Grace by design: Walé Oyéjidé uses fashion to tell stories

“My work is not about the clothes we design, but more about the impact that can be made when people who wear them feel the freedom to express themselves authentically in society,” says Walé Oyéjidé, who gives a talk at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Saturday, September 14. Publicity photo by Mark Thiessen of National Geographic “My work is not about the clothes we design, but more about the impact that can be made when people who wear them feel the freedom to express themselves authentically in society,” says Walé Oyéjidé, who gives a talk at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Saturday, September 14. Publicity photo by Mark Thiessen of National Geographic

The way that a story is told is just as important as the story itself,” designer Walé Oyéjidé told a National Geographic Storytellers Summit audience in January. Oyéjidé, who’s also a director, writer, filmmaker, musician, and lawyer, tells stories by using fashion design to dispel stereotypes and biases. In his ongoing photography project “After Migration,” featuring models who are themselves migrants, he asks us to “really look” at the strength and triumph in people’s unique identities, and to celebrate the resilience, beauty, and life experience of those who’ve suffered. “There is grace to be found. You just have to look long enough,” says Oyéjidé.

C-VILLE: How did you decide to use fashion design as a way to communicate about social issues?

Walé Oyéjidé: It’s incumbent on all of us to make an effort to improve our surroundings, in whatever ways that we can. I happen to be an artist and designer, so these are the tools at my disposal. Among others, the issue of migration is one that I’m particularly sensitive toward. Much of my work focuses on celebrating the lives of migrants; a group of people whom our society commonly disregards.

Describe how an article of clothing can empower.

As a ubiquitous form of expression, clothing is the most common way that we make statements about who we are, or who we aspire to be. My work is not about the clothes we design, but more about the impact that can be made when people who wear them feel the freedom to express themselves authentically in society.

Is there a story about how your design work has affected someone personally?

As a designer, I’ve worked with Sub-Saharan migrants in Europe and Maasai tribesmen in Tanzania. But I’m not comfortable discussing the circumstances of any specific individual in a way that is self-aggrandizing.

What do you do to ensure that your design work is accessible?

We make art that is authentic to our experience. The work is intended to be for anyone with whom it resonates, or for anyone who finds meaning or connection in what we create.

What celebrities wear your work?

Our pieces have appeared in motion pictures, in museums across the globe, and on the stage of the Super Bowl. That said, we are more interested in ordinary individuals who are able to find a transformative experience through our artistic expressions than we are with collecting marquee names.


Walé Oyéjidé will discuss his work with Dr. Kwame Otu, an assistant professor at UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, in the lecture series Seeing Black: Disrupting the Visual Narrative at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center on Saturday.

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