At CULTED, we love nothing more than creatives and designers who go beyond what is expected, those who create new and exciting pieces that challenge design norms. Few young individuals personify this more than 21-year-old Tega Akinola. Tega is a creative and university student who has captured the scene with her original takes on upcycled streetwear. She’s received a tonne of praise for her designs from her ‘Cable Stompers’; shoes adorned in discarded electrical cables to her ‘Nike Sock Sneaker’, a design that layers a Nike Air Force with patches of Nike Dri-Fit socks. The creative, whose work is currently stocked on APOC STORE, is putting a unique twist on the definition of ‘upcycling’.
We hit up Tega and chatted about her take on design, what upcycling means to her and how she started out.
Who is Tega Akinola?
I am a final year uni student but I’m just having fun with my interests and showing it to people on Instagram. Basically just trying to enjoy my side hobbies and trying to push it towards something I can actually do in the future.
Where did your interest in fashion and streetwear come from?
So my immediate family is very creative. My dad did graphic design at university but my mum really has a passion for designing and making clothes. So my general interest in fashion came from her, but in regards to streetwear, my older brother who is only three years older than me, we’re really close in age so anything he liked I would like growing up. So when he started getting interested in streetwear it kinda trickled down to me. I started to research a bit more about it and looked into the brands that I like and started to dress in a similar fashion.
What is your first sneaker memory?
The first sneaker I remember actually getting was probably when I was 10, my mum bought it for me and it was a champion sneaker, and it was pink and sparkly, which is not really my style now. But the first sneaker I remember actually buying with my own money was a pair of all-black Adidas superstars because they were trending at the time. So I bought those and they were okay but I think if I was to go back and buy my first ever sneaker it would be something different.
What was the reaction like when you debuted your upcycled Nike shoe/socks?
The reaction was mainly positive. I remember before I posted it I was really really nervous to post it because it was the first time I’d done something experimental and I had a feeling it would be polarising. But it was actually mainly positive and I’m still kinda shocked to this day because that kind of set everything off. I’m really happy that people seem to enjoy it so much.
What does upcycling mean to you?
Upcycling to me is taking what you already have or taking old things and making them new in different ways. I have this chance to make something new and I like to use it for a different function or a different style compared to what it was originally. But I think the main thing is to try to reuse and recycle as much as you can. For me, it kind of came from necessity really. As a student, I wouldn’t always have money to buy new things, so I would try to jazz them up and see how I could make them new again. I think that’s what upcycling means to me.
One of our favourite designs of yours is the faulty cables turned shoe, how did that come about?
That was really at the start of the first lockdown actually and I’d just moved home because of the pandemic. I was cleaning out my room and I found this bag of faulty cables, first of all, I was wondering why they were there and then remembered my mum likes to buy cheap cables and they obviously never last and she kept them for some reason.
I found the bag and I was about to throw them away but then something sparked in my head and I thought what can I do with these? The USB port for the cable, that reminds me of the ankle fastener of a shoe. Okay, if that’s the starting point, what else can I do with the cables? I was thinking about the actual wires, I could do line designs around the shoe. So then I went and bought the shoes, which actually wasn’t second hand regrettably, but I went and just did the design and that’s how the shoe came about.
What is the concept you’re most proud of?
The concept I am most proud of is the cable bucket hat I did in September last year. That one I actually got direct inspiration from this artist I found on Pinterest, called Pavel Sinev. He makes cable sculptures/cables out of sculptures, so I was thinking about how I could take inspiration from that and make it my own. I like fashion so how can I make wearable art with the cables, and that’s how that came about. That was actually a real challenge with the cable bucket hat because there were so many things to take into account like the placement of the zip ties and how you’re gonna place the cables on top of one another. That one really challenged me but it turned out pretty well and that’s why I’m most proud of it.
Walk us through your process from start to finish when making a garment? How long does this process normally take?
The start would be in the inspiration, thinking about how I would put my own spin on it and how I would make it Tega Akinola branded. Sometimes I do the designs, put pencil to paper but I’m not very experienced with that, sometimes it stays in my head. What I try to do is get the materials as quickly as possible, so I will literally search Depop or eBay to find second-hand things I can use, that comes in a few days. Making the thing from start to finish takes around a week because I have to balance my time between uni work. Then I take the picture, post it and hope for the best!
Tell us a little bit about your work being displayed on APOC STORE? How did that relationship start?
So last year in May, Ying of APOC STORE got in contact with me because she saw my cable stuff and she was telling me they were going to launch a new concept store called APOC STORE. At first, I was very reluctant to do it because they were talking about a July launch and I hadn’t sold anything at that point, I didn’t know anything about business so I declined at first. But then, thankfully she offered to talk me through how the partnership would go, and really mentor me throughout the process. We were having bi-monthly calls and she was helping me with the business side, like launching and scheduling and all those things. I was able to do that in December.
In hindsight, I’m really thankful that she pushed me because probably none of this would have come about if that hadn’t happened. Thankfully the response was really positive in what I put out to sell which is great. Shout out to Ying and Jules, they’ve helped me a lot.
What are your plans for 2021?
Once I finish university, I can’t wait to really go full time with what I’m doing and go crazy, develop more ideas and test the waters. It’s going to be pretty daunting, but when I’m doing uni work I realise how much I could be putting into my personal branding, putting content out there, putting things out to sell. I feel like I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it but I am planning some stuff in the meantime.
Lastly, what is your Favourite sneaker?
My favourite sneaker of all time? That’s a tough question. My favourite sneaker in my collection right now is the Nike Dunk Disrupt for women. That just came out a couple of months ago. That was like the first sneaker I actually planned for the drop because I was so excited to get it. I haven’t actually worn them that much but when summer comes I’m gonna be wearing them all the time.