The Originals: Kenneth Ize

In an era where seemingly everything is mined for inspiration—or, let’s be frank, appropriation—what does it take to be truly one of a kind? A willingness to break the rules is essential; a strong sense of personal style certainly doesn't hurt; but most of all, you need to have a truly meaningful point of view. At W we are all about celebrating originality, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite people who are constantly pushing boundaries, and asked them to share valuable insights. They may be just starting out or in the prime of their careers, but they are all leading the conversation in their chosen fields—whether it’s fashion, art, film, music, photography, or even skateboarding. The bottom line is that, regardless of their differences, they all share one very important trait: for them, standing out, rather than blending in, is not an option but a necessity.

Kenneth Ize is a Nigerian fashion designer known for his namesake label, Ize.

Describe originality in three words.

Understanding, pragmatic, transparent.

Who is an Original?

Toni Morrison. Original is when you do things in your own way and stand by it. It’s when it’s about you understanding yourself and being able to share that with another person in an organic way that is not forceful or aggressive.

Who is the ideal person you have in mind when you’re designing pieces for your namesake label?

Can I be selfish? I think of myself and sometimes my girlfriends. It’s a fantasy. I hear about these stories, and then I create a fantasy around the stories and around myself. How do I picture myself going to this dinner? How am I picking up my girlfriend from home? Are we going out?

Who was the first person who made you realize you could break the rules?

I grew up in a very small family, in the countryside in Austria. When I was 18, I moved to Vienna to study fashion design, and that was something very fresh because I could literally count how many black people were in my town. Going back home to my family on weekends for a function or a flea market, I’d be with them all the time. My mom is my best friend. My dad taught me some fashion rules, like about the right shirt line and pants line. University made me realize that my specialty could be more open. I was a free person. There wasn’t any rule about who could wear a skirt. Everybody there made me realize you could break any rules and live your life.

What’s the worst fashion trend that you’ve participated in?

Maybe the iPhone. It’s just a trend that you can’t really leave.

Who is your style icon?

Prince. He was very daring—he knew the right silhouettes for a man to look sexy.

Why did you decide to move from Vienna to Nigeria?

To start my brand and to take care of the environment I’m from. It wasn’t something I thought up on some random day; moving to Africa is no joke. Before school, I never believed that there were black people in fashion, like at an atelier or a fashion house. I couldn’t afford to make clothes in Europe, so I knew if I moved to Nigeria, I could survive and do what I want to do.

How does Nigerian identity influence or inspire your work?

The brand is really about passing on stories about my parents, my mom, my friends, a Nigerian person on the street. Everyone in Nigeria tends to have a unique story.

What was your style like as a teenager?

A bit of everything. My parents are Nigerians who lived in Europe for a long time, so it was a mixture of a bunch of things—from African prints to cute schoolboy looks. My parents really loved clothes. As a teenager, there was a time when I started buying vintage clothes. I guess everyone had that phase. I don’t think I ever picked a style. I just loved being elegant and relaxed at the same time.

Which area of Lagos has the best street style?

Every corner in Lagos, you find fashion. Trust me, I can literally look down my street and send you a picture of a random person on the street and they’re stylish. It’s crazy. Even if you go to the bush, fashion comes in different forms. I know in Europe you don’t find such cool, amazing style in the countryside in the middle of the day, but in Nigeria it’s really different. Even the old ladies tying the wrapped fabric around their waist form it into a silhouette. Fashion is everywhere.

Related: The World Is Witnessing Nigeria's Creative Golden Age