You may be hearing about buzzy designer Autumn Adeigbo more than ever, but she’s not an overnight success. With a degree in Economics from Spelman College and another in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, Adeigbo founded her namesake label in 2016 after years of preparation and perseverance.
The designer was first inspired by her Nigerian mother, who sewed her clothes as a little girl. After being expelled from boarding school with a strict uniform dress code, her love of fashion — and pushing its boundaries — was solidified.
Before launching her namesake brand, Adeigbo cut her teeth interning with Betsey Johnson, then working retail at Anna Sui and Paul Smith, and assisting stylists such as Andrea Lieberman, Leslie Fremar and Rebecca Weinberg. But it wasn’t until she worked as a hostess at a New York City restaurant that got her first seven dress designs in front of fashion’s top editors.
“Out of every 50 or 100 pitches, an editor would put my designs in the magazine. That really was the foundation for me realizing I had a product that was interesting enough to stand out,” she told FN.
Now, her conversation-making dresses have caught the eyes of fashion powerhouses such as Tommy Hilfiger and Tory Burch. (In 2019, she was named a Tory Burch fellow at the Tory Burch Foundation.) Other celebrity fans include Mindy Kaling, Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington and Busy Philipps.
Her shoes are making headlines, too. What started out as a passion project for fall ’21 has turned into a category that has the potential to drive major sales for the brand.
“I don’t see why we also wouldn’t be able to find our audience with our shoes as long as we design in a way with integrity that is really filling a market gap,” she said, noting spring ’22 will bring an expanded footwear assortment.
It all started with a clog. Adeigbo said launching that initial style came from thinking back to her favorite pair of shoes that she owned as a teen: a pair of Clark’s clogs. “[Designing shoes] was being like a kid in a candy store and that’s an understatement,” she said.
As part of the fall line, Adeigbo designed an ankle-strap clog that included her signature mixed-match crystal buckles. Then, last month, a similar-looking style from Jeffrey Campbell was made available at retailers, including Nordstrom. Adeigbo called out Jeffrey Campbell for knocking off her look that had yet to even hit stores.
“It’s easy to blame corporations, but all it takes is one person to make a decision and everyone else in the team could not be aware of the full spectrum of what’s going on,” Adeigbo said on the matter. “In the fashion industry, we all borrow from each other. This is not the first time, but this was so blatant that I had to call it out. There is an element of us all being inspired by each other, but you have to put your own stamp on it.” (After the situation came to light, Nordstrom — which carries Adeigbo accessories — and Jeffrey Campbell removed the product.)
Last year, Adeigbo, then a one-woman show, secured $1.3 million of institutional investments. She made headlines as the first eponymous fashion brand led by a female, Black designer to raise more than $1 million in venture capital funding. In September, she secured additional funds of nearly $3 million, led by venture capital firm Offline Ventures, bringing her total investments to more than $4 million.
Since then, the luxury label is offered in retailers Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, in addition to Nordstrom, Shopbop and Rent the Runway. She also has her direct-to-consumer e-commerce channel that is driven solely by organic traffic and zero ads. With these funds, Adeigbo plans to deepen her retail partnerships, grow her DTC business and look into brick-and-mortar opportunities.
“Now we have the capital to execute. Now it’s about hiring. It’s about getting all the loose nuts and bolts a little more tight and turning this into a well-oiled machine by having the right people do the right things in the organization,” she said.
Raising these funds was no an easy feat, however.
“I wrote my first business plan in 2009 and pitched it to my boss at the restaurant I worked at,” the designer said. “I got rejected left and right. And then finally, in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement people became passionate about supporting Black founders and Black creatives.”
Although BLM may have been the catalyst for Adeigbo’s recent growth, she said that color of her skin should not be what puts her in a different category from other designers.
“When we really see progress is when we stop dividing people by the color of their skin. Period,” she said. “Do I love my culture and is it an amazing part of who I am? Absolutely. In terms of making a pathway for other Black creatives? I think that conversation is important because the playing field hasn’t been level. But, for me, don’t do me any favors by calling me a Black designer. I didn’t get here because of the color of my skin. I got here because I am talented, educated, because I work hard and am kind.”
Adeigbo is closing out 2021 on a high note, but she’s just scratching the surface. “I don’t consider myself a success. I am just getting started.” Plus, becoming a $1 billion brand is not out of the question. “Because why not?” she said.