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Her beautifully curated studio is filled with impeccably made clothes that are regal yet modern. Nigerian-born Odunayo Akinnuwa, better known as Nayo to her clientele, is a trailblazer in the fashion community with her label mBn (Made By Nayo). It’s little wonder that popular DJ DBN Gogo chose to wear her dress on the cover of Glamour.
Whether it’s sexy and glamorous ready-to-wear clothes or one-of-a-kind couture pieces, Nayo is making her mark on the continent’s fashion scene—eyes are definitely on the stylish and witty designer.
Nayo’s upbringing was filled with fabrics and textures as she watched her mother creating clothes for clients and friends. This ignited a determined flame in Nayo to become a renowned designer. That grit has paid off big time and now, she’s the go-to designer for influencers, models, and YouTube vloggers, such as Snikiwe Mhlongo and Adeola Ariyo.
“It all began when I took interest in the art of sewing at the age of 14. I was fascinated by the process of creation and realised I could express myself through it. I was a total introvert growing up, so this was my way of having a voice. My mom was a designer so she guided and encouraged me to take this further by sharing her knowledge with me. I eventually enrolled in accredited fashion schools both in Nigeria and South Africa, such as Fedisa, where I graduated,” says Nayo.
Seeing her mother sew and being taught by her was an amazing experience for Nayo. “I felt that we bonded on a whole different level. It was also super encouraging and affirming of all my dreams, seeing that she understood and helped to provide solutions to any problem I faced in that area and the industry,” Nayo explains.
NUWUMA: The new woman collection
Nayo’s clothing designs offer a juxtaposition of sexy, crisp and soigné in the ready-to-wear, then elevates into a post-modern, chic, and whimsical aesthetic in the made-to-order couture pieces.
“The mBn woman is someone like me, a woman who loves to stand out, a woman who sees clothing past just its functionality, a person who makes a statement with the way she dresses. That kind of woman is more likely to gravitate to my brand. She will never think that what I do is too much, too bright, too out there, she’s just ready to explore and appreciate the art,” asserts Nayo.
Her NUWUMA collection affirms the sensual, feminine, strong aesthetic.
“NUWUMA means NEW WOMAN. I just wanted to add some funk into the spelling. I created it to represent who I was becoming; a new woman. With the effect of lockdown, I grew so much as an individual, as a woman, I fell in love more with who I was, became more appreciative of my existence and poured out all this energy into NUWUMA. I also noticed a lot of women going through similar changes I was going through. So, I created it for us”, says Nayo.
Who runs the world? Women
As the idea of feminism evolves and slogans like “we should all be feminists” (Thank you Dior and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), have entered the mainstream media, women are leading powerful conversations. So female designers are leading this narrative through clothes and Nayo is undoubtedly contributing to that.
“I know the power of clothing, and I have seen it in myself and others. It can literally transform people…it brings out who they really are or desire to be. I want to play a role in that for women, to help them tell their stories, show off who they are and bring out their power. This is something I live by and it has helped me become the woman I am today,” smiles Nayo.
And what does the future hold for this powerhouse designer? Nayo is currently working on her second collection and setting the wheels in motion to have her own fashion studio in Cape Town. She says, “I’m truly looking forward to what’s unfolding for the brand. We’re taking things up a notch!”
Shop the mBn brand here.