Joy Meribe: Creating Sophisticated Afro Culture Pieces For The Diaspora
Joy Meribe, Nigerian-born Italian designer, made headlines after she opened Milan Fashion Week. The eponymous brand is a black owned luxury brand that makes references to Afro culture.
Speaking to the Guardian Life, she talks about fate, and what makes Joy Meribe unique.
You are the first Nigerian to debut your runway collection on the Milan Fashion Week. How did you feel when you were first notified?
It was like a dream come true! It was a surreal feeling seeing my name on the official Milan Fashion Week calendar. To top it all, I was chosen to open the fashion week as the first show.
A little birdie told us that you achieved this tremendous feat after just one year of launching. How did you do this?
I launched my brand in 2017 while I was still rounding up fashion school. In 2018, I registered my brand officially and registered my business name with the government. Last year was when I had my first national and international mention and digital show with a capsule collection sponsored by the Italian Fashion Chambers (Camera Della Moda Italiana)
This also came about as a result of the project ‘Black lives matter in Italian fashion – We are made in Italy (BLMIF – WAMI)
The project was founded by Michelle Ngonmo (President of Afro Fashion Association of which I’ve been a member since its inception 6 years ago), Stella Jean (Popular Italian designer of Italian and Haitian origin and Founder of ‘Stella Jean’ fashion brand) and Edward Buchanan (Founder and owner of ‘Sansovino6’ fashion brand in Italy) It is a movement that questioned why black Fashion Designers in Italy were not given a chance up till now.
You studied Foreign Languages and International Business Studies. Would you say that fate played out or you were deliberate in your vision as a designer?
I would say fate played out. I’ve always loved fashion all my life, but my family expected a university degree, so I opted for Uni, then MBA in Italy but one thing led to another, and I eventually went to fashion school.
There is no gainsaying Nigerians are fashionable people. Does being Nigerian influence your brand’s pieces?
Of course! An average Nigerian can make something fabulous out of the little they have. It’s not a question of money. We possess an innate sense of style. An average Nigerian wedding seems like a fashion show of sorts. At the beginning of my foray into fashion, I tried so hard to keep it simple and tone down my Nigerian side given that I am working in a country like Italy but the more I come out of my creative shell, the more I set myself apart from mainstream western fashion and this sets me apart from what people are used to. In my future collections, I’m going to push more of my Nigerian influence on the fore.
As one who has broken into the Italian market, what do you believe sets your pieces apart?
The fact that my style is a fusion of both Afro and Western. I’m blessed to have these diverse cultural backgrounds which inspire my creativity.
What is the craziest place you have ever got inspiration from?
Nature. The fabrics of my last collection were exclusively designed and made in Italy. Although it was quite expensive to use custom fabrics, I opted to do that because it gave me the possibility to use the image of a serene African village with huts and banana trees growing beside a flowing river, with beautiful wildflowers growing around the trees.
As a designer, it is one thing to make pieces and another to make marketable pieces. What do you think designers who have failed to do so are getting wrong?
I’m still young in this field and I’m also learning very fast. Sometimes by my own past mistakes or through the mentorship of the affirmed designers who founded the ‘BLMIF – WAMI’ project. Marketable pieces depend on the market environment you find yourself and the styles that people in that market are looking for.
Who would you love to collaborate with in the fashion or entertainment industry?
In the fashion industry, I like Stella Jean, Max Mara, Elie Saab. In the entertainment industry or maybe celebrities I would like to dress Michelle Obama, Onyeka Onwenu, Stephanie Linus, Viola Davies. I just love women who exude strength and character.