The Streetwear Renaissance

Shaping Streetwear's third Wave w/ Digital Creator Bobby Akitoye
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The Nigerian-born polymath Bobby Akitoye personifies the kinetic mind of our internet-impacted culture. Bobby seamlessly moves between genres in a wavy line threading together an education as a lawyer, an MBA, and his digital fashion company Prep Corp, pausing in the places where movements collide. We met his pause at Prep Corp., a label creating highly referential works across multiple design avenues to make the most out of the web-3 space. Bobby has taken streetwear to the metaverse with a deep reverence for the iconic figures, movements, and cultures that took streetwear from sidelined to central to how we now dress. The transgressing of traditional boundaries, mixing of high and low, pop and luxury, define Prep Corp's contribution to the digital fashion industry.

What was it like growing up in Nigeria?

I grew up half in Nigeria, came to the UK at 16 for school, and never left. As far as growing up and becoming myself, it mainly happened in the UK. But I can't ignore the formative years in Nigeria. They were critical.

Was becoming a streetwear designer a long-held passion?

Not exactly. I think realizing I wanted to be a part of forming streetwear was the Yeezus album. That album marked a timeline when a lot of black men started to get into fashion and develop what we now refer to as streetwear. Not just Kanye West and Yeezy, but the entire DONDA group movement - Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, Samuel Ross, Don Crawley (aka. Don C). Seeing that transition made me believe that it was possible for me. I can only speak for Nigerians, but despite observing DONDA, there is a limited range of courses you want to tell your parents you're going to study. I felt I had to be logical, so I went into studying law.
How did you go from law to having your own fashion company?

Some lawyers wake up and read Law Reviews while drinking their coffee. I was spending my pastime on the Business of Fashion. You can do your best, but what sets you apart is what you go out to learn about the world yourself. So I changed gears and did an MBA to gather information on fashion.

What drew you to streetwear?

Streetwear was the most relatable thing to me. It felt like the only avenue that would accept me. Not just as a black person, as an African, but as someone who didn't study fashion. If you tell me about the history of something, and it doesn't involve anything relatable, I might like it, but it won't do much for me. But when you have key figures to who you can directly relate, it makes things more accessible.
“With every project, I'm intent on exploring something impossible or hard to replicate in physical fashion.”
— Bobby Akiyote —
It felt more democratic to you…

Kanye has always been about democratic design. The point is to make sure people feel that his creations are accessible. But I started to notice that people use the term streetwear to discredit you. Even Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God, who makes suits, is still referred to as a streetwear designer. At what point do you realize this is more sophisticated than it's given credit for?

Do you see strength in being self-taught?

It makes it easier to break the rules. Off-White came out of this because they weren't limited. Instead, it would be, "What kind of art is inspiring this."

So how do you define it? Is suiting streetwear?

If you're following Virgil's definition that streetwear is just a particular way of making things, then it would very much be streetwear. Because the same person giving you very beautiful suits is the same person making the most luxurious hoodies ever.
How did discovering this more generous definition change your mindset when approaching design?

It gives me a lot more freedom to explore. Virgil said that streetwear is dead. Not as a movement, not as a way of designing, but as in even luxury fashion is part of it. Louis Vuitton makes hoodies now. It's an approach. And now, Prep Corp. exists to take this idea further through practice and documentation powered by 3D technology.

And you're working to define its new wave.

I would say this is streetwear’s third wave. The first wave was the skateboarders era (Supreme, Stussy etc.) and the second wave the ‘Donda’ era (Virgil, Kim jones, Ye, Jerry, Don C, S.Ross etc). Now we have the third wave with Web-3, digital advancements, and so on.

How how does that start?

It starts with having a point of view. Virgil wanted to start a conversation with his pieces. There is a seamless language flowing from one project to the other. Everything has modularity. Whether it's academics or self-motivated study, you have to have reverence. Whether people know how much work you've put in, that reverence will always show up.

Looking at your designs, I can see your fascination with how different industries and movements intersect.

And that's streetwear. Virgil's work with Off White started with a Caravaggio painting he printed on hoodies. Caravaggio invented chiaroscuro, a painting style that artists carried on after him. Discovering his art was when Virgil realized you could change the way people look at things with a single creation.

But that one thing has to be completely original.

How you pull all these influences together and say, "this is my work," is where it's at. I work on theories across music, Renaissance and contemporary art, education, fashion... All of these inform my vision. I spend 95% of the time thinking and 5% executing.

How would you describe your design style?

One constant is that everything is very methodical. Very research-based. With every project, I'm intent on exploring something impossible or hard to replicate in physical fashion. Playing with gravity. I think people are skeptical about the space because they don't understand the opportunities available for creators.
I love the way you took inspiration from Jordans and created a couture gown. Is this your tongue-in-cheek gesture that streetwear is deeper than many people think?

Thank you! It is. It plays on people's nostalgia and familiarity with something. As far as senses go, you want people to feel connected to your work. They don't know why they like something, but they do. It just so happens you have a pair of Jordans 1s in your cupboard.

I love the way you describe starting a Streetwear Renaissance.

Streetwear is at the point where its voice has been heard. Now, how do we bring the streetwear approach into the web-3 space - the movement, the process, and the DIY approach? I answer these questions by constantly doing. Each project has a research question attached to it. What you may not get in profit, you may get invaluable information, which can be worth more than money in the grand scheme of things.

There are a lot of people with backgrounds in tech leading the digital fashion sphere at the moment. You work with a lot of designers to get them into the space. Should it be an artist lead movement?

Everyone has a part to play. If you are passionate about something, you have a duty to make sure it's curated the right way. I think hip-hop is a great reference. Many people will tell you that the problem is that the careers of many hip-hop artists are put into the hands of people who don't even know how to make music. It's one thing to do a business deal. It's another way to decide the direction of someone's creativity when you don't even know how it works.

And for you, doing it properly is documenting, collaborating, and keeping things moving forward.

Virgil is gone now, but I've referenced a lot of his work today. And that tells you that if you do it right, you never really go. The work is always ongoing, even after death.
Interview: Sally Paton
Imagery: Courtesy of Bobby Akiyote