Black Business Spotlight: Titi Adesa Designed a Shoe Collection Inspired By Nigerian Hair Braiding

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Shoe designer Titi Adesa has always been a heels girl. She asked for her first pair at 12 years old; her mother finally let her have them at 15.

So when it came time to create her own, after studying footwear design and learning the ins and outs of the business in Italy, the designer went back to some of her earliest memories of fashion and shoes.

“When I was younger, my sister and I would always dress up really fancy to go to our grandmother’s house on Sundays. She would say to us, ‘O n ṣe Fafa,’ which means, ‘You’re being sophisticated,’ in the Yoruba language. It kind of stuck with me,” said Adesa, who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and now lives in London. “I wanted to create a pump that was very sophisticated. The first person I thought of was her.”

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Titi Adesa’s Fafa pump, inspired by the designer’s grandmother.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Titi Adesa

For her second collection, which launches today, the designer is looking again to her Nigerian heritage. The new Hope collection takes inspiration from the many hairstyles of the region. “In my Yoruba culture, a women’s hair is seen as her crown,” said Adesa. “Traditionally, specific braiding styles were actually used to identify women of different tribes.” The influence can be seen on the Dídì (named after the hairstyle Dídì Eléwòó), an elegant suede flat in fuchsia with a single braided line that cuts across the front and meets with a clear PVC panel. It also comes in a sleek high-heeled pump with an open back and extra-long ties made of hand-woven, slanted and braided leather that wrap around the ankle multiple times.

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Titi Adesa’s new Didi pump.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Titi Adesa

The new collection is comprised of eight new styles, all of which are made in Italy. It’s an impressive sophomore showing for a designer who just launched a year ago — and finished production while in lockdown in London this spring. “I had to think within the box, literally, to design and oversee production from home,” said Adesa. “As a new designer, I didn’t expect to be creating my second collection away from my factory, but I’m glad I did, as it stretched my capabilities and was a surprisingly fulfilling challenge.”

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Titi Adesa

To buy: Titi Adesa Dídì flat, $465.

Though she studied and practiced pharmacy early in her career, Adesa always had her eye on footwear. In 2017, she enrolled herself in Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and then set out to learn the trade on the ground, venturing to Italy to immerse herself in factory life.

But like many new designers, she learned the hard and fast lesson that factories aren’t always willing to take a chance on a brand launch. “Coming from my background, I thought that I would have the upper hand because I was bringing business to them. In Nigeria, if you’re bringing in business, you have the upper hand to negotiate. But I realized that that’s not how it works in Italy, it’s based on the weight and volume of your business,” she said.

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Titi Adesa

To buy: Titi Adesa Fafa 2.0 suede pump, $725

Adesa started taking Italian classes to learn the language and eventually found a family-run factory outside of Milan to produce her first collection, which she called Minimal Allure. She launched the line with her website in August 2019 and using a direct-to-consumer model has helped her to get candid and quick feedback from a fast-growing list of clients.

With the latest collection, the designer is also launching the TA Foundation, which aims to help young girls in underserved communities across Africa build careers in design. A percentage of the proceeds from the Hope collection will go to educational sponsorship and mentorship programs.

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Titi Adesa

To buy: Titi Adesa S’oke mule, $620.

And while Adesa is still very much a heels girl — and even wore them through her pregnancy last year as she was launching her brand — both the current landscape of at-home fashion and her 10-month-old daughter have given her a new perspective, which is why she has added a few flats to the new collection.

The designer used her feet to adjust her samples while in production, adding silicone pads instead of foam options to help cushion the weight carried on the ball of the foot. “I didn’t plan to be pregnant while launching the brand, but I had to take that into account, and it was an added benefit,” she said.

She’s also made a mission of making her heels as comfortable as possible for all types of women, creating lasts that are a bit wider. “I’m thinking for my client, which is everyone but I wanted to cater to women like me, Nigerian and African women, who tend to have a little bit wider feet than European sizes,” said Adesa.

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