Foday Dumbuya is celebrating untold stories with Labrum London

Foday Dumbuya is celebrating untold stories with Labrum London

by Ollie Cox
11 min

Labrum London founder, Foday Dumbuya is at ease when he answers a mid-morning video call, wearing a black sweater, and black-framed round glasses, the sun beaming through a partially drawn off-white curtain behind him. He speaks calmly despite Labrum London being in the final stages of its Spring/Summer 2025 collection, a pop-up store opening in the week following our interview, and a 40th anniversary London Fashion Week activation to prepare for –a calmness he pins to his running regime, which sees him regularly run marathons and half marathons. 

Labrum London was founded in 2014, with the aim of using his West African-meets British tailoring design approach to tell stories about African art, migration, and the lived experience of immigrants. Since 2014, Labrum has quickly catapulted to the top end of the London Fashion Week schedule, and has been involved in some hugely sought after adidas collaborations. While getting the fashion set on board is one thing, Foday Dumbuya’s work has transcended the clicky cool crowd, and captured the attention of a bigger audience, most notably from the Royal Family. 

In May 2023, Dumbuya received the Queen Elizabeth Award from King Charles for his services to fashion, with a performance curated by the designer following the ceremony. In a post shared to Instagram following the award, he explained how “fashion is an integral part of what makes our world beautiful and diverse.”

This diversity is continuously explored with Labrum, with his “Designed by an Immigrant” mantra reflecting his personal experience as a migrant from Sierra Leone, making London his home – where “two cultures that are embedded in your own life” continue to inform his creative output. In his own words, “Designed by an Immigrant” is a “platform that celebrates the work that immigrants do and continue to do.” 

Courtesy of Labrum London ©

When asked how important storytelling is to Labrum, Dumbuya responds without hesitation, quickly asserting its fundamental role in its output. “Stories are paramount. So if we don’t have the story, we don’t create the garment because it doesn’t make any sense for us,” he shares. 

And while getting the nod of approval from proper Buckingham Palace royalty is pretty massive, Dumbuya got the thumbs up from his childhood hero Ian Wright last year. With the help of adidas, Wright opened his Spring/Summer 2024 collection, which as a lifelong Arsenal fan (well, after a brief stint as a Crystal Palace supporter until Wrighty went North of the river), was a proper pinch me moment. 

For more insights from Foday on footie, fashion, designing as an immigrant, adidas collabs and more, keep reading to see what we got up to. 

Let’s start off with a retrospective question. “Labrum” stems from Latin, meaning to have the edge. Being in the fashion industry is sort of a double-edged sword, having to both stand out to tell your own story and also fit in because, at the end of the day, you need sales. After a decade of Labrum London, how have you kept that “edge?”

I know we said a double-edged sword. For us, the edge is more of a detail-oriented [thing] that we talk about. So if you think about it when I talk about the edge, it derived from a place where the devil is in the details, so that was our tagline. I always talk about that as a thing that we do. So, in terms of the craftsmanship and all the detail that gets put into our pieces, our garments are what we were referring to rather than being the edge or edgy. So we were talking about that.

Everything we do kind of stems from that sort of tagline; the edge is in the detail, and that’s all kind of referenced back to when I was researching to find out the name of the brand, I was looking for a word that connects back to the edges in a detail.

Community is a word that’s being tossed around a lot in fashion, often using the term wrongfully, but not in Labrum’s case. How and why do you think your community has managed to stay so strong and connected?

I think, yes, you’re right. I hate how that word has been mentioned so much because I think during COVID it became the buzzword people just used to kind of connect with consumers. From the origin of the brand, we have always [thought] about how we play a platform for our community to kind of thrive in. It was just natural, we connected with that community because we tell stories that relate back to them. We create garments that connect back to those stories, and once you relate to something, it’s easy to become a fan of it. That’s what happened in this case. The community that we sort of embody and connect with has always been part of our journey. 

So it’s just people joining that community as we go along. The more exposure we get, the more places that we are connected. [Then] it keeps growing, and they can see it’s authentic because we tell West African stories, we tell London stories, we tell stories about British tailoring with West African flair. When they collide, it has this thing that is born out of it, which people relate to. 

Your community shines through during your runways, where you’re able to tap into those big names that stand for something much bigger than themselves, such as having Ian Wright walk your SS24 show. How did you manage to swing that?

Yeah, it was. We’ve been trying to get [Ian Wright] to come to a Labrum show or do something [with the brand] because he was my childhood hero when I came to England at the age of 11 or 12. I lived in Denmark Hill and the first person I connected to in football was him playing for Crystal Palace. I chose Crystal Palace as my football team, and he left to move to Arsenal. I followed him to Arsenal, so he’s always been part of my life, and I’ve been trying to always get him, but he’s always on the road, and not around. So when adidas spoke to me about a project, I said to them, “Look, I can do that, only if you can get me Ian.”

What happened was there was an Arsenal vs. Everton game that he was working for the BBC Match of the Day and that game got cancelled for some reason. That’s how Ian was available to walk for us. And when I met him for the very first time, he was just literally that guy. 

Courtesy of Labrum London ©

Does football impact your designs? 

I live for football. So yeah, football has always been in my life. [It has] always been my background. I can say I played up to semi-pro football for Southgate Olympic and it was just one of those things [that wasn’t] meant to be. 

Is there anything you bring from the pitch to your brand? 

Yeah, definitely. There’s a couple of things. It’s movements. Movement is something that I [reference throughout my work], whether it be movement of people or movement on the pitch to keep your mind stimulated. These are things I think about when I think about sports, when I think about football. I think about the way players interchange.

It’s like what we do, even when we do edits on some of our films, it has that electric energy and these are things that I always think about when we design and when we think about how culture intertwines with garments and shapes and stuff like that. So it’s all part of our lives.

What strikes me the most about Labrum is its strong storytelling, no matter what the focus of the seasonal story is. When designing a collection, does the story come first or do the clothes you create help inform the story?

The journey starts from the story, [and] then we kind of weave that into the garments because without those stories, [the] garments wouldn’t exist. For example, when we talked about freedom of movement, that story started from looking at my journey, how people move and when they move 2000 or 5000 miles away from home, moving to a new neighbourhood or to a new country, starting a new life, but also embedding their own culture within that culture. And [asking] “what does that look like when that becomes something?” Because you’re not talking about your own culture. You’re talking about two cultures that are embedded in your own life. Those are the things that inform me when I come up with ideas to design.

The main story is the one you’ve made a mantra: “Designed by an Immigrant.” What has been the main reaction to that? How do people react when they see that tagline on their products?

Yeah, it’s a very important concept for the brand. It’s on its own because it’s more like a concept than anything else. I’m an immigrant myself because we migrated years ago. That journey of coming to a different world and starting a new life, It’s always been sort of daunting because you’re leaving everything behind that you know and starting something in a new culture, in a new environment. But those people that actually move, they’re never celebrated. They either get demonised or get told they come to a culture to take a job. When I was growing up, the narrative that you saw in the mainstream media was that immigrants are coming to take your job. It was is all negative connotations, so for me, I look around and I look at how immigrants have become part of the fabric of our society. 

It’s not celebrated enough. It’s the things that they bring into our lives. I wanted to celebrate that. That’s why I’ve got “Designed By An Immigrant.” It’s not just designers, it’s everyone that adds value to society. [That’s] what I want to celebrate, and showcase the beauty about how immigrants change the way we look at things. 

Courtesy of Labrum London ©

Not only do we get a feel for your artistic vision through LABRUM collections, but also in your collabs with adidas, which included a Samba and a Stan Smith. How do you go about redesigning such a timeless classic?

Those shoes are very timeless. For me, relating that shoe back to my community and my culture is by referencing it back to things like the mask that I added to it. My mum [and dad are from the two biggest tribes in Sierra Leone]. So, you know, I feel I can bring those to life, just like our community means so much to me because that’s where I’m from. So I’m like, “how can I integrate that into this iconic shoe to bring those stories back to life?” That’s why we made sure we put one of them on the Stan Smith and then the other on the Sambas. It ignites that energy. That’s why everyone is really chasing those shoes, wanting to get a hand on them, but there were only a few that [were] released. Mixing adidas’ culture with my culture was pivotal to bringing the collaboration to life. 

If you could collaborate on one shoe, which one would it be? 

[The] Superstar, without a doubt. I need to recreate my journey. It was the first time I connected with adidas on a level of being independent. 

Lastly, what are you currently working on that you can tease with us? SS25 on the way?

There’s an exhibition I’m working on called “Designed by an Immigrant” it will be at 180 Studios. We just opened a store in Soho. Obviously, the SS25 collection we’re working on which falls under the theme of “A Journey of Triumphs.” It’s in the same line as “Designed by an Immigrant,” but we always have a subedit for the show. It will showcase the joy of struggles and what comes out from the other end when you go on this journey of travel, movement, and migration. I’m really excited for the store because I designed [it] myself.

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