something that we felt more comfortable in. ‘Dilly’ to us meant acceptance. We wanted to accept our own identities first. We’re Nigerians, we’re from Africa, we’re black. We wanted to tap into that essence by making clothes that tap into our personalities. We used brown earth tones. We wanted people to know you can wear your own skin, clothes that are comfortable.
Ojemen: The collection is actually ongoing. When we started we didn’t want to use the conventional seasonal collections, we don’t really have winter here. When we first started our plan was not really to shape globally, it was more focused on the environment around us. We also wanted to create an ongoing conversation. If you check our story so far, we’ve released three Dilly’s. The first was the inception, the second was more us digging deeper into what PITH is to us. The third collection started when we took a hiatus and came back with a more reformed focus.
We’re focusing on sustainability a lot, which is a core part of the third chapter. We see Dilly as a book that is ongoing. The plan is as we grow we release each chapter. At a point we’ll finally stop Dilly. The real conversation is when we stop it, we’ll have finally graduated as a company. We’d have reached a certain stage where we can play on a more solid global level. Until then, we want to keep telling this ongoing story. As we’re graduating and reaching more boundaries we’re touching more Dilly’s. Each Dilly shows a new light of PITH. We’re very big on communicating to young boys ‘this can be you, you can start a brand’. That’s why the collection is called Dilly, which means remarkable.
Nezodo: The idea for Dilly was also to deconstruct the idea around dropping collections. At the end of the day not every brand can sustain a full collection. It gives us a space to curate.
Ojemen: The fashion scene is having a conversation about how collections are kind of irrelevant. Like Jacquemus, he’s been doing pop ups and unconventional ways of release. It’s funny because we just did that because of vibes but the fashion scene is catching up. So I guess we’re ahead of our time!
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NATIVE: In your Instagram bio, you mention that PITH is “art” created through fashion, imagery & experiences which are inspired by Africa’s evolving identity. Let’s unpack that a bit. Can you tell me a bit more about why each PITH clothing item is seen as an art piece?
Ojemen: We’re taking layers of emotions and embodying it with the clothes. Our first ever strap bag we dropped, it was because at that time, we were going through a lot and we felt that this was something everyone could relate to. The basic idea of the bag was to extend ideas to the bag. It comes with a marker for you to scribble on it. In that you’re extending part of you to the bag. It becomes more than just a bag, but an extension of yourself. It also applies to a lot of other products.
Nezodo: For every product we release, there’s a narrative that comes with it. We’re trying to make people understand why they should buy this product. At the end of the day, anyone that owns a PITH product, is indirectly communicating with us.
NATIVE: What are some of the factors that contribute to Africa’s evolving identity?
Ojemen: Our main focus is a new generation of Nigeria. 60% of the country is under 30. It’s basically a new age that has a different mentality. When I was growing up, I didn’t know a brand like PITH, but there are more brands doing what we’re doing. We’re laser focused on connecting with this generation and asking them questions like ‘What does it mean to be a skateboarder in Nigeria? ‘What does it mean to be gay in Nigeria?’ ‘What does it mean to be yourself?’. Those are the conversations we have about being a company that is new age and caters to this new generation.
NATIVE: Has owning a brand changed your views on fashion in any way? In regards to the industry, or your personal style?
Adedayo: For us, it has opened conversations about what is going on in Nigeria. If there’s anything we’ve complained about, it is that the supply chain in Africa is really non-existent. Like every other thing in Africa, there’s no real structure coming from a third world nation. It is very difficult trying to compete with a brand like Supreme or Balenciaga when you can’t even guarantee light to produce your clothes. Other than that, we’ve not really changed in how we create because PITH is like an extension of ourselves, so we’ve never deviated from making what we f– with.
Nezodo: For me I don’t think it’s changed. I think it just makes me more informed. The only thing I’d say has changed is how we create our products and how we interpret everything that goes on within our creative space. For me, I think creating in this space made me even more informed about my personal style. At the end of the day, fashion should be a mood, a feeling or an emotion.
Ojemen: Owning a fashion brand has definitely made it easier for me to have more clothes. It’s also helped in exploring my personal style. I feel like I’m more in tune with myself now because I have more access to a variety of ideas and access to ways to execute them. In terms of how it affects the brand, it has given me more of an insider perspective into what owning a fashion brand should be. Definitely, you’re making clothes but also conceptualising what you are making those clothes from. I feel like because I own a fashion brand now, it’s important to use that to voice emotions and communicate, sort of like activism. It’s not easy to create from here, so I feel like if you’re someone with any influence you should be able to use that to better where you’re coming from.
NATIVE: What is the most challenging part about running PITH’s operations in Nigeria?
Ojemen: Access to supplies. That’s one of the reasons why we moved into sustainability. When we were trying to make clothes, getting fabric from the market was so inconsistent. You could not go to say ‘I want this specific fabric in this specific way’. Access to capital is also another thing and we’ve been bootstrapping for a while.
Adedayo: It all boils down to where we’re from. We’re from a third world country. At the end of the day, accessibility is something quite far fetched. We’re leaning backwards a bit to figure out our supply chains because that’s where our major problems come from. Where to source things we require. That has taken a toll on us. Even down to artisans. There is no database. Being able to figure where to source these things would take us to a whole new level in PITH.
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NATIVE: Could you tell me more about showcasing PITH at Homecoming. What did that experience mean to you and your community?
Nezodo: That means a whole lot of guerrilla marketing. It allowed more people to come into our space and we were able to continue our conversation about what’s going on in PITH offline. It gave us a lot of exposure and the opportunity to connect with likeminded people, who are trying to create multi-billion dollar companies. We keep looking forward to more because at the end of the day it’s free PR.
Ojemen: It’s just about having that accessibility. What pop-ups do for you, they allow you to be shown to a different audience. Alara is a luxury store that is used to seeing Kenneth Ize, so it gave us access to that market. Homecoming did the same thing, obviously its a more diasporan, leading to a global conversation. In the long term, we want to have direct conversations with these brands we’ve showcased alongside but at least now, PITH is also part of the conversation. We also did P’s & Q’s which is our own party or pop-up experience.
We believe creating experiences is very key. We don’t only want you to communicate with the clothes online, we want you to feel like you’re a part of the community which is a strong word we use a lot. The first edition of P’s & Q’s we did, we did it with Quacktails, the bartending company. It was a safe space for members of the LGBT+ community, skaters, musicians, creatives, people that didn’t feel at home in the conventional mainstream space. They felt at home in our own curated environment. Experiences like those are our own way of having a conversation with our audience, asking them ‘how are you feeling? Come and unwind with us. Come and interact with us more intimately than just online. Anyway we can put that into the world, be it by pop-ups, or curated experiences, we will do it.
Ojemen: We have never felt limited in our community. We’ve always had a direct conversation with young people. We’re one of the few brands that used an LGBT+ film as a way of conversing with our audience. We’ll never just make T-Shirts, we’ll never just make jeans. As long as we feel like the people we communicate can relate to what you’re doing, we can always find a way to implement that in PITH. As long as we feel it’s something that calls to the youth in us, we’re always going to keep stretching and expanding our views on what we can and can’t do.
Adedayo: I think we’ll never go astray because at the end of the day PITH is an extension of who we are, we’re a storytelling brand. We always want to engage more people. By every product we release, by every experience we have, by every space we walk into we want our presence to be felt. You should not be able to define exactly what PITH is. Clothes don’t define us. We aren’t just a fashion company. We’re a product’s company. We want to be able to release products and let people tap into the idea of why we released them in the first place.
NATIVE: What are your hopes for the future of African and specifically Nigerian fashion?
Ojemen: One thing we hope is that going forward we embrace the idea of collaboration. I think Nigerian are still trying to be like ‘i’m trying to build my own thing.; i feel like for the industry to really go, collaboration is where it’s at. I think that’s something PITH is trying to do more of. It does a lot for visibility, for ideas, for community building. That’s what Nigerian brands should look to. It doesn’t even have to be with another African brand.
What’s the future like for PITH?
Adedayo: Becoming a multi-billion dollar company.
Nezodo: At the end of the day, we’ve been inspired by brands like Off White, Louis Vuitton, Yeezy and Balenciaga. We want to be able to create these brands from these four walls of Africa, Nigeria, Lagos as Black people. We want people to realise you can create a sustainable brand that can represent taste levels like brands in the Western world. We want people to understand that if we can do this, you can also do this. We want to change the whole narrative.
Ojemen: On a more short term basis, we’ll be looking to strengthen our conversation within sustainable practices. Building systems that enable us to properly implement some of these things. We’re looking at even collaborating with more sustainable brands such as This Is Us which is based in the UK. We have something coming with another sustainable brand called R&R collective. Most importantly, we’re really passionate about pushing the message of care and preservation to our community. It’s a simple idea but if you care more about simple things like your environment, it goes a long way. We are trying to push that narrative with the clothes and our sustainable movement.
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Featured image credits/NATIVE