“Everything na double double; I am creating a lifestyle clothing brand. I am blessed with building a community worldwide, and my goal is to become a global brand.”
The fashion world remains ever-evolving, and some designers go beyond trends, transcending boundaries and weaving intricate stories through their creations. Tolu Oye, the visionary behind Meji Meji, is one such trailblazer whose journey marries the nostalgia of the past with the vibrant tapestry of African culture, all while championing the gender-neutral movement.
Nostalgic, humorous, stylish and invigorating are the perfect words to describe Tolu Oye’s daringly eclectic brand, Meji Meji. With a cult-like following of celebrities and influencers alike, Meji Meji’s distinctiveness reflects Tolu’s artistic finesse.
Spreading her wings across fashion, wellness and hospitality, Tolu Oye, the self-acclaimed “Alte Aunty”, has also tapped into the alternative music scene by creating pieces that resonate with the genre’s core elements of futuristic fusion of multiple genres. She is an entrepreneurial go-getter who tells the Nigerian story globally through fashion.
“I would ask myself, ‘If we were to all die tomorrow, what would be my biggest regret?’ and that was when Meji Meji was born.”
After temporarily shelving her fashion desires, the pandemic led her to launch Meji Meji in 2020 from a point of existentialism and a lot of introspection. She told us about her perseverance in the fashion industry and desperate need to fuel her passion for fashion. She said, “I yearned for more, and Covid-19 allowed me to explore that. When the world was quiet, the sounds of university lectures and sewing machines filled the hallways of my home. I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to begin my legacy: Meji Meji.”
From the tender age of 5, Tolu embarked on a journey destined for the fashion world, guided by the gentle hands of her mother’s sewing table teachings and the intricate lessons of pattern cutting. It was a journey woven into her purpose and the fabric of her being. Tolu’s earliest memories include transforming pattern paper into a canvas for her imagination. She would pick up the pattern paper, transforming it into a canvas for her creativity. These were the beginnings of a remarkable odyssey, where ideas from her childhood memories would soon become tangible works of art.
Her parents immersed Tolu in a tapestry of Yoruba cultural elements throughout her childhood. The rhythmic melodies of Fuji music, the soul-stirring Nigerian gospel tunes, and the captivating stories of old Nollywood movies all shaped her creative identity. They became the vivid pigments of the canvas of Meji Meji.
At 16, Tolu embarked on a transformative journey back to Nigeria. This homecoming ignited a fervent hunger within her, a longing to delve deeper into the heart of Yoruba culture. It was during this pivotal moment the vision for Meji Meji crystallised. Tolu was determined to centre her brand around the intrinsic beauty and timeless allure of African fashion and its culture.
The world has taken notice of Tolu’s exceptional talent and the empowering message woven into every Meji Meji piece. The brand captures catchy statements like the “ Star Girl” crop top, the “Lagos babe” tee and the “Meji Meji Mama- Na Me Cause Am” t-shirt. These possess the whimsy of the old Nollywood aesthetic and the allure of femme fatale. Meji Meji keys into the unconventional to give a feminine appeal to a streetwear brand.
Worn by Tems, Ayra Starr, Tiwa Savage and Lady Donli, who captivate the brand’s essence, their endorsement is not just a mark of approval; it’s a recognition of the power of fashion to empower and uplift. Tolu’s journey as an entrepreneur reflects challenges and triumphs, but the attention of celebrities and influencers has breathed new life into her determination.
This and the success of Meji Meji pop-up shops in New York, Paris, and Lagos are fervent reminders that her vision, born from the depths of her passion and heritage, resonates with a global audience. It’s a testament that when authenticity and creativity intersect, they create ripples that can shape the world.
The name of her brand was born out of nostalgia for Yoruba culture and the need to reflect it creatively. While going through a Yoruba dictionary, she came across the word ‘meji’, which struck a familiar chord. “The first thing I could think about was my grandmother’s street – ore meji- which translates to two friends”. Tolu found this fit for her brand, ‘Meji Meji, ‘ which means double, expressing her love for fashion and culture.
“The stories of Africans are constantly told for us, but rarely by us. That is why Meji Meji has a deep cultural focus, and it is my goal for both brands to enlighten people about the beauty of African ancestors and culture.”
Intending to marry fashion and education through storytelling, Tolu is excited about her plans to make Meji Meji more than just a clothing brand. This is just the beginning for Tolu; she has set her sights on global recognition. Tolu aims to focus on developing brand projects while creating meaningful engagement opportunities.
One of Tolu Oye’s most captivating aspects is her unapologetic embrace of gender neutrality. Her pieces testify fashion need not adhere to traditional binaries. By creating garments that transcend gender, they empower wearers to express themselves freely, defy societal norms, and celebrate their individuality.
While Tolu’s journey is rooted in New York, Nigeria remains the heartbeat of her brand. It’s a testament to Nigerian culture’s magnetic allure, people’s vibrancy and the boundless wellspring of creativity within its borders. Nigeria isn’t just a contributor to her brand’s success; it’s an integral part of its essence. In Nigeria, the absence of comprehensive fashion education is an issue that weighs heavily on the shoulders of budding creatives. However, rather than deter them, this gap in knowledge acts as a catalyst, propelling them to seek unconventional paths and blaze their trails.
The challenges fashion entrepreneurs face in Nigeria are not roadblocks but stepping stones. They are the catalysts that drive innovation, ignite passion, and pave the path to empowerment. Tolu’s journey is a testament to the fact that when the Nigerian creative spirit collides with challenges, the result is nothing short of brilliance.
In Tolu, we find not just a fashion designer but a catalyst for empowerment and a storyteller who invites us to enter a world where fashion knows no boundaries and the past and present dance perfectly.