Spotlight: Nola Black Is Feeding The Independent, Expressive Woman
In our ‘Spotlight‘ series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.
In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian fashion brand, Nola Black. The Lagos-based clothing brand aims to further empower the and spread the stories and “ever evolving perspective of progressive African women” , as founder and creator Arinola Olowoporoku contexualisies in our conversation. Olowoporoku created Nola Black’s first designs and garments at the tender age of 17, and has yet to tire of finding ways to tell deliberate and truthful stories through her distinctive womenswear brand. With a core focus on her emotional journey through fashion, Nola Black has manifested as Olowoproku’s sexy, edgy best self as she tells stories from the female collective through her own personal life experiences. The brand is here to feed the mentally independent, utterly expressive and creative woman, and inspire a move towards her most authentic self. We spoke with Olowoporoku about how her start as a biotechnologist favors her today, and the ‘dreamlike state’ Nola Black’s latest collection communicates.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your background as an artist and the journey you’ve taken to get it to where it is today.
It’s ironic — I started my academic life as a cell biologist, and even let my passion follow me as far into getting a biotechnologist postgraduate degree. My journey as an informed artist started within that science expedition. Throughout my school life, I was obsessed with creating collages, art books, illustrating cartoon figures, and documenting events, and got to express myself through my style in university. I remember one morning, rushing for a chemistry class and I was thinking to myself, “Why don’t they make leggings with two different colors of legs?” So, I DIY’d a pair for myself that morning and wore it to class. It was really important for me to explore and define my style, as I was growing up in a conservative, less experimental, and grossly underdeveloped fashion scene and industry.
I began exploring through mixing and matching different colored socks and shoes and graduated to wearing eight different colors in one outfit. The idea was to look edgy and quirky in every and anyway possible. This creative curiosity led me to design and create Nola Black’s first collection at 17-years-old — and I haven’t stopped since.
What are the central themes in your work?
Generally, I create from an emotional place — truthfulness to emotions and vulnerability guide a lot of my passion and projects. Lurking very closely to the surface is my obsession with personal and collective memories and recreating, retranslation, preserving, and communicating them. It’s crucial to my work. At the core of Nola Black is a drive for deliberate expression, and we are deeply inspired by the stories around us and the lives and realities that we experience as a collective. All of this is executed from the ever-evolving perspective of progressive African women.
A recurring theme we explore significantly is the idea of duality. We have a fascination with the concept of ‘yin and yang’ which stems from some defining personal experiences in life. Everything we create is sourced from a place of deep introspection, an attempt to convert a feeling, an experience, or imagined events on a collective level, through storytelling and design. For us, that’s what makes Nola Black a highly distinctive fashion brand.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
The majority of the pandemic was extremely difficult — it was a creative “shutdown” for me. The global situation was emotionally exhausting, mentally draining and I took the time to really just exist with family – away from the outside world and social media. Closer to the end of lockdown, I started to express again and the first thing I created was the stream of consciousness for “Hey Stranger” Nola Black’s newly released collection. It was exciting and existed as a large A4 paper filled with doodles, words, and sketches of all I was able to process through the lockdown – the disruption, reconstruction, and rediscovery. I formed almost every detail from the collection this way and would say the pandemic opened me up to uncharted terrain which has made for an exciting creative process and experience.
How are you using fashion to translate African stories to a global market?
This is a critical reality for a brand like Nola Black as our designs and aesthetic are not necessarily the “expected” idea of African fashion. They’re not heavily traditional, handcrafted, or artisanal. The stories we’re telling are current, shifting, authentic African realities of our densely historied culture. We’re occasionally deconstructing, infusing, and retranslating traditionally African/Nigerian designs and concepts in our edgy, hybrid finished products. We believe it’s important to unbox brands coming out of Africa, and allow us to have whatever aesthetic we desire, while still carrying our success across because of our underrepresented stories and subsequently, our critical voices. The recent surge of global eyes on African creativity, begs for the representation of all types of creative outputs.
Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in this project?
Nola Black has an interesting relationship with color. We’ve released three predominantly black and white collections in the past — majorly stemming from our interest in the ideas of duality and the concept of ‘yin and yang‘. We used these colors to translate the idea of finding balance and peace in the midst of extremes. We also used them to master abstraction and concept development, as well as the all-encompassing idea that within black and white are all of the colors.
‘Hey Stranger’ has us doing a 180-degree shift and we heavily introduce color into this newly released collection. We quickly embraced this evolved direction, given our dedication to the truthful translation of wholesome stories. We use multiple fabrics in varying iridescent tones and hues to dominate this collection and to reflect movement and stillness in thought and form. The use of duotone reflective fabric evokes the idea of blurry memories, fleeting thoughts, and raw emotion. The color tones move from a dreary earthly tone, which portrays being stuck in a dreamlike state, with fuzzy memories of events yet to occur, to bright distinct colors indicating a sudden bloom.
How did you decide on releasing your latest project as a fashion film?
This is our second fashion film — and the experience gets more intense and engrossing each time. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re invested in telling the stories that inspire our collections, designs, and our existence. ‘Hey Stranger’ sets its sights on our global realities, home life as Nigerians, and the emotional influx youths navigate during a global pandemic. The project demanded audio and visual aspects to depict it first.