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“The pandemic was the real start and motivation for me because being stuck at home allowed me to devote my attention to designing and making clothes,” says Rico. “I started working from my backyard at home by doing tie-dye and using needle and thread to do patchwork and design garments.”
While COVID-19 has brought significant challenges, identifying the opportunity it presented was life-changing for Rico. “The way Rebirth came into existence during a pandemic is both overwhelming and humbling. Leveraging the moment to be optimistic and creative in a seemingly hopeless situation where many people lost jobs and businesses. Rebirth represents the ‘Renewal of Me.’”
Yet, it wasn’t only the pandemic that gave Rico the kickstart he needed to finally start his own label. It was also the loss of his greatest fashion inspiration, his mother, a designer who owned a fashion store. “That was a wake-up call for me,” he says, adding, “I was born into fashion. My mother was my fashion icon. Growing up seeing how my mom carried herself, put clothes together, trained seamstresses, and helped her clients make a fashion statement really built me into what I am today.”
Rico feels he has continued from where his mother left off, taking her legacy in a new direction. “I’m just designing in a different era. The consistency with which I’ve been growing has been amazing. My mom would be very proud of me.”
A creative calling
Born and bred in Benin City, Nigeria, Rico has called Cape Town his home for the last eight years. He’s inspired by the city’s beauty as well as by its streetwear fashion scene. Although he successfully completed a political science degree whilst still in Nigeria, it was during his studies that Rico realised that his future lay in fashion.
“My style at university was very unique. People kept telling me I should go into fashion because I had this talent of doing everything differently,” he recalls. “I started altering my clothes and changing designs to make one-off garments. I never wanted to wear exactly what other people were wearing.” Once he graduated, Rico began doing personal shopping and styling. He also bought and resold limited-edition sneakers, another one of his passions.
While he’s continued to pursue these business interests, his priority is now building his brand. Rico said he waited so long to start his fashion label because he felt he needed the perfect tools and training to be a designer. “I thought I’d have to know things, like how to draw or sew perfectly before I could do fashion professionally. I was wrong about that.” He’s since discovered that love for what you do trumps any formal teaching. “Getting into designing was actually never about proving to anybody what I knew about structure or fabric. I’m just passionate about what I do and what I’ve created through design. I’m learning more about the craft every day, there’s always room to learn new things for creatives like me,” he affirms.
As he began producing garments, Rico posted them on Instagram, where he’d already built a following as a stylist. “I’ve always used Instagram to showcase my versatility in fashion by posting pictures of outfits I wear, constantly receiving positive feedback from my friends and followers,” he says.
Using the social platform to build his brand was a natural choice, and Rico rapidly drew attention. The orders started coming in almost immediately. Fuelled by the interest, he kept working at creating new designs. “I still get DMs about my brand every day from people I don’t know, some wanting to collaborate and others wanting to be brand ambassadors.”
Check out Maxine wearing Rebirth by Rico here.
It is through a fashion influencer that Rico has been able to expand his recently added women’s line. “I started with a few women’s pants, and I’ve had more than 500 DMs from women asking me to make a pair for them. I caught the attention of Zimbabwean makeup and fashion influencer, Maxine Adams and did a few designs for her. They’ve gone viral – there’s nothing like these clothes in Africa.”
While the pandemic was the breeding ground for his brand, Rico says it’s delayed any thoughts of fulfilling his dream of running his own store in the city. For now, Instagram remains his primary sales and marketing platform, allowing him to reach markets through South Africa, Africa, and beyond. “In Cape Town, I do the deliveries myself which helps me connect and build relationships with my clients,” he says.
Keeping it real
A versatile designer, Rico draws inspiration from everything from vintage designs and art exhibitions to international trends and fashion forecasting. “For example, I started my brand with tie-dye before it was popular in the country, so colour and spray painting is very big in my brand,” he explains. There’s also a huge demand for his denims and he uses different types of silhouettes and fabrics like leather. “I like experimenting with different textiles by adding jewellery, embroidery, and other fabrics to my designs. Details matter to me.”
Inspired by the increased use of organic and biodegradable materials in fashion, Rico is also passionate about upcycling. “The idea behind Rebirth was to go back to natural things. Using recycled materials is currently one of my focuses – it’s more sustainable and is very popular in the industry now. I use recycled fabrics mainly on my famous patch-denims and I add to some of my garments by creating designs with recycled materials.”
He may use reuse materials but there’s no denying that Rico himself is a true original. His advice for aspiring designers? “Do it because you love it and never be afraid to stand out.”