Fisayo Longe started her fashion label Kai Collective to celebrate all female forms – not just the western idea of beauty. “I feel my clothes transform you into a woman who is more confident,” says Longe, 28. “A lot of women have said things like: ‘After I had kids, I was very insecure about my body. I wore this dress and I thought I was Beyoncé!’
“I think because they see other women like them – whether it’s ‘plus-size’ or whatever – wearing these clothes, looking and feeling so good, it kind of gives them permission to take a chance.” And it’s these words that hint at the community Longe has worked so hard to create through her brand.
Born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, before returning to the UK when she was 15, Longe’s original outlet for her love of fashion was her blog Mirror Me.
Having a passion for travel, Longe would pick up fabrics from the countries she visited and make outfits for herself, which she posted on social media. As her creations started to cause a stir, the seed for her own brand was planted.
“I wanted something I could inject 100% of my creativity into, something that was fully me and women like me,” explains the business owner, who recalls going into a high street store and the jeans not fitting her curvaceous body very well.
“That’s the thing about Kai – women always say how confident the clothes make them feel,” she says.
Longe, who runs her business alongside studying anthropology at University College London, reflects: “I’ve always wanted to build that kind of community of women because, having grown up in Nigeria, I feel some women are stifled and made to feel they have to dim their light – we don’t realise our power. Things are all centred around men and marriage. I wanted to build a community that focused on ourselves and our confidence.”
With no formal fashion training, Longe launched Kai Collective four years ago with a loan from her mum and a wealth of support from family and friends. Longe is the first to admit she was rather “naive” when she started, giving an example of heading to Turkey with her mother to find a company to produce her designs. “That’s not the way to find manufacturers,” she says in hindsight. “It’s much better to go to trade shows.”
But whatever she’s doing, it’s obviously working, with the brand featured this year in an Elle magazine cover shoot with the model Adwoa Aboah, as well as in Beyoncé’s coveted black-owned businesses list.
One of Longe’s easier business choices was to use PayPal. “I’ve always used PayPal, it was easy to set up and functions really well – the security is there for both the buyer and the seller.”
Being a young black woman, Longe says she originally created her designs for “women like me”, but she is now determined to make all shoppers feel included. So her designs are available from sizes XXS to XXXL, and she takes care to use a diverse range of models.
“I know what it’s like to be excluded, just by being a black woman,” she says passionately. “It was really important to have black models, as I needed the range to be something I saw myself in. I would love to engage and connect with all women because, at the end of the day, many women suffer from misogyny, but I think some black women are on that intersection of both racism and misogyny. So I always have that added level of care in wanting black women to feel seen.”
Grateful for the spotlight on black businesses during October’s Black History Month, Longe says she looks forward to the time when it’s not needed. “It’s about taking time out to find alternatives and discover those businesses,” she says. “There are black businesses that are really killing it. I want to see us get to a time when we don’t need Black History Month to remind everyone: ‘Hey, we’re here!’”
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