This week, British shoemaker Clarks are launching its first dedicated men’s pop-up in Covent Garden. To mark the opening this Wednesday, I photographed four London gents in their favourite Clarks' styles around Seven Dials.
In our first interview, artist Abo Akin talks about London inspiration and how hope is all we need to succeed. See the full feature below and if you're in London over the next 3 weeks, head to 55 Neal Street from the 23rd onwards, where you can find my photography as well as a curated selection of Clarks' coolest mens footwear.
Abo was photographed wearing Frelan Rise boots in Burgundy, at Old Brew Yard - 404 feet from the pop-up shop at 55 Neal Street.
Abolade Akintunde a.k.a. Abo Akin, Product and Graphic Designer, Artist and owner of Bisbol.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I was born In Nigeria and spent most of my years growing up there, I lived in Lagos for 15 years until I moved to the UK in 2007 at the age of 15. I lived in Bristol for 4 years, then Newport and now London. I've been here for 4 years now and moved for University.
What's your star sign? Well I was born on the 19th - I’m not the biggest fan of star signs due to my religious beliefs but I read some of the characteristics of a Gemini and I gotta admit, that’s me! I am very multi-dimensional, I like to move around a lot, I am interested in everything, but may not get too deep into it. I can be very weird, both in appearance and thoughts. I just like the idea of being overly different and unusual.
Current album on repeat? ASA – Bed of Stones. ASA is a very quirky artistic artist, her music to me is a combination of deep rooted situations and proverbs that can make you transpire to a whole different dimension, she’s from my tribe in Nigeria and some of her songs are in my native language (Yoruba). What I like most about her songs is that they are soul searching and thought provoking. It makes you view life from a completely different dimension.
Describe yourself in 5 words? Great, Weird, Optimistic, Playful, Artist.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? When I was a kid I wanted to become an astronaut, I wanted to be the first black African to go space, being an astronaut was the dream. Well today I am still very much interested in the solar system, I still very much love physics and astrology. More so I believe that my mind had more of an effect on me. I always have so much optimism, I always want to wander about and discover something new. I always want to recreate something, redesign something, draw something, rediscover something. I don’t like boredom and I must have felt that being in space where everything is endless and there is such captivating beauty to the randomness of such environment put together in perfection will be the most appropriate destination. Today I believe I’m in a space of my own. I can't specifically remember the first day I started drawing but I’ve always been an artist.
Your brand Bisbol has a really strong aesthetic. How would you describe the design? Thank you. Bisbol is a name formed when I was young, I had a really close friend of mine whom we got an award for the best friendship at school and our names got joined together and ever since we’ve kept the name. This was probably the only time I met someone like me in every way, optimistic, thoughtful, inspired, artistically different from everyone else, we would do everything together, draw, study, pray, eat. We kept everything we did simple effective and clean and we were able to entertain everyone. Inseparable!
How did you come up with the DNA for the brand? The brand itself stems from that simplicity and colorful exuberance. I always felt that menswear is really basic in terms of style; I notice that men are not too keen on exploring new ideas as much as women, so I wanted to create something that looks simple.
In addition to that Bisbol is tagged with colour, I have many phrases when I’m describing the brand and one of which is ‘The colorful man’. I am very keen on revolutionizing menswear with an injection of colour. Another one is, I am keen on going back to basics as much, going back to the beginning keeping it as simple as possible. The idea really is simplicity AND colourful.
The bag you were wearing on set is one of your own and almost reminds me of something technological - like an old computer from the 80s. What's your biggest inspiration from design?
This was inspired by the box suitcase and is very much from the 80s. I wanted to take it far back and redefine it. It's like the new classic, I tried to create a suitcase shaped bag as a backpack. Make it look as cool as possible and add some colours to it. Really simple stuff!
What's your favourite colour and tell me a memory that's linked to it? Yasss! COLOUR IS EVERYTHING. Why live in a boring world when you can spice it up with so many colours and have fun doing it. My favorite colour would be yellow. I love every bright colour but yellow makes me think of happiness, we all deserve to be happy. It makes me think of the sun, when the sun is out people have much brighter faces. Plus I’m quite dark skinned so I want a colour that makes my skin tone stands out. Yellow work really well on me.
On your instagram page your quote is "There's always Hope for the Hopeless" - why do you live with a message of hope? This is very important to stress, when you feel like there is no hope, search deep within you and you’ll find it! I stress this because I know everyone has something that looks hopeless. There are people with cancer, AIDs, people in a coma, people who can’t help themselves, people in war zones countries, disabled on the streets of Africa and Asia, people without homes in the cold, people who have no families. I have seen people who have nothing but are still thankful for what they have!
Hope makes everything better, it helps define and shape your destiny, with hope you have faith, with faith you believe, with belief your mind is liberated. If you believe things will get better, there is no doubt it will! The world can be better, people can love each other more, respect one another, help one another. It has the potential to be a better place!
I saw you just became a British citizen 5 months ago - what's the story there? Yes I am a citizen now, feels good! I am from Nigeria and have lived here for 7 years now. I moved to the UK mostly because my whole family relocated here, my Dad got a Job here at first but I didn’t want to come. I loved it back in Nigeria and only wanted to visit, then I changed my mind partly because I had no choice plus I was willing to give it a go.
There is a vast cultural difference. The UK is cold, Nigeria is hot, contrary to what people think that black people love chicken, we eat more beef. Houses are much bigger in Nigeria, we barely have electricity and people are a lot louder. London I love because it reminds me of Lagos where I was born: energetic, loud, hustle and bustle, running for buses, the tube. London is multi-dimensional like myself.
What I like most is the receptiveness of so many cultures. Everywhere you do is different, from Peckham to Shoreditch to Covent garden.
What's incredible is that you have an English accent - was that an intentional decision? Yes my English accent is something I had to work on. Speaking English with a British accent is difficult so it's still not completely perfect but I like where it is now and I wont change it. It's English with a hint of the Nigerian in me. We did speak English in Nigeria but it came with an accent and I was lucky enough to have friends who accepted my accent as it developed.
So culture and identity seem really important to you. How does it feel to be a Black, British man in 2014? Exciting! Very! I am not moved by what people might think, I’m about being different so much the color of my skin makes it perfect. I have 2 cultures, two lifestyles and I speak two languages. Have you ever wondered which of these languages I actually think or dream in? I don't think I even know!
My opinion is, if you don’t like me because I am black, then that’s good, you don’t deserve what I have to offer because I will always give my best. You are going to be missing out on some fun.
London is so diverse, when you first moved here did you find it easy to assimilate? It's incredible here. I could go to Peckham where it's all black people and you wouldn’t notice me, but then I could go to central London where there’s all nationalities are together and you probably still wouldn’t notice me. You have to pick your circle and create your own community here or you can just stand-alone!
We shot in Covent Garden as the new Clarks pop up is opening at Seven Dials. What's your favourite thing about that area? Covent Garden is one of the coolest most inspiring places in London. It can get really busy sometimes but it does have a really artistic nature. I feel like it's one of the places that really explain what London is as a whole. Cultural and youthful exuberance, quirky, stylish and popping.
What do you love most about Covent Garden? The tube station, I love coming out of that place, it just feels different to everywhere else, there’s a vibe that I like.
Tell us about what your working on at the moment. I will be traveling to Nigeria to do some work with a charity organization called Liberty soon, helping people medically, building schools and churches around the country. Then I’ll spend 6 weeks exploring Africa. I want to discover how inspired the people are by fashion. I’m hoping to strike up some deals too or maybe get a collaboration with a big brand.
I'll also be working on my blog THEBISBOLMAN, photographing a lot more and trying to create that simple aesthetic and artistic nature. Will like to collaborate a lot more with as many people as possible. Finally, I am starting to think about my next design collection for 2015.
Leave us with some words of wisdom. Sometimes we take so much time planning that that we don’t actually do anything. Life is short, live and love. Work for fun, not for money. Be patient, your time will surely come. Avoid stress, it kills. Stay Hopeful, have faith and be thankful THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS!