Tolu Coker is a young British-Nigerian fashion designer, textile designer and illustrator based in London. Following several successful stints at Maison Margiela, J.W. Anderson and Celine, the London- born designer graduated from Central Saint Martins (CSM) in 2017 with First Class Honours.
Tolu Coker is a unisex brand centred around inclusivity, diversity and social responsibility. More than just a fashion brand, it serves as a creative outlet for the youthful expression of political reform, changing social and economic climates. The brand explores and acknowledges hybridity and fluidity in societies and cultures, translating this into forward-thinking fashion and environmentally conscious clothing, shoes and accessories.
Each collection focuses on giving social 'outsiders' a space within the community by representing their stories and challenging conventional perceptions of power, aesthetic beauty and stereotypes. The development of unique and innovative design techniques, which utilise both traditional artisan craftsmanship and modern technology, is integral to the brand's conscious consideration for sustainability and the advancement of technology. Reworked denims, recycled leathers and re-used plastic and lace scraps are paired alongside striking and daring silhouettes, bold illustrative prints/embroideries and a playground of textures to add a youthful, contemporary and luxurious flair to each piece.
The brand is a catalyst for acceptance and freedom in fashion, as well as a tool to urge consumers to move towards buying more commercial clothing investment pieces - clothing that is timeless and in its longevity, reduces our carbon footprint.
What makes your brand unique?
I am a fashion and textiles designer and multi-disciplinary artist and my brand Tolu Coker, produces both Men’s and Womenswear with a focus on sustainable textiles and print.
Centred around inclusivity and giving social outsiders a space within the community, my brand was created as a response to shifting cultures, identities and social landscapes, particularly Diaspora identity and the increasing fluidity of gender.
As well as challenging traditional perceptions of luxury, I actively address fashion’s significant contribution to global waste and pollution by sourcing materials entirely from deadstock, both locally and internationally and merging traditional artisan craftsmanship (weaving, screenprinting, hand-embroidery) with technological innovation.
My work is a multi-disciplinary practice, incorporating illustration and documentary specifically and I use these as key tools in the communication of each collection I make. Last year I released a self-directed film with Vogue Italia on race and identity and I have since collaborated with brands such as Swatch, Illy caffe, Vice, CNN, American Express, Adidas and Dr Martens. My brand has won 4 awards since its launch last year, including the Diesel Award, Vogue Talents Award, ITS 2018 award and The Fashion Scout AW19 Merit Award, where I presented my debut collection at LFW.
What does the move to Poplar Works mean to you?
Having my own studio space allows me to continue to hone my craf, and also allows me to cater for student work placements (last season I offered placements to UAL students within my company).
I feel honoured to be part of an incredible melting pot of businesses and services who contribute to shaping London’s creative fashion and textile landscape. It’s an incredible opportunity to have been offered a space by the CFE – it couldn’t have come at a better time and I’m excited to see how my business develops from being in the space, as well as receiving valuable mentorship and business support.
For some businesses, the move to Poplar Works will mean being to expand production or their team. What are the specific ways it will benefit you?
The fact that Poplar Works is located at the centre of a new fashion development (Fashion District) and amongst other businesses including manufacturers, aids the production of my first collection following a successful first sales season. I have recently just secured new stockists (wholesale orders) following showing in Paris showrooms. Part of my ethos is creating clothing consciously and being able to do so locally will keep transparency at each bit of the production line. Community is at the centre of my work, so to be able to preserve this as I scale up my production is a key factor. I have also built working relationships with leather manufacturers in the local Canning Town Business Park.
How will you help grow the creative community at Poplar Works?
I own 4 industrial sewing machines, and an overlocker so throughout the year I would like to operate as a print and sampling studio, offering open acess and use of the machinery to neighbouring businesses within the Poplar Works community. I have an extensive network of international suppliers and would love to share this with neighbouring businesses that aim to source more responsibly and sustainably.
Over the past few months, I have developed a short course programme aimed at diversifying the demographic of people who have access to fashion and textiles resources as well as allowing established and emerging fashion and textiles practitioners to improve their skills. The course already has the support of the V&A, and I would love to collaborate with neighbouring businesses to deliver a series of skills-based talks and workshops, focusing on the areas of technical skills and design approach, business and marketing strategy, as well as manufacturing and production.
As a multi-disciplinary practitioner, I also feel that bringing some of my film, illustration and mural work to the space will create a perfect opportunity for other designers and I to experiment with our crafts in the space, and introduce other disciplines into our work.
LCF at Poplar Works is committed to giving back to the local community through the creative talent housed there. Can you talk a bit about your plans for giving back?
In addition to opening up my studio to other businesses within the community to utilise my industrial machines and printing facilities, I also intend to run a series of workshops for the community.
Telephone+44 (0)20 7514 7400