On Nov. 30, Titi Adesa founder Titi Adesanya will be honored with the Emerging Talent Award at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 29 print issue about her early rise.
When she started conceptualizing her new footwear label, Titi Adesanya had no idea the kinds of challenges that would be thrown her way. She and her husband found out they were pregnant as she was preparing samples. The brand launched when she was eight months along, and Adesanya thought the biggest hurdle was over. However, six months after the launch, the COVID-19 pandemic hit full force and shut the world down, including many formal events where her shoes could get more exposure.
“It was difficult, but I was very, very determined and I knew the goal that I’d set for this first year, and I just made sure that I stayed focused and kept on going,” Adesanya said.
Raised in Nigeria, London-based Adesanya is no stranger to taking risks. She switched professional paths after starting her career in medicine. As a life-long shoe lover, she decided to launch her luxury women’s footwear brand, Titi Adesa, studying at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and traveling to Italy to learn shoemaking from the artisan level.
To promote the brand, Adesanya turned to social media, since everyone was already there scrolling through, and has so far gained a small but growing audience, with more than 15,500 followers across all platforms. She also focused on building her network of industry connections, which is how she ended up working with Level Shoes, her brand’s first retailer.
“[We] fell in love with the designer and the way she spoke about her brand and her heritage with such passion,” Julia Macrae, a senior buyer for Level Shoes said.
Over the past two years, the brand has also gained the support of celebrities like Emily Blunt and Jennifer Hudson, who have worn Adesanya’s line for red- carpet appearances. Beyoncé even included the company in a curated directory of Black-owned small businesses in 2020. Adesanya credited her early successes to a few things, including the brand’s ethos and message, plus having a socially conscious worldview.
“You have to balance your DNA with the market and what works,” she said. “But I think I’ve found a way so far to be able to merge the two.”
A core part of the brand’s DNA comes from Adesanya’s unique background, growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. Her signature Fafa pump, for instance, was named for a Yoruba phrase her grandmother often used — “On se Fafa,” meaning “You’re being sophisticated.” And her second collection took inspiration from the braided hairstyles of the region.
“I’m so proud to be Nigerian, and I’m so proud of my heritage,” Adesanya said. “And there’s just so much to discover and uncover in Nigeria that I feel like the world needs to know more about in terms of the inspiration.”
Her home again served as the muse for her new collection titled “The Ties That Bind,” which debuts in mid-December.
After finally being able to return to Nigeria once travel was deemed safe from the pandemic, Adesanya said everything there felt new. “[It was] like I was learning it for the first time,” she said. “I ended up being more inquisitive and I took so much inspiration from the communities that I grew up in.”
Beyond her new collection, the creative director is also working to expand her retail distribution. She has plans to launch e-commerce by early Q1 of 2022. Adesanya also aims to add more retailers and even new regions that fit well with the brand, both organically and strategically. In December, the label will debut a pop-up shop in The Lotte in Accra, Ghana.
“Everything is happening slow and steady,” Adesanya said. “And I just look forward to us growing intentionally.”
For 35 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2021 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Authentic Brands Group, FDRA, Informa, On and Wolverine Worldwide.