PARIS — Kenneth Ize has put his label on pause as he plots his next move after parting ways with his investor last summer.
The Nigerian designer revealed he was taking a break in a brief Instagram post on July 23, and was a no-show at Paris Fashion Week in the fall.
In his first interview on the subject, Ize told WWD he stopped working with Roberta Annan, the founder and managing partner of the Impact Fund for African Creatives, or IFFAC, and is hoping to relaunch this year on his own terms. After struggling initially to digest the setback, he said he was feeling energized and ready to bring new ideas to the table.
Ize, who grew up and studied fashion in Austria, has been spending time in Lagos, Nigeria, reconnecting with his culture and spirituality, which includes learning about the Orisha deities of the Ifa religion practiced among Yoruba communities.
“It’s just like getting into a different space completely where I feel like I’m not rushed. I can start when I want to start, and end when I want to end, and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to taste what that is,” said the designer, who’s been on a whirlwind trajectory since reaching the semifinals of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in 2019.
“The whole process of consulting the gods is literally like a celebration, so I think that for me, to be able to get to that point in my own life now that I’m 32, it just really means so much to me,” he added. “It feels great. I’ve been enjoying the break really a lot.”
Though he enjoyed a high profile thanks to the support of influential industry figures like Naomi Campbell, and a collaboration with the Karl Lagerfeld brand in 2021, Ize said his business was hobbled by a string of setbacks, including UPS losing two shipments of the signature handwoven fabric he used for many of his designs and a partner in Italy failing to make payments on goods sold.
“I’ve had such unfortunate luck,” he lamented, saying he ended up plugging his personal savings into the brand’s fabric production facility in Nigeria to keep it afloat. The designer said the production issues were compounded by his difficulties with Annan. “We had issues,” Ize said.
“We’re just about structuring and organizing the company, so there’s so much work at this level to be done. And I think IFFAC, they were probably overwhelmed. It just also really shocked me a lot when we made the sale from the previous collection and we made almost half a million euros. And I have an investor and I can’t produce that, and get more money into the business,” he said.
“I have to take a step back,” he continued. “The plan is to come back [this] year. I’m going to see when. I guess, maybe next season. I just want to take my time to make this collection.”
A spokesman for IFFAC confirmed it was no longer working with Ize.
“Unfortunately, the relationship between IFFAC and Kenneth Ize broke down due to irreconcilable differences around finance following an investment of 520,000 euros. Both sides agreed to enter an arbitration process under the auspices of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, and that is still ongoing,” he said.
“Meanwhile, IFFAC wishes Kenneth every success in his future ventures, and retains confidence in his creative abilities,” the spokesman added.
Ize said he’s been taking a break from social media while he resets. “I don’t look at fashion. I haven’t been on Instagram for such a long time. I kept myself away from it. Oh, my god, I did not know when the Queen died,” he said with a laugh.
While he plots his next move, he’s working on a capsule collection of vintage pieces customized with brand signatures, such as the Ouroboros, a circular symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. Ize’s last runway collection, for fall 2022, also featured vintage finds mixed with his trademark plaid fabrics.
He has set up a fundraising vehicle, the Kenneth Ize NGO, to finance his local production unit and training facility.
“Hopefully we can start raising those funds by February and see what happens. I’m still opening the doors for investors to come,” he said. “The brand is not going anywhere, but let me just refresh myself and get back to you guys.”
This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.