Tolu Coker: the artist creating clothing for equity and social change
British-Nigerian fashion designer and multi-disciplinary artist Tolu Coker discusses clothing and identity as Theaster Gates names her one of 25 creative leaders of the future in Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project
Although only 26, the British-Nigerian fashion designer Tolu Coker is already poised for greatness. A graduate of Central Saint Martins’ BA in fashion design and textile print programme, Coker launched her eponymous fashion label in 2018 and has since used it as a vehicle for creating equity and social change.
‘I’ve always been interested in the concept of identity and the role which clothing plays in how we navigate and perceive ourselves and others in society. Clothing is such a significant part of our identities, it creates a visual commentary of who we are at any given time, and plays into the perception of how the world sees us,’ she says. ‘I consider myself more of a multidisciplinary artist, with clothing being just one of the many forms through which I have conversations.’
Tolu Coker: creating for equity and social change
Coker’s vision for her label has been largely influenced by her time spent interning and working in the fashion industry at other labels. ‘I felt like the industry had a tendency to design around ideals and ideas of a person or consumer that didn’t exactly exist; one which we were expected to aspire and assimilate to, as opposed to drawing inspiration from real experiences and interactions with people that exist,’ she reflects.
‘I’m British-born, with parents of Yoruba descent and so part of my identity derives from this fusion of different cultures. I’ve come to learn that many other people across the diaspora may relate to this notion of their cultural identity being particularly complex, fluid and nuanced. I personally for a long time felt disconnected from the fashion industry, but felt connected to craftsmanship and design. Establishing my own label was rooted in trying to create a safe, inclusive and diverse space that I felt myself and others could exist in and explore autonomy in fashion.’
Rooted in community, craftsmanship and cultural inclusion, Coker’s label is vibrant and sophisticated in both ethos and silhouette. The largely genderless collections are backed by sustainable practices that include manufacturing locally, ensuring fair wages are paid and using deadstock fabrics and upcycling waste materials where possible.
‘Tolu’s work is absolutely amazing. It is bold. It is feminine,’ says artist Theaster Gates, who tips her as one of 25 creative leaders of the future in Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project. ‘I love that there is a part of her work that references so many great Black moments at the same time. She is a fierce advocate for Black models and models of colour. I’m extremely moved by her.’ §