How Busayo Olupona tapped into her heritage to create a sought-after fashion label.

Hop on the rug with us…and get to know how fashion designer Busayo Olupona lives life well.

If you were to count on your hands the number of celebrities who’ve displayed their love of Busayo NYC fashion, you’d run out of fingers. The Brooklyn-based label, created out of humble beginnings by its founder, Busayo Olupona, lists among its fans, Oscar-winning actor, Daniel Kaluuya, who wore a Busayo shirt in an SNL skit last year, Loki star Wunmi Mosaku, who wore custom Busayo to the SAG Awards, and Madonna, who took to Instagram wearing a floor-length mixed-print “Shole” dress from Busayo – quite unlike anything the superstar has ever worn before. 

And yet, when Olupona started the label, over 10 years ago, was to make clothes for herself. She was working at a law firm and wanted to infuse more of herself into her style. “I knew that I wanted clothes that were a little bit brighter, a little bit more African in their presentation. A little bit more kind of funky.” So she looked to her Nigerian upbringing for guidance. Born in the U.S., Olupona spent her childhood in a small village in Nigeria, where her parents are from, before moving back to the U.S. in her teens. 

She wanted to create pieces that captured both of her cultures, incorporating color and prints. “I wanted to reconnect to Nigeria in a deeper, richer way,” she says. “We have such a rich textile tradition and that really helped me to do that. So that was the beginning and the genesis of the business; to just make clothes for myself.”   

Now, among the famous faces that don Busayo NYC is a wide range of women who, too, want to show up in the world in a vibrant and dynamic way. 

Tie-dye dreams

To obtain the fabrics, which are made using the Adire technique to give them a tie-dye look, Olupona travels frequently to Nigeria. “I am in Nigeria every year, sometimes twice a year depending on the demands of the business. We produce the textiles and the garments in Nigeria,” she says. 

Her business is also a way she can help her fellow countrymen. “Nigeria has the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world, so the opportunity to collaborate with brilliant Nigerian minds to create this work has been such an important part of building the company,” she says.

Olupona is quick to credit her team with the success of her brand, as well as a mentor who has long provided support over the 10 years. “She was always pushing me from very early to understand the business I was entering,” says the designer. “She didn't allow me to sit on my laurels, because it could get very discouraging.” 

Making it big 

The vision wasn’t always clear for Busayo NYC. There were times Olupona was going back and forth to Nigeria, not a hundred percent certain what was happening with the business. “My aunt there was really worried that it was just a hobby that I was just throwing money at,” she says. “But I would go, like clockwork, every year. Even when I didn't have the stores to sell my clothes in, I would just buy a ticket and go home and do the work.” 

She believes this approach helped her attract the people who are part of her team today. “When you show up, every single time, and people see your face, every single time, then they know you're committed. For the past 8, 9, 10 years, I’ve worked with the same people because I was consistent, and because I wasn’t doing it from New York. I was getting on my plane and going home and talking to people and seeing people and touching fabric and doing so consistently. So certainly that certainly helped a lot.”

Now Busayo NYC collections are available at Saks 5th Avenue and on online platforms like Shopbop and Stitchfix. But no matter how big the label gets or who wears it, Olupona always comes back to the heart of inspiration in her process. “It starts with the textile: ‘What is this textile? What is it telling me?’”

Olupona allows the questions to flow out of her, letting the textile tell her the answers she needs to craft her designs: “‘What shape does she want to take? Is she a textile that is attracted to another textile and wants to mix with that textile? Or is she a solo star?’ Once I decide that then I try to figure out if she's going to be a casual dress or an occasion dress. And we go from there. But the textile is really my obsession.” It’s an obsession that has served Olupona, and all those who wear her clothes, well. 


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