Meet London designer Tolu Coker. Newgen’s new star?

Coker is already developing a celebrity following that includes Rihanna and British actor Tandev Newton. This year, Coker joined Net-a-Porter’s Vanguard program (the e-tailer is currently her exclusive stockist). Prices range from £270 for a polo shirt to £960 for a double-breasted cotton-blend twill blazer. „This is where I envision the brand sitting — a black African-owned brand sitting in a luxury traditional space is really powerful.” Coker declined to share annual sales, but the brand has topped £100,000 in overall sales to date.

Mentors have been a valuable support. A key mentor is Felida Harris, founding member and executive director of Raisefashion, a non-profit organization that supports BIPOC brands and individuals in the fashion industry. “These [BIPOC] „Brands are operating with minimal resources, which hinders their ability to adequately staff and expand their businesses,” says Harris. „Advisory support is just as important as funding.”

Coker is a fast learner. „When you’re a young designer, you’re wearing all the hats in your business. Being able to talk to people who have done it before, who have experience with it and give you insight into things you don’t know about — it’s a real game changer,” he says. It allows you to focus on the creativity and the story.”

A steady introduction

Coker believes in continuity in his design message. Silhouettes and dresses featured in previous collections will reappear at her LFW show. „You’ll see things that have been featured in previous collections because it’s also a continuation of the previous story,” he says. „The messaging is really about building on our existing wardrobes, it’s about finding new ways to re-imagine what you already have.” The garments are produced locally in London and three factories across the UK.

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Like previous collections, Coker works with waste and deadstock materials. About 90 percent of the fabric is deadstock, he says. Sophie Hallett, the industry’s go-to lace maker, is a sponsor and sends her pieces of old and damaged lace upcycled, dyed and reworked. „A lot of times I don’t know what I’m getting, but they’ll send me odd laces, pieces of damaged lace, and we’ll give it a new look,” says Coker. „We dye it, cut it, and combine it in a new way to create something new.” The remaining 10 percent of collection is made up of pre- and post-consumer waste.

Coker secures deadstock from many brands and suppliers. She leans on relationships developed during her time at Central Saint Martins, where she benefited from work experience at a fashion house. „I’ve seen how much stuff goes to waste. At that time, as a student, I thought I could use this scrap in my collection,” he says. „I pursued relationships. It’s 'What’s in it for me this season?’ Like… I think they also like to see applications for how their product and waste can be used.

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