Interview with Creative Director/Designer of UnyforMe
Photography: Derrick Odafi
Interview: Derrick Odai
Transcript: Siobhan Martin, Ria
The New East Festival is an event curated by our parent company New Wave Studios in collaboration with One Room Live. For this festival we aimed to tie the knot of various creative outlets and giving them a space to blossom and be represented. One of our key activities at this event was our collaboration with Styling appication and community lead platform Steelo Style and representative of many budding young designers in London, Fashion Crossover London. We selected a few peieces for Menswear and Womenswear respectfully to showcase the amazing pieces on offer at both platforms. Stylists Skylar Hamilton and Arifa also collaborated with us to style a few models for this showcase/editorial.
Hi Michael, where are you originally from?
I was born in London but my family is from Nigeria, that is where I claim obviously but North London raised me.
What is your earliest memory of doing something creative? Did you feel like people around you were supportive of it?
It was something I happened to fall into, as far as I can remember it would probably date back to when I first discovered Photoshop. At the time I treated it as a personal hobby and did it more so for the expression rather than it being or leading to anything serious, although I did receive praise from my friends at the time when they saw what I was able to produce through the software and that was pretty cool to me.
At the age of 11 you actively began your design journey, tell us about that.
I was around 11 years old was when I discovered my passion for design through Photoshop. It was completely by chance too actually. I was in my living room one day with my brother, he was on the family PC and I was watching tv, I remember turning my head one time to the corner of the room where he was and he was using this software (which I now know to be Photoshop) to create these different designs. I didn’t have a clue as to how he was doing what he was doing but it definitely caught my attention. At some stage later, I managed to access his user file on the PC—I was somewhat of tech a nerd, there wasn’t much I couldn’t do—and I found a folder that had all the designs he was making inside and I started opening each file one by one, revealing all of these different designs. My first reaction was ‘whoa’ because they were really good and I had no idea that he had this kind of talent. I don’t have a clue where he learned to do any of this stuff. After opening the files, I quickly began familiarising myself with the different tools and I then I started to hide some of the layers on that design he made, trying to break down each part step-by-step. I still didn’t have a clue how he was doing all of this but one thing for sure was, I wanted to be able to do it too. After some time, I practiced quietly and used whatever tutorials I could find online to teach myself how to understand the basics and eventually get better.
By the time I was 13 I had gotten pretty good. At this point I was able to make things such as logos, flyers and I’d begun teaching myself how to make myspace layouts. After using one of my own custom designed layouts on page, my friends started to notice and were asking me to make one for them and I did. It was pretty cool to see my friends using layouts that I designed. Before I knew it, I started getting messages from other users on the site asking me to make layouts for them. It got overwhelming at one point because it was a lot and bear in mind, I was only 13, 14 at the time. I still had school to focus on (laughs). My biggest break came when a guy messaged me to help him design a layout for Tinie Tempah. I couldn’t believe it. To this day I still can’t because making myspace layouts was something I did for fun in my spare time.
As I got older, I connected more with design. Eventually it expanded to went from web & digital design, product design and eventually fashion design
Once you found this passion did your brother help you out with the software in any way?
Not Really, I was very covert with it. It was something really personal for me, as much as I was inspired by him, I really just kept it to myself. I did it for me, it was a way of expressing myself. He didn’t really even know I was doing it
Your alias is ‘Money Valentino’, where does that come from?
So ‘Money’ is a nickname one of my old school friends Anton gave me—there was this false idea that I was rich because I had a lot of nice things and one day, he called me “Money Mike” and the name pretty much stuck with me. I knew it was official once I changed my MSN name to that (laughs). Later on, I shortened it down to just ‘Money’. The ‘Valentino’ part literally just came out of nowhere. It had a nice ring to it and pretty much stuck ever since.
You describe your mind as Abstract, what abstract painting would you describe your mind as? Something colourful?
Mark Rothko–Pink on Pink, 1953
Who is your favourite fine artist?
I don’t have one, but I am fan of Mark Rothko
The colour Pink is very important to you, why is that?
Apart from aesthetic purposes, it’s also about what I associate with the colour—the brain to be specific. The brain is one of two most important organs in our body. It’s where our genius comes from and without it, we wouldn’t be able to function like we do on a day-to-day basis.
You delve into various creative disciplines, what would you say is the ‘brain’ of all of your creative skills?
Research, for everything I do I just research. I figure out where I want to start and just experiment. With design, for example photoshop, before I do anything I always familiarise myself with the different tools. It’s the same way I use do dabble into music production – that actually came from the same friend that gave me the name ‘Money’.
Did academia play a part in your influences till this point?
Somewhat yeah. Designing was always a way for me to express myself and I didn’t have any intention of doing anything with it professionally, but when it came to choosing the subjects I wanted to study in school, naturally I gravitated towards classes such as graphic design and art because they were classes that allowed me to be me.
What was your favourite subject in school?
Science was cool. I also liked math too because it was an engaging subject that really made you think.
It made you think. I don’t really like things that are too easy, maths was one of the most challenging and things that get me engaged like that is what I gravitate towards.
Maths also teaches structues and systems. In your opinion, what are the main structural differences between graphic design and fashion design?
For me, graphic design has many micro-relms within it. With graphic design, I think of it more in print, whereas when it comes to garment or fashion design, the possibilities are endless. For example, you have brands like Rick Owens, Saint Laurent and Acne Studios, they are all very different brands. Rick Owens has different shapes and silhouettes each season versus Saint Laurent which is more traditional and Acne is known for their denim. A signature style is more apparent is fashion design compared to graphic design
What form of creative expression do you always find yourself reverting to?
Drawing I’d say. Ever since I was a young kid I would always just draw, even if I wasn’t very good at it. I’d draw anything from cars, to sneakers to anime characters.
You’ve worked with some amazing people already, one being young designer Eastwood Danso, tell us about that time?
It was an interesting period. This was where I learned the beginning steps in fashion working alongside him. We were both young, driven and filled with creative ideas. It was never planned though. I remember he hit me up on Twitter one time years ago suggesting we work together and do something. I had no idea who he was but after a few convos I was convinced that we could do some good stuff together.
What was the biggest learning curve for you at that time?
Not being on the same page/having conflicting ideas. Working alongside someone, at times you will have different opinions on what you’d want to do, and you don’t really know how to deal with these situations until they actually come about. In the beginning, we did have a lot of conflicting opinions as he wanted to do something different to what I wanted. Eventually we were able to find middle ground.
What was your role during that time and how was the experience?
In the beginning everything was pretty much 50/50 but overtime, I acted more as a consultant besides him. Often times I would design stuff, but also suggest & give advice on ideas. I remember the bus journeys to and from locations where we’d be sat designing t-shirts, those were fun.
You later worked with another designer Aaron Kudi on your joint brand Goeie Katoen, where did that name come from?
It actually was a great experience, shout out to Aaron. He’s a great thinker - a real creative. The way he thinks, it opens up the way you think also so it was refreshing to be around him. Often times we’d engage in conversations that really have you explore the way you think. The brand name itself, he came up with as he actually formulated the brand before I started working with him. It translates into ‘Good Cotton’ in Afrikaans and if you speak Dutch, you’d also be able to understand it as there are some similarities between the two languages.
You are also a producer, how would you describe the Goeie Katoen brand as an instrument?
Correction – a beat-maker. Me making beats is just another way of me expressing my creativity. I haven’t learned the necessary education to be able to call myself a producer just yet. But, I would say it is kind of like a mixture. It’s not just the one instrument, but a mixture between a kick-drum and strings maybe. The strings, give it the melodic feel. It makes it feel light while also giving you that sense of elegance. When you close your eyes, you’re in a heavenly environment. With the kick-drum, it just lets you know it’s presence is really there. You feel it with the kick-drum and then you have the strings there to entice you, bringing you to a different world - I think that’s how I’d describe Goeie Katoen.
What was your working relationship like between the two of you?
Healthy. We were very balanced and worked well together but also established a personal friendship outside of work which made things easier. If there was ever an issue, we would know how to address it because we understood how each person operated because of the friendship we had built. I think most importantly we respected each other. It was like a ‘if I’m up, then you’re up too’ type of relationship. Not one man for himself.
What are your biggest takeaways from that time?
When you’re working with someone just as great as you or even better, the possibilities of what you can achieve are endless.
The art installations for the brand and editorials were amazing achievements that will last very long, what did you guys aim to do with each collection or presentation?
Thank you. I appreciate that.
We always led with strong visuals, which were pretty evident when you saw what we were presenting. That was our forte. I think for us it was just whatever the collection was, we wanted to present that in a visual manner and make it as such that it really entices you because we realised visuals was something we were really good at doing. Not to say we were good when it came to the garment design but we just had a really good eye for the visuals.
What caused you to move on from that project?
Once you do something and you see you’re doing it right, you start questioning how you build from them? I think for me, I was now at a place (mentally) where I was ready to venture out and do something on my own.
Research and understanding seem to be important to you, what elements of the art world have you studied which form your perspective on design?
For me personally, it was more so learning about the different designers and who/what appealed to me. One of my favourite designers of all time is Dieter Rams and I think his principles are just really in line with how my approach or my approach is in line with his principles should I say. Not to say everything he does is what I’ll do, it’s just following his principles will allow me to create a refined, linear way of thinking. One that gives me purpose and direction. When it comes to designing, it’s so easy to design anything but it’s important to make it make sense. For example, it’s easy to create a cool t-shirt but what you have to do now is think how can make it look great but also works? That was one issue we had with Goeie Katoen. We had good ideas but they didn’t always work for as we’d hoped. For example, we had this one jacket that represented the human skeleton: the top half was cropped and represented the top half of the skeleton and the bottom half was made of straps that wrapped around and connected at the front and this represented the rib cage within the skeleton. The idea was great, but it lacked when it came to functionality. From then I learned to hone my own design skills. My way of studying design was to practice and experiment as much as possible and did research where I could so when I came across Dieter Rams, it was pretty much like my “light-bulb” moment.
What fashion houses have molded your view on design?
In all honesty, none. I don’t tend to focus on any other fashion houses, I’m always curious to see who’s doing what but I don’t focus on anybody else mainly because I like to focus and develop my craft organically. It’s easy to look at what somebody else is doing and then start to mimic what they’re doing and I don’t want to fall into that pattern. But I give a lot of credit to Rick Owens for being consistent and constantly thinking ahead.
You’ve mentioned in the past that the interiors of houses influence you a lot, why is that?
It’s not so much the interior, but more so the exterior, and it’s not necessarily houses either. It’s building in general. When I look at buildings, I see shapes in my head and it was this way of thinking that led to the development of one of the logos for Unyforme Design.
On your Instagram it is very evident that galleries and exhibitions are a big part of your life, what is the best gallery/exhibition you have been to?
There was this exhibition that I went to at the Saatchi Gallery last year. It was a virtual reality experience that focused on the connection between the human world and a natural world. As you placed your VR headset on, you’re transported to this beautiful, alternate forest that had a giant Sequoia tree planted in the middle. What I liked about this exhibition was a surreal experience. You could see when you would breathe out, not like you would on a cold day, but as if you were breathing and had some sort of thermo vision. It felt like you were really in an alternate universe although physically you hadn’t gone anywhere. It felt as if you were in Pandora (from Avatar)
Often times I do make visits to the V&A Museum, for the fact that is like a history trip and for me it not necessarily taking designs - I don’t always go somewhere to find things to take its just to experience, understand and learn about different things. From doing that, I’ve got to learn how people used to dress, and just from the way I’m able to see things, I could see a painting and be able to break it down bit by bit and take what I want from it - if necessary. That’s how I prefer to take inspiration from something instead of blatantly copying something.
Speaking of galleries, a trip to the Tate Modern influenced the logo design of your brand, tell us about this moment.
This is interesting to me because it was very spontaneous and absolutely not planned whatsoever. It was kind of like a lightbulb moment because as soon as I realised what was happening, I recorded the memory right away. It was my birthday that day and I decided I’d like to go to Tate Modern. As I was going down to the gallery, I was taking in the scenery around me and there was a specific building that caught my attention from a distance and I remember that I stopped pretty much instantly. I didn’t know at the time what purpose it was going to serve me but I knew it would later on at some point so I took a photo of it. From looking at that picture, I started formulating shapes and the idea for my logo came about which was interesting because it’s a great example of how my thought process works.
You have since been in partnerships till this point when developing a fashion brand, what are the main adjustments for you currently?
Now it’s realised that it’s just ‘you’. You’re solely responsible for all of the decisions that’s going to be made so if things go well, it’s on you, and if things go wrong it’s also on you, so you don’t have that opportunity to shift the blame towards anyone else because everything is of your own decision making. There’s no shoulder to lean on. That’s one of the things I learnt when I decided to branch out and do this by myself. But I took a positive approach to it. I anticipated mistakes as that’s natural but coming from where I come from, I’d hope that I’ve learnt from those mistakes so there’ll be more good than bad. If I do make mistakes, hopefully they’ll be new mistakes and even if it is an old mistake, it’ll be one that I’m able to rectify quickly. So far, I’ve run into a few issues mainly due to Covid-19 but I always have a plan B & C which is a mindset I’ve adopted from previous mistakes I’ve made.
You look to introduce architectural-focused silhouettes to the man’s wardrobe; how do you aim to do this? (focus on form, function, texture?)
I’m going to be doing a lot of experimenting. I’m anticipating a lot of failure in the beginning, but I’m also anticipating finding success through failure also. The possibilities are endless for me, but I don’t want to reveal too much just yet because I prefer to allow my work to come to fruition and then for people to see it. Shape and form are definitely going to be at the forefront of my brand. They are two components that come very naturally to me. I feel like it’s a space within menswear that has been tapped into slightly and I’d like to expand on. Before I started the brand, I did a lot of research in regards to what I wanted to do, how I was going to do it and why, so, by the time I had answered all those questions, I was ready to go.
Why is it important for you to merge heritage and futurism in your work?
For me heritage sort of serves as a history lesson as it allows me to delve deep into the past and uncover, resurface and reference things from a time before. The futuristic aspect is sort of like the child to history as it continues the message but with from a new perspective.
What other activities are occupying your time while you develop your brand?
Football. I play a lot of football. As much of it as I possibly can actually, I go to the gym every morning, but only during the week and then I go running in the evening. I just really like to keep active. The more active you are, the better the brain is going to work at its highest level going.
What have you not accomplished prior that you aim to do with Unyforme Design?
Growth. With Unyforme Design, I want to take this project to the heights that I’ve set out. I’ve mapped and planned the out the next 4/5 years for Unyforme Design. Now, it’s about stabilising one sector at a time and then moving on to the next.
We are seeing a few black designers and artists reaching some amazing heights, what structural changes do you think need to be made to maintain such for generations?
I would like to see more support because there are many black designers and designers of colour out here, but I feel they don’t receive the same level of support as their/(our) fairer skinned counterparts. If you take for example what Sam (of A-Cold-Wall) did recently with the grant, it highlighted an on-going issue. He realised that there were cracks in the pavement that were not being filled, which is an issue because we’re just trying to do what everyone else is doing and it’s almost as if we’re being held back because of the colour of our skin. We’re no different to anyone else or what they’re doing. We’ve now taken it upon ourselves to go against the norm of how it’s been done before because it wasn’t really helping us, not to say we’re rebelling, but the system in place doesn’t help us so now we have gone about finding ways around it for us to be included. I’m hoping what Sam did will begin a conversation on how do we reach out to more of the black community and people of colour because there’s no reason we shouldn’t. It’s not about wanting to look better than the rest, it’s just about wanting to be recognised. When you look at the top fashion houses, how many have black designers at the forefront?
If you could prioritize one thing in the design world, what would that be?
Inclusivity. I want more inclusivity and to see more opportunities because I feel like now people are in tune with themselves from a young age and know what they want to do, whereas with my generation we didn’t always know what we wanted to do (straight away). A lot of young(er) people see success online from people who are of similar age and feel this pressure to achieve the same amount by the time they’re 20, 30 and so on, but realistically that won’t happen so it’s better to use your teenage years and your 20’s learning because by the time you make it to 40, doing whatever it is you want to do, you’ll be coasting and not working super hard to make it. I want to make it normal for people to understand that being in your 20’s, doesn’t mean you have to make it there and then, that’s the part where you should be researching and developing constantly. I think social media has a big part to play in the “I need to be successful by this age” mentality because you see all these young influencers doing the things you want to do, have the things that you want but they’re such a small margin and don’t represent the general consensus. A lot of kids feel pressured to make it but they don’t know what in, people want a level of comfortability but it’s how are you going to get there. You have to plan why you want to do something? how? Why? Because without that you’re lost.
It’s about repositioning the pressure, it's not about making it but what are you doing to make it.
Exactly! This is another issue too, a lot of kids today, they just feel pressured to make it don’t know what in, they just want to make it because people want that that level of comfortability, Of course we all strive to but need to know how you're going to get that that's why I say like even with the brand it links back to real life plan, map out what is you want to do. The first thing you need to do is establish what and how and why.
It’s so much easier when you start at a young age, when your mind is the freshest is the best. My mother had a conversation with me the other day and was applauding me with how hardworking I was and I just took it upon myself. Even though she still to this day isn't, you know, the happiest, I didn't go to university, but she is now starting to understand. I just felt like I had a different path in life, not just wasting time. For me, in moments where I'm just chilling, I've gotten to a point where I don't know if this is even healthy. My idea of relaxing is working but in a peaceful environment. So, if I'm in a nice quiet environment, I’m relaxed. I just have so many goals I want to achieve. I feel like it'll be easier for me to achieve if I'm working now while I’m freshest. I have no reason not to. As much as I have an xbox, tv All of that stuff. It's like, it's not going anywhere. But I feel like you know, time is of the essence. You know, you can't take back time you can only make of it what you so I try my best to just make sure I do just completely just let go of work for at least a couple of hours a day but, as long as I'm still healthy and I can, why not. That's what's going to separate me from my peers and when I get to where I want to get to you'll see why I put my all into it.
Productivity never goes in vain. In whatever it is you are doing, always be productive, it might just come in some way you don’t expect even if it was a project that was left out or stopped at a certain point, maybe years down the line, people will realise this is why I like you, this is why I connect with you.
There we go! That's usually just a success story of everyone is the best in that field. You look at
Mohammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dieter Rims, Zara, Hadid.
These people are endless amounts of work into their craft to be considered the best at what they do. When you see what they're doing, you will be amazed by it. Some people think it’s just talent but they don't actually see behind the scenes of how much time they put into developing their craft and get to a point where they’re art. That's generally the kind of thing that I kind of just want to do for myself, but it seems promoted amongst other people too, because I'm not the most creative person in the world not to take anything away from myself, but I'm sure to someone else that's more creative than I am. And they could do something crazy if they really just put their mind to it.
Appreciate you man.