Designer interview

Solomon Appollo

Solomon Appollo designer Ozie Amadi studied art and graphic design before a bad experience with a bag led her in a new direction. It was practically fate – her brother once owned a street wear company called Solomon Appollo, so when Ozie decided to launch her own handbag line, she knew exactly what to call it. Solomon Appollo is a family affair – Ozie credits her mother and aunts with inspiring her “Afropean” aesthetic. In a nod to her Nigerian heritage, Ozie designs bags that feature stunning West African textiles either inside or out – each bag carries a bit of her spirit. With modern shapes, stunning materials and an impressively coherent collection, Solomon Appollo is one of our favorite new brands.

Hello Ozie – can you please tell us a little more about yourself?

I was born and raised in East London, surrounded by the creative districts of Shoreditch and Brick Lane. I'm of Nigerian heritage and I was heavily influenced by the culture and fashion of traditional African clothing from an early age. My mother is a huge influence – she is a very vibrant character and is eclectic in her fashion choices. I was first introduced to leather craft while doing my diploma at the Cordwainers College before taking a degree course specializing in accessories at The London College of Fashion. I now live in North London, only one hour away from where I was born.

When did you know you wanted to become a bag designer?

I have always been a creative person. From art at school to graphic design at college, fashion was a natural progression. About 10 years ago on a girls’ night out in a club that was rather dark and dingy, I was rummaging through my clutch looking for my lip gloss, and I said to a friend that I wish I could design a bag that when opened in a dark area would produce a little LED light so us ladies could find our essentials! I knew then that I could make great handbags. Two years later I was at Cordwainers. I'm still working on putting lights in my bags!

Can you please tell us about your design process?

Form and function are the most important things to me. Once I have drawn from my inspiration, which is usually architecture, art or a historical or traditional type of clothing, the shape, function and color will follow in that order. I would describe my design style as Afropean – classic European style and references mixed with African influences and fabrication.

I use a variety of materials including leather, suede, pony skin and traditional African fabrics such as Ankara, Super Wax and Kente. I have to say my favorites are suede and Ankara as I find that I am attracted to the vibrant colors within the textiles as well as the textures.

What sort of creative challenges do you face?

Thanks to my diploma and degree, I am able to complete the whole design process within my North London studio. I undertake all design, pattern cutting, sourcing and manufacturing myself. It is great to be self-sufficient as I have complete control over my work at every stage. I love the design process and find that I have trouble controlling the range planning stage. For each collection, I usually draw about 20-30 designs before I cut down to 8-10, which is painful and challenging. I also dislike putting limitations on myself regarding things like budgets and cost. Sometimes I imagine I'm a couture handbag designer for whom cost and pricing are almost irrelevant.

Many of your bags incorporate African textiles. Can you tell us a bit about these textiles and why you love them?

As a child, I accompanied my mother and aunties on their many fabric-sourcing adventures. There was always a party or function to attend and they always wanted to have the latest fabrics, ensuring that they looked the most vibrant and fashion forward. They each had a seamstress who would create an elaborate, traditional outfit with technically advanced embroidery work or beading to their specification. Most of the fabrics originate from West Africa, mainly Nigeria and Ghana where the textile printing and weaving industries are big business.

Can you tell us a bit about your brand name?

Solomon Appollo has been in the family for nearly 20 years. It was once an urban street wear brand founded by my brother. I assisted in designing various graphics for the t-shirts, which was my first foray into fashion. My brother discontinued the brand in 1998 to concentrate on his graphic design company, but I found myself using the name and logo in many of my degree projects. Solomon Appollo is an enigmatic fictional character, much like a modern day superhero, a persona of sorts. Solomon is a historical and biblical name and Appollo is a representation of new world exploration – the future. To create my handbags, I use a mixture of traditional leather craft techniques and innovative design.

When you were setting up your brand, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

I have been fortunate to have been able to source all my materials and fittings within London, although that isn’t easy on my budget! I kept in touch with a few of my tutors, who have given great advice along the way. Gaining the right exposure and finding the right platforms for promotion or sales was rather challenging – that’s why Africa Fashion Week was such a great opportunity – it represented international designers who are strongly influenced by African fashion and fabrics.

Who is the Solomon Appollo customer?

The Solomon Appollo customer has very few fashion limitations; she is eclectic in her fashion choices. She loves color, textiles and textures. She is much like who I aspire to be: successful in her own right, confident, full of life and someone people turn their heads to look at twice when she walks down the street.

Please tell us about your favorite Solomon Appollo piece.

I love the Super Mini satchels and the Temple Pillar/Gold clutches. They are so vibrant and versatile. They are open to many a style interpretation, which is in direct association with our tagline: “Designed by us, styled by you.”

Do you have any advice for other independent designers?

Starting an independent brand is not always easy. I would highly recommend doing internships or applying for graduate mentoring schemes. As they say, it’s not always what you know or how talented you are, but who you know.

You are based in London – where do you like to spend your free time?

I love East London, it has a bit of everything. It's a great creative hub, full of haberdasheries; 90 percent of my suppliers are based in the East End. You'll find the best street style in Brick Lane, innovative architecture in the City of London and a mix of cultures in Dalston. I love shopping in Camden, at vintage stores like Rockit, or the many market stalls at the Lock. There are unlimited sources of inspiration from the many museums, curations and exhibitions London has to offer.

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