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Vendor Spotlight: BOUTIQUE POP UP

Written by Astrid Superstar


For their Fall 2023 season, the Fashion & Beauty Retail Boutique at Fashion Art Toronto is returning to the Fashion Playground, bigger and better than ever. In addition to the brands that are partnering with the organization, they are also focusing on highlighting a selection of African businesses in partnership with The Boutique Pop Up.


The Boutique Pop Up was conceptually created by Oge Ahanotu (designer of Ula the Label) in collaboration with Fashion Art Toronto. This season will be its first iteration ever, and will be bringing us a luxury shopping concept featuring an impressive selection of independently-run, Black-owned Canadian brands, encompassing the spectrum of luxury goods.


Shoppers at the Fashion & Beauty Retail Boutique at Black Creek Assembly, Spring 2023.

Photography by Daniel Cha.


“Last year was such a success that we have decided to add an additional 400 square feet of retail space that will feature a secondary pop-up experience showcasing Black owned designers and businesses,” says Haley Benoit, FAT’s Retail Manager. “In doing so, we are able to elevate the Fashion Playground experience for our guests and offer a wide range of beauty products, accessories, fashion and art.”


As the labels represented primarily operate online and through social media, The Boutique Pop Up is a chance for them to “exhibit and sell their products in a physical setting,” Ahanotu explains, promising to offer a “vibrant and engaging experience for both brand owners and consumers.” She hopes to “provide a memorable shopping experience that celebrates the rich cultural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of Black brands.”


“I believe there’s a gap between emerging African and Black-owned brands and the Canadian market. The goal is to close this gap and a lot of the brands we are working with, I personally love and have shopped with and admired. It’s really exciting to have an opportunity to work directly with them.“


After Fashion Week, Ahanotu plans to take The Boutique Pop Up to other events, as well as someday hosting ones themselves. We will be taking a look at three Nigerian based brands who will be providing their designs for the Retail & Beauty Boutique, delving into their individual efforts to create responsible, ethical fashion as well as their passion for bringing African-inspired style to the Canadian market.



ULA THE LABEL


Helmed by Oge Ahanotu herself, Ula The Label aims to celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of African culture and fashion, while also creating sustainable and ethical garments. Ahanotu had a vision of creating a fashion label that reflects her design and style sensibilities, ultimately launching her brand in 2021.



Left: Models wear the Jetta Ruffle Dress [L] and the Tiffa Mini Ruffle Dress [R].

Right: Models wear the Shakura Baggy Pants [L/R] and Shakura Oversized Shirt [R].

Images sourced from Instagram.



Ula The Label provides bold, modern designs for the empowered wearer who isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd. Their designs are both practical and refined, adding a touch of flair to everyday wear. The simple yet stylish elegance infused in their tops, bottoms, dresses and sets affixes a touch of whimsy to the conventional. Their line of jewelry (in sister brand ULA) encompasses everything from top to bottom, presenting a variety of accouterments made of metallics, pearls, or vivid resins to truly customize any outfit for every occasion.


As a child, Ahanotu would cut up her mother's garments and transform them into new ones - “to give them new life”. This ethos would follow her into her career, as Ula The Label is proud to embody a variety of sustainability values. “Ula the Label embraces the concept of slow fashion, producing our collections in small quantities,” their website states. “This ensures that each piece is crafted with precision and care, reducing waste and promoting longevity in our designs.”


“We are passionate about sustainability and minimize waste by using stock fabric left over from garment manufacturers around the world,” they continue. “This not only reduces textile waste but also gives new life to materials that would otherwise be discarded.”


In addition to these methods of mindful creation, Ula is dedicated to ethical production. Ever ardent about providing a platform for the talent of her home country, 70% of the clothing that Ahanotu designs in Toronto is assembled in Lagos, Nigeria by independent tailors. By employing these local clothiers, the brand is positively contributing to the local economy and community.


Model wears GAGI baggy pants and the TSAI Top by Ula the Label.

Photo sourced from instagram.



Ahanotu didn’t always know that she wanted to be a designer, but she is confident that this is where she belongs, referring to her career as “a calling” and as “destiny”. She had tried her hand at many different career paths in fashion before finding her footing, including a stint at styling and launching a handful of startups. “Yet,” she muses, “all roads inevitably converged toward the creation of Ula.”



DESIRÉE IYAMA


Born and raised (and currently living) in Lagos, Nigeria, designer Desirée Iyama wants to create joyful fashion that changes the world. By consistently and coherently unifying sustainable practices with a drive to bolster women’s empowerment, her eponymous brand keeps the consumer looking fabulous and feeling responsible without breaking the bank.


Model Ifeoma wears The Dahlia Midi Dress from DESIRÉE IYAMA SS24, now available for preorder. Photography by Ikechukwu Okonkwo. Image sourced from instagram.


Hailing from a long line of creatively inclined women (with a designing mother and a seamstress grandmother), Iyama “acquired a number of skills including sketching, pattern cutting, sewing, creative direction, visual merchandising and designing from a young age.” She describes her label as “contemporary clothing with bold yet romantic silhouettes and edgy yet fluid designs”, recounting the creation process of her garments as “hand cut by Desirée and sewn together by two in-house seamstresses” in her Lagos studio. In the spirit of purposeful purchasing, Iyama offers a selection of playful designs to choose from as well as customized, tailored garments, offering “the possibility of creating a made-to-measure and personalized piece for any occasion.”


With fine silk, quality cotton and sophisticated taffeta, Iyama’s dresses and blouses are fitted, flirty and classically perennial. She prefers to use bold jewel tones and soft pastels in her work, creating flattering silhouettes with high waistlines and experimental sleeving. Expertly constructed and undoubtedly comfortable, one could imagine wearing a Desirée Iyama for a semi-formal affair or a night out with friends. “Our collections revolve around a tender yet timeless aesthetic and are designed to be feminine, fun, and functional.”


Immersed fully in environmental consciousness, the brand is slow fashion personified - one can find an in-depth ecological pledge in their brand manifesto on their website. The page delves deep into their commitments, elaborately detailing their circular economy business model through upcycling and accountabilities for fabric/water usage and waste disposal. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation defines a circular economy as “favour(ing) activities that preserve value in the form of energy, labour, and materials. This means designing for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling to keep products, components, and materials circulating in the economy.”



Models walk the runway for Desirée Iyama SS24 at Lagos Fashion Week. Photography by Ojo Emmanuel. Image sourced from Instagram.


Iyama contributes to this method by recycling textiles such as cotton and wool, as well as being mindful of their plastic usage. “We promote the idea of ‘slow fashion’ through our ethics and aim to contribute to the circular economy. Fabrics are locally sourced from our suppliers and of limited quantities. All garments are handmade to order in limited quantities, no garment is pre-made. Leftover pieces are used to make accessories such as face masks, headbands, scarves, and scrunchies.”




…AND MORE



Inspired by embracing maximalism and using clothing to express confidence, KADIJU is a women-led clothing label focused on blending extravagant dressing and conscious production. Avid supporters of Africa-based manufacturing, they seek to bolster the local economy by working with local artisans to bring their “uplifting” and “effervescent” styles to life. The KADIJU model will not only be dressed to the nines, but is adorned with elaborate hairstyles and expertly-chosen statement jewelry to complete the look from head to toe.


Another brand bringing Afro-fusion fashion to FAT this season is Afrique Kod - creating playful handmade bags, jewelry and accessories with beads of various shapes and sizes. It is impossible to view an Afrique Kod piece and not marvel at the commitment and meticulous craftsmanship. This is not your average handbag - or pair of earrings - but is a statement in and of itself, and the perfect addition to any outfit.


Monaya takes the concept of creating clothing for any occasion to a whole other level, with bold and exciting made-to-order garments ranging from comfort wear to church wear, and beyond. Positive affirmations on their page confirm their commitment to instilling confidence in their clientele - phrases like “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful”, “Reminder: Good Things are Coming”, and “When in Doubt - Wear Monaya”.



Left: The Tima bag by Afrique Kod, available in different colours. Sourced from Instagram.

Right: Models wearing designs by KADIJU from Collection 003. Sourced from Instagram.



Streetwear brand Play Ground makes clothing for the refined rebel. Their graphic tees are emblazoned with edgy, futuristic prints and intriguingly contrasting typography. Their most recent collection, “FACES”, features darkly robotic imagery and striking fontwork - consistent in their logo and staunchly defiant phrasing on their garments. For this collection, the mantra on the back, which could double as the brand’s rallying cry, reads: “I don’t fit in. Never did. Never wanted to. I do my own shit”.


Shades can add a certain panache to an outfit, and can elevate a vibe with a subtle certainty. Zega understands this, almost instinctively so, demonstrated by their line of luxury sunglasses. With a goal to “instill the cardinal principles of craftsmanship and elegance into everything we create”, their sunglasses feature a variety of colours - not only on the frames but on the lenses themselves. Need a pop of blue or yellow to compliment your outfit? Eyes are the window to the soul, after all.


Oama’s brick-and-mortar location may be in Lagos, but the womenswear label has garnered fans worldwide. Their design choices are among the most unique in this lineup - in their more recent work, fabrics of marbled hues and swirling gradients seem to bring these garments to life. Form fitting dresses, sets and swim pieces are constructed with the aim of showcasing the diverse and to “embody the rich heritage, diverse cultures, and natural beauty” of Africa through their work. Oama’s designs are undoubtedly beautiful to look at… no doubt shining a spotlight on the beauty of the wearer as well.



The Boutique Pop Up is at Fashion Art Toronto’s Fashion Playground from November 16-19th, 2023, at Black Creek Assembly. Hours for the Fashion Playground event space vary by day. For the full schedule and for the full lineup of shows, click here. To purchase your last minute tickets and make sure you don’t miss out on the hottest fashion event of the year, click here.


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