In August, Sportswear giant PUMA announced a brand-new competition to support emerging Black fashion designers across the UK. To further their dedication to championing upcoming talent, PUMA is spotlighting the next generation of design talent by offering a platform to express their creativity and share their unique stories.
Meet Kemi Gbadebo, the 23-year-old Spanish and Nigerian founder of the luxury sustainable streetwear brand 'Gbadebo'. Launched during the COVID-19 lockdown, Gbadebo’s distinctive beginning and Spanish-Nigerian heritage profoundly influenced both her creative approach and work philosophy in a way that aims to transform the narrative surrounding sustainable fashion.
In this interview, we delve into the creative process that secured Kemi as one of the PUMA shortlisted winners.
How would you describe your journey as a creative?
I have always been interested in fashion as well but I never thought it would be something I could make a career out of.
My interest in Fashion started with selling vintage and second-hand clothing on Depop during College. After starting my degree, I learnt how to make my clothes. During my first year of University, we went into lockdown, which pushed me to start my brand. However, due to fabric limitations, I had to use second-hand clothing to reimagine pieces, so that’s how I began delving into the sustainable fashion industry. That’s when I realised I had fallen into my true passion.
Since then, my brand has blossomed. I’ve found a lot of purpose and excitement in design. My journey has only improved with time, and I’ve found myself working with brands I’ve always dreamed of collaborating with. It’s an uphill battle at moments. Despite that, I have enjoyed every step of working for myself. And doing what I love has been the most fulfilling part.
Why did you enter the Puma Black Designers competition?
A few friends had sent me the competition post and I had nothing to lose from entering. I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to showcase eco-conscious fashion and give it the platform it deserves. I resonate, both in my ethos and my brand with Puma’s core values and saw this as the perfect opportunity to be noticed by the brand.
It offers me a chance to redefine sustainable fashion by breaking away from generic stereotypes. I want to deliver a guilt-free choice to express individuality and change the conversation to a more honest portrayal of sustainability with Puma’s help.
Can you tell us more about what inspired your designs?
When I got the competition brief I started looking into the Puma Suedes, and realised how limitless it is from a design perspective. Despite maintaining the same silhouette, each variation evokes different styles and aesthetics. I noticed that each colourway was suited to varying subcultures which intrigued me as a designer. I used this idea to influence my designs. Playing with form and modularity helped to embody the playfulness of the shoe. As a sustainable designer, I have to consider transeasonal-ability and produce pieces that transcend fleeting fashion trends. I wanted to design a timeless collection that matched the timelessness of the suede. My passion for pushing eco-conscious clothing into the mainstream is the driving force for my application. I hope my designs will speak for themselves while narrating the sustainable journey.
How will winning this competition benefit your journey as a creative?
It would reinforce my place not only in the sustainable fashion industry but the fashion industry as a whole. I want to help bridge the gap and pave the way for other eco-conscious designers to do the same. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to work with brands that aren’t necessarily in my industry because of my desire to learn and make a more positive impact. I thought this was such a stable platform for me to educate and convey sustainability in a different light, showcasing its potential without explicitly saying it. I want to empower individuals to make sustainable choices without compromising style, fostering a culture of conscious consumption that resonates with a new generation.
If you proceed to the final stage, what do you hope to learn most from a 1-to-1 with June Ambrose?
I’m very excited for the potential of a 1-1 session with June Ambrose. For me, she has always been a huge inspiration. My brand is mainly inspired by the nineties Hip-Hop era. With June having styled some of the most prominent hip-hop artists in the world, I had to jump at the chance to meet her and learn more about her influences, her climb to success and her work ethic.
I hope to hear her challenges and solutions and learn from her experiences. She came up during an era that has heavily inspired my career. One that I exclusively read and entrench myself in. To speak with her about her design, music and clothing inspirations would be invaluable and add an element to my creativity that only someone who had lived in that era would have. Her story would inspire me to push past the challenges I encounter as a woman, POC and designer. I want to shift culture, change the attitude toward consumption and make an impact through sustainability.
One of the things I read as I researched June’s first collection with Puma was how she described the pieces as being for “women wanting to operate at a very high level”. As a female designer in a predominantly male-dominated industry, I hope to grow in my craft as she did. Similarly to her, I know I’m worthy and capable. If I stick to my ethos without compromise, I will be successful.
For more about ‘Gbadebo’, visit: https://www.gbadebo.uk