June 14, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

Fashion: Foday Dumbuya | London City Hall

5 min read

The Mayor of London supports fashion as part of his Creative Economy Growth Programme. Foday Dumbuya was selected to be part of the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) NEWGEN initiative (2023-24), which supports the best emerging fashion design talent into the industry.

About Foday Dumbuya

LABRUM London is on a mission: to tell the untold stories of West Africa through clothing.

Boasting a proudly British African heritage, the menswear brand is in the business of world-building through fashion. Flattening time and space between Sierra Leone and the UK, Freetown and London, to tell authentic narratives that feel like ‘home’, wherever you are in the world.  

Fronted by founder and creative director Foday Dumbuya – a fast-rising star in the fashion industry’s cutting-edge – LABRUM weaves West African influences with British tailoring to create honest, thought-provoking garments rooted in simplicity, practicality and a passion for detail.

Foday explains, “I wanted to tell untold stories about London, where I grew up and Sierra Leone where I was born. This juxtaposition of like, Africa and London, has always fascinated me. Everything I do is mixing those two worlds.”

Getting onto NEWGEN

Inspired by industry icons like Oswald Boateng, Foday was able to further elevate his craft as a recipient on the 2023-2024 British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN initiative.

“Getting onto the programme created a good path for what I wanted to achieve, and where I wanted to take LABRUM. In that sense, it’s been another stepping stone for me.”

LABRUM has seen collaborations with industry powerhouses across music, TV and sports – from a posthumous collection project with hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur to launches with Adidas, Netflix’s Top Boy, Hackney FC and more. London plays a crucial role in LABRUM’s creation story.

“The story I’m telling is about my culture; about being Black in London, and African in London. I also think London helps me, motivates me. Being the melting pot of culture that it is, it informs my aesthetic, but also the way I design, the way I tell stories on textiles. It’s been the best thing, to learn my trade here.”  

Working at the intersections of continent and capital, between the African diaspora and the rest of the world, is no easy feat. Amid LABRUM’s meteoric success however, Foday maintains “all I’ve ever wanted to do is like, just be me. An African, British-Sierra Leonean boy from the city. I wanted to make beautiful garments, to develop fabrics that people can feel and touch and connect back to the story, the history. I’ve always had this dream of intertwining culture and community with design. That’s really my work.”  

With support from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as part of his Creative Economy Growth Programme, the NEWGEN initiative takes on the best emerging fashion design talent with a view to building global, high-end brands of the future.

“I feel like you see the success rates of the people have come through it, and where they’ve gone on to.” Foday reflects. “The initiative really helps up-and-coming designers. It gives you another extra boost to get you where you want to be.” 

Looking to the future of fashion 

LABRUM London has since had consecutive showcases at London Fashion Week (LFW), which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

“40 years of LFW means a lot. I’ve been watching shows for years and years. I would think to myself: ‘I need to manifest that one day, I will be the designer for that show.’ And now, it’s happening in my lifetime. To be part of creating that legacy, for me, is just an additional bonus.”

Part of this legacy involves ensuring a sustainably creative future in fashion. LABRUM London is employing a number of responsible best practices: operating a lean manufacturing basis, offering repair services where possible, minimising inventory build-up and material wastage, and upcycling excess inventory for future collections.  

“The truth is, I think no fashion is sustainable” Foday observes. “That’s just the fact. What we try to do, is be responsible. We don’t produce a lot. We produce, design, and develop our fabrics in London. If it doesn’t work for this season, we push it to another, so that things are not wasted.”  

“I see sustainability more as making a garment but making it really well. That way you make less and create a sort of longevity to the lifecycle of that particular piece.”  

Another major part of this legacy lies in community-building.

“People tend to think of community as some sort of like, trendy buzzword. For me, I don’t take it lightly the people that I surround myself. I call them my family, my community, and how I give back to this community is a very important part of my work.”  

“Fashion can be a kind of fickle environment, where everything is about fantasy” he continues. “For me, I wanted to go the other direction: to tell real life stories and educate people about who I am and where I come from. I think that’s what drives me to create these stories. The more I spoke to people of Sierra Leonean heritage, especially younger people, the more I realised what was missing in terms of our own education – about our country, about the history. I’m trying to give this cultural relevance back to those kids. To reinforce their knowledge of a path they might not have explored before.”  

Naturally, he has high hopes for the future of fashion in the capital. “I’m a Londoner. I give a toss.” he laughs. “Since Brexit, we’ve lost so much. But the amazing thing about London is, it’s the centre of culture. We need to cash in on this, like we do with Paris. You need to support institutions like BFC, or like the Mayor of London, so they can help support us, and keep us on the right path.”   

Foday’s tips for upcoming designers

His top tips for the designers coming up in the industry? “Be authentic. Be yourself. For me authenticity just means, being true to yourself. Doing things that inspire you and others like you to just own your own space and believe in your craft.” 

“Keep moving. Keep creating. Keep experimenting. You can be your own driver. Try to create your own noise. Try to get in your own lane. Or find a different lane altogether. Create your own community. And then, institutions will come and help you make it bigger. That’s how I’ve navigated my way around. So that’s my advice; constantly do your own thing. All day, every day.” 

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