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 

SORO SOKE: Diaspora '68' Collection by Tolu Coker
'SORO SOKE: Diaspora '68' Collection,' by Tolu Coker. Creative Direction: Tolu Coker. Styling: PC Williams. Shoes: Manolo Blahnik
(Image credit: Ade Coker)

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

Diaspora ’68’ Collection by Tolu Coker

(Image credit: Ade Coker)

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.’ 

SORO SOKE: Diaspora '68' Collection by Tolu Coker

(Image credit: Ade Coker)


A version of this article appears in Wallpaper’s October 2021, 25th Anniversary Issue (W*270), on newsstands now and available to subscribers – 12 digital issues for $12/£12/€12.
Meet more creative leaders of the future nominated by artist Theaster Gates here.

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.