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Solange Knowles, spicy food and support for slow fashion: Meet our founder, Bola

  • 4 min read

Solange Knowles, spicy food and support for slow fashion: Meet our founder, Bola

“The bedroom roof collapsed in a house we used to live in during a thunderstorm…” Here’s an insight into the woman behind Toomey & Koko.

Who is the woman behind our bold prints, flattering cuts and ‘gram-worthy outfits? It’s about time we lifted the fabric and shared all of the juicy goodness with you. Authenticity is an integral part of our sustainability promise, after all.

To kick off the new year, we put our founder in the hot seat to give you a glimpse behind the curtain, so let us introduce you to the face behind the brand. 

Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? We think so.

 

Quickfire round:

Where are you based?

London, UK.

 

Where were you born?

Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

 

Any siblings?

I’m the eldest of three.


What drives you forward? 

I’m a perfectionist and love being creative. I see good design as a way of bringing a story to life.

 

What inspires you?

My family!

 

What’s something few people know?

I am scared of the London Underground escalators. I always have to psych myself up to go on them and I don’t look down!

 

If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be?

Designing interiors or a travel blogger.

Let’s talk fashion:

What’s your earliest fashion memory?

Growing up in Nigeria and my first experience of being a bridesmaid at my aunt’s traditional Yoruba wedding. I can’t forget the vivid colours of the Adire, Aso-oke and Ankara fabrics that everyone wore. 

It was such a celebration of colour!


How do you want women to feel when they wear Toomey & Koko?

Powerful, unapologetic in who they are and not afraid to take up space. I am, and always will be, an advocate for women.


Where did the name Toomey & Koko come from?

Toomey & Koko is a mashup of mine and my sister’s names. Her name is Tumi and we are very close, she’s been a great support throughout the process of launching from start to finish. 

Our names are quite unusual, and we always had people mispronounce them while growing up. We made these misspellings and mispronunciations into an inside joke, and it seemed so fitting to name this adventure after the two of us – I can’t think of a more meaningful name for this brand. 

It also represents the unique bond I have with my family and the enormous encouragement that they’ve given me throughout every stage of my journey.

 

If Toomey & Koko was a celebrity, who would it be and why?

Hmm, good question. I would say, Solange Knowles. She’s not afraid to stand out in a crowd, she is fierce and fabulous!

  

What’s been the biggest challenge in launching a fashion brand?

Everything! 

I think the biggest challenge has been believing in myself and that I can do it. That has been the hardest part because, at first glance, it all does seem daunting, especially as I don’t have an extensive fashion background or contacts. 

But during the times when I feel discouraged, I remember why I started and what I want to achieve, and use this as motivation to carry on.

 

Why do you believe slow fashion is the way forward?

It’s increasingly hard to escape the effects that fast fashion and mass consumerism have on our planet, and the fashion industry is a key part of that problem. 

In our need to buy more and more stuff, we’ve lost a personal connection with the items of clothes we own. Slow fashion encourages us to think about how we produce our garments and to appreciate the clothes we wear, and how they make us feel.

 

How do you support the artisans Toomey & Koko work with?

I think it’s very important to develop collaborative relationships with our partners, recognising each other’s skills and what we all bring individually to the brand. 

Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with the artisans and production partners. I believe that continuing to be fair and respectful while recognising the role that our partners play, is crucial to our growing relationship.

Just for fun:


What’s something not many people know about your culture?

We have a rich oral history and folklore. 

Growing up, my dad would tell us tales by candlelight ofThe Tortoise and the Hare. It was his way of not just telling us a funny story, but sharing life lessons about the value of hard work and morals. It’s a tradition that I still remember to this day. 

We Yorubas tend to use a lot of proverbs and sayings which carry deeper meanings, to express often complex concepts about life and its lessons.


A childhood memory you won’t forget?

I used to be scared of thunder and lightning as a child, after the bedroom roof collapsed in a house we used to live in during a thunderstorm. Thankfully, we were in the living room with the babysitter and escaped unscathed. 

I’ve outgrown that fear now.


Let’s end with a fun fact...

I love spicy food. 

My standard fare is extra hot Nandos, and then I slobber on the XX hot sauce on top (the small black bottle hidden away at the back). 

My whole family was born this way.


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Can you relate to any of Bola’s experiences? Are you a chilli connoisseur or a perfectionist at heart? We’d love to know. Come and join the conversation over at @toomeyandkoko!


To start your new year on your terms, shop the full collection here and let your colours shine.

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