You may or may not have heard of ABAGA VELLI – yet. The brand, which is part of the wider creative collective ABAGA House, has kept somewhat of a low profile since launching in 2019. Emphasis on the somewhat, though: ABAGA VELLI has also dressed big names such as Skepta, Burna Boy and John Boyega, to name just a few. Co-founded by art and creative director Ademide Udoma, the London-based brand places emphasis on making garments that are made to last. Functional, wearable and downright drip, we caught up with Ademide to discuss all things ABAGA.
Hey Ademide – Happy New Year! You describe your collective as a creative house – can you talk us through what this encompasses, as well as your vision?
Happy new year to you too.
ABAGA stands for ART BRINGS ACCESS GRANTS ASCENDANCE, with the VELLI stemming from the Votic idea of brotherhood; family. This narrative is key to understanding the ABAGA VELLI brand/movement’s overall vision and a fundamental tenet of my creative practice. The brand represents exploration, constant questioning & evolving through an array of creative outputs, and I guess you could say the clothing is the uniform for such an explorer.
Where did it all begin for you and the brand?
The ABAGA VELLI journey began in 2019 when my friend producer, songwriter & co-founder of ABAGA VELLI, Diallo Nehimiah Hasmat-AIi, approached me to creative direct and work with him on a clothing project. At the time, I was already working on a research design project in Nigeria under SILHOU ARCHIVE, which I used as the skeleton for the initial ABAGA VELLI patterns. We continued to develop it from there, working with gifted craftspeople in the UK. After creating the initial samples, my creative partner photographer Michelle Helena Janssen and I began working on the imagery and visual storytelling.
Community and culture seem to be at the core of your work. How do these considerations impact your creative process and the outcome?
Community & culture is everything to me. I grew up in a time of turmoil and conflict; building communities and strong friendships was a necessity for survival at a young age, and in so many ways, as I’ve grown, this thought process has continued to stay with me. As a result, I am building a community of open-minded people hungry to learn, develop and explore.
Your pieces are concerned with being functionally sound, as well as made to last. Can you talk a bit about this central concern?
Wearing clothes is more important than looking at them, in my opinion. How something fits and performs is how I base a successful design. I love to see the fall of a trouser more than the colour, if you get what I mean. A lot of the development of the clothes stems from this attention to detail and subjective taste, of course.
You’ve already dressed a number of big names, including Burna Boy and Skepta. Can you talk us through these projects and how they came to be?
Through my creative studio Udoma Janssen, we work with a lot of talent and do a lot of editorial and commercial shoots. A significant majority of these I style as well as direct. That being said, the Skepta COLORS outfit we made was a commission through his team Metallic and their art director Manu Pillai.
You’re also doing vital and much-needed work in nurturing emerging talent in ABAGA House. Can you talk to us a bit more about this enterprise, how it works and the young talent you’re excited about?
Through UJ and ABAGA, we focus a great deal on nurturing young talent. I always ask myself when I was 16 what would have helped me, and that’s how I operate. Giving opportunity is vital and creating a space for transparent, open conversation. I’m forever excited about talent, but here are some names to keep in mind; IVOR Alice, Charlie Benjamin, LOSHH Aje, Aheem Sosa, Lynn Hayleigh Ifeatu, iizaiah, Mattie Cozartt & Alia Hassan.
What’s next for ABAGA VELLI?
I’m currently working with the team to finish the first actual collection (not pictured). Everything so far has been narrative building, research & development. The first collection will be titled ‘COUP 001: ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE HORN’. It’s the beginning of a journey, a journey of self, spirit and retribution.