The Market Is Open: RiverIsWild
RiverisWild, the lifestyle brand with its roots in Africa, is the brainchild of 27-year-old Akinwale Akinbiyi. Currently in Los Angeles, he’s originally from Ikorodu, Lagos State, grew up in Bariga and Surulere for 13 years of his life, then spent the next 13 in Maryland. He eventually created a clothing company that does an exemplary job of fusing western aesthetics with African influences. The new Fall collection features tees, hoodies, bomber jackets, and more.
We caught up with Wale to find out more about the brand, read our interview below!
What exactly is RiverisWild and how did you come up with that name?
Riveriswild is about acknowledging the chaos of life and respecting its unpredictability, going with the flow and honoring our connectedness. I bought the domain way back in undergrad but until Tom (my business partner) pushed to release product I was too busy being in my own way, pushing for perfection. Ironically I think my work is better now that I’m not aiming for perfect, what’s perfect anyway? The name comes from a song by the killer’s “this river is wild” but the song and the brand don’t have too much in common, I just really liked that song and 3 years after I bought the domain name, I still liked it so we ran with it. We spell it all one word to remind ourselves of the organized chaos that is life (and it just looks cooler that way lol.)
Have you always been interested in fashion design?
My mom owned a boutique in Lagos Island and we’d go there everyday after school, she’s my style icon, she gave me the juice and the sauce, she’s the flyest. I’ve been around it my whole life, if anything it makes the most sense that I do this now.
What were you doing before this?
I have 2 engineering degrees, a Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering, and a Master’s in Sustainable Energy Engineering. I was working for an energy firm in Virginia, I had always worked in design part-time/freelance but that job took a lot out of me, I’ve never really romanticized dropping everything and following your passion, but in December of last year (2016), I decided to drop everything and follow my passion. Saved up money, and quit in February. I went home to Lagos for my sister’s wedding and it was the best thing for me, to reconnect with my first home before I went on to my new one.
How does being Nigerian influence the way you design a product?
I lived half of my life there so it informs everything I do. We grew up studying with kerosine lanterns because NEPA wasn’t showing us love, we used knives as screw drivers, opened bottles of Fanta with our teeth. Every time I design, all that comes into play, I’m always asking “how do I use what I have in a new way?”
The brand has the perfect balance of a western aesthetic with an African influence. How do you manage the two extremes?
I remember a lot of people, myself included, trying to navigate the new surroundings when we first got to the states. It’s weird, you have to adapt quickly and between school and the media, the easiest thing for most African kids to do is ditch their heritage and try to fit in, but you can’t. It’s who you are. You gotta own it, be proud of it and flex on anyone who feels otherwise. When I design I just try to make it easier for those kids to flex the heritage and navigate that dichotomy.
Have you faced any setbacks since you started the brand?
I won’t really call them setbacks, more like teaching moments, we do all our cut and sew manufacturing back in my hometown of Ikorodu in Lagos, figuring that out was a huge task and it’s not entirely perfect yet but we’re getting there. Being able to employ my countrymen and women has always been a goal so I’m glad we established that early on. Nigerian tailors are really good at what they do and it helps that I speak the Yoruba fluently, I’m able to get my ideas across quickly and they are able to execute on a high level.
What has been your favorite collection so far?
Honestly, is it cheating if I say the next one? I work about a year in advance so I’m always excited about my unreleased/raw stuff, right now I’m really proud of the capsules we’re dropping from now till the end of the year, and the 2018 Spring Summer collection.
Who or what brands inspire you?
My mother inspires me, my siblings, my brothers in crisis Tom and Cheick, my girlfriend, my talented musician friends; Craig David and Femi Kuti inspire me. As for brands, I won’t start listing cause I’m gonna forget someone I truly admire and be mad at myself, but I will say that Gold Coast Trading(before1444.com) was the first brand I saw that made me feel like I could do it too.
Describe your creative process (if any)
My process starts with one question, “What is African?” You’d be surprised how much has been stolen from us. Also as a Nigerian, we’re a proud people and are often at fault for not seeing past our own cultures, there’s a lot of us so it’s easy to feel validated in our opinions, I try to learn other African cultures as soundly as possible. I have a great deal of respect for what they represent. I do a lot of research and try to find esoteric references. I don’t want to ever make a garment with the African Map, or green/black/red, no shade to anyone that does that, but there’s so much to pull from and I’d rather explore that. I always try to use the signifiers of my heritage that aren’t obvious. I dig into sub-genres that are less known, right now I’m really into Zamrock, it’s rock music from Zambia made in the 70s, it’s amazing stuff that most people don’t know exists, those are the kinds of things I like to pull from.
Being a designer isn’t the “usual” role that Nigerians tend to take on. How did your parents react at first?
I have 2 engineering degrees, like Ye’ said they can’t tell me nothing!! Jokes aside though, I’m blessed to have a family like mine because it’s been nothing but support, they just want me to be happy. When I told my mom what I planned to do, she just told me she had my back no matter what. I know many people don’t have that in our communities so I will never take it for granted.
What is the overall purpose of the brand?
When I first got to this country I wanted to be a humanitarian, I lost my way a bit but after the election I kept hearing a voice go off in my head saying “the world is going to shit and you’re over here trying to make clothes”. A couple of hours later I figured it out, Riveriswild was going to become a humanitarian brand. A portion of all proceeds would go to charities fighting to provide clean water for people in Africa. That humanitarian core is the soul of the brand, the heart is my love for my home and my need to show folks how dope we are in ANY context.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I’d like to say that black lives matter, dark-skinned women are God’s gift, and that jollof should bring us together, not tear us apart …oh, and buy riveriswild so we can save the world together and look trill doing it.