Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview the owner of LeyeLesi, a sustainable and ethical fashion brand now based in Edinburgh. I spoke to Aghogho Ogunlesi over zoom during her lunchtime break and got to know more about her wonderful business.
We begin our conversation speaking about herself and how she came to create her brand. She is of a Nigerian-American background and originally studied Chemistry before doing a further degree in Pharmacy. However, during this time she realised that her heart lied in fashion. Whilst studying, (2002-2006), she began her own fashion line selling t-shirts and one day started sketching bags. By 2016, she started making bags and the company continued to grow.
Aghogho tells me LeyeLesi sell bags, shoes, and jewellery; however, their main focus in on the handbags. She works very closely with her artisans who produce her products. Her handbags are produced in Nigeria and her jewellery comes from Senegal and Ghana. She places a huge emphasis on the ethics which surround her products, having good relationships with her artisans is key to her business functioning; but also, for ensuring those producing her products are treated well. We speak about the importance of empathy in such circumstances, establishing both happy and productive relationships.
We chat about promoting an importance of buying sustainable clothing through her products. She wants to share the idea of making conscious decisions about what we buy and why we buy it. It is better to produce on demand instead of constantly and the last few months, especially, have shown this.
She tells me that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, her sales have risen, however her production levels have been reduced. This is mainly due to the capacity which her artisans in Africa have at the moment. In an effort to be sustainable and produce on demand, Aghogho pre-orders; there is no mass-production. In West Africa, where her products are produced, a lot of production has understandably come to a halt. Markets are open only on some days now and lockdown restrictions mean things have been slow. This has meant the number of products produced has decreased, but hopefully soon things will begin to rectify themselves.
I then hear about her past work with online influencers; these have helped her in terms of sales but also to spread the word of LeyeLesi. She tells me she sent some products to Tabitha Brown, the American actress and influencer. She later posted pictures of her wearing the earrings and soon they were sold out which is really amazing.
We then speak about Aghogho’s future plans for LeyeLesi – both in the short-term and long-term. In the short-term, she tells me she would like to work on her social media content, develop her website and produce a Black Excellence collection which would showcase the achievements and influence of the black community through her fashion. In the long-term, she would like to break-even properly in terms of her business and also get into the fashion scene in the UK and Scotland, post-Covid. Finally, she wants to globalise her business and get into as many stores as possible.
LeyeLesi is an amazing brand and not just in terms of what they sell, but also within the ethics and practices they promote and enhance. Make sure you have a look at their social media and online shop – get involved!
You can find them on IG/FB: @leyelesi and at their Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LeyeLesi.