Northern California native Busayo Olupona moved to New York to become a lawyer and found her true calling as a fashion designer instead. “I was looking for the kind of work clothing that was at the center of my Nigerian-American culture, pieces that were bright and colorful, vibrant with a point of view.” When she came up empty-handed, Busayo started dressing in heritage adire textiles from Yoruba in Southwestern Nigeria. “I would make these clothes, things I wanted to wear, and as people saw me and liked these dresses that looked like artwork–that was all the inspiration I needed.”
Retail has always been a social experiment for both the consumer and the retailer. Busayo started with pop-ups and trunk shows, renting different spaces throughout the city until she had a sizeable following that expanded beyond friends and family. “You cannot engineer the kind of serendipity that comes from having a retail location. There’s magic in walking through a neighborhood and having someone find you and express how they’ve been looking for a design like this all their life.”
From there, Busayo began to foster relationships with mom-and-pop boutiques and wholesale retailers to grow her apparel business. “As an individual designer, I can’t reach everyone on my website. In developing these relationships, I’ve essentially outsourced the physical store and have agents sprinkled across the country selling my work on my behalf.”
Those relationships led to partnerships with luxury department stores like Nordstrom’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, a huge coup for Busayo. “It is huge to have a brand made in Nigeria and sold at Saks. [It] is incredible, something I have to own and be proud of.” Busayo designs the fabrics, and the clothing line is manufactured in Nigeria, creating jobs and opportunities for the local people in the area from where her family comes. The collection has found fans in people you’ve never heard of to music legend Madonna. “The biggest blessing is working with my customers, people who let me into their lives, to participate openly in the incredible things that they are doing in life. In this way, the journey has been wonderful.”
In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8), the Colliers National Retail Services team is shining a spotlight on incredible women in retail whose tenacity and talents have made an impact on both their careers and their communities. A huge thank you to Busayo Olupona for kicking off the series, you can find out more about her recent collection here. Next up, we’ll hear from Pooja Bavishi, founder of Malai Ice Cream.