on style: an expression and exploration of self

Ada Umeofia is the quintessential outlier. She‘s an architect, artist, scientist and a thinker whose work, story and style serves as inspiration and testament to the significance of being the most honest version of yourself. 

She describes style as a way of putting things together. “It’s an expression thing”, she says. Like you have a canvas (your body), with clothes as colours, and your style is how you make a painting.

Now, its rare for Ada to speak about style in general. Conversations with her usually lean towards light, love and the universe. Unsurprisingly, this conversation about her recent sartorial evolution leads back to celestial bodies and herself as an expression of light. 

One thing you should know, is that you can never have a 5-minute conversation with Ada. an attempt at small talk would likely spiral into a series of refreshingly honest dialogue. 

I say this to prepare you for the long read ahead. Enjoy.

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At what point did you become conscious of your style as a medium of expression?

I’m not sure exactly. I just like to look cool, and hot, but I became more conscious of it when someone came up to me and said, “ you look so great, I love your style”, and I’m like ‘okay!. It was more of me just being, and I guess I became more conscious when people started identifying and pointing it out. So I started to think okay, I guess it’s a thing ... it’s an identity.

It’s obvious that there has been a transformation in the way you choose to express yourself through this medium, what served as the catalyst for that?

Honestly, it was a spiritual shift. The beginning of this shift that you see manifesting was intangible before. I know that something in my heart, my spirit, my mind, and my body changed. There was a shift in my understanding of myself and just knowing who I am in this universe. 

when I became aware of that connection between I and the universe, I thought, ‘what is the universe trying to say through me?’. I think it’s more of that understanding of being a vessel of the universe or of God, or of whatever language you want to use to describe this thing that is bigger than us. There was an active identifying of myself as a vessel and as a channel through which the universe is speaking. So I almost surrendered myself in a way, and I think since then, it’s been simple. It’s a very organic process, with me just seeking something or wanting something and then, it coming out. 

also, the reason why I took it seriously is because I was trying to buy something online from China. You know, just some cool baffs but I couldn’t, it had something to do with the dollar. there was no avenue for this thing to fully show itself prior to this time because It was always sort of easy to get clothes.

I think that shift was necessary internally and then, my account was blocked. All of these things now allowed for this thing to fully manifest into something tangible.

I noticed the pattern with the V’s, and I know that triangles are kind of your thing, but I’ve never really asked why. Is there a story to that constant pattern in everything you create?

Honestly, I also don’t get it. It’s not like an intentional thing where I am like, “I want to use triangles”, and though there are some projects that I have tried to use them intentionally as a structural element, but when it comes to this for example, it just keeps coming up, I can’t help it. I actually started off with straighter edges for these pieces, but then it made more sense to utilise the fabric better if they are cut in triangles.

I mean, it’s a functional shape. I am an architect so I understand things more structurally and geometrically, The first time I realised that it made sense was when I was designing the market stalls and I figured out a way to populate the stalls functionally using a triangular design plan. I think just using the same logic of the structural element of a triangle in this other expression works as well. I’ve also always loved the V-line thing ‘cause you know, I have no breasts. 

I guess that’s what the universe does, it gives you more of what you’re seeking, what you’ve opened yourself up to. So I like that it has manifested itself, not just through form but through self expression, I think it’s a very special gift. I’ll call it more of a gift than anything else honestly.

Speaking of design, I understand you’re looking into the Nigerian culture, and this explores the concept of Agbadga.

Yeah, that was actually the first reference because I mean, it’s a male attire, and I think that it was just the swag that got me. that feeling of elevation the style gives you is exclusive to just men and I thought it wasn’t fair because I also wanted to feel that.

I think its a very serious fashion and cultural statement. Usually, the agbada is for big men and goons, but it shouldn’t be that exclusive, and with me being a woman and wanting to further feel like a boss, I was like, ‘why not’. that was definitely the initial inspiration and then it became more organic.

It’s a softer expression but its the same effect, the same elevation. So yes, when I wear it I feel like a general boss, a GM.

[ c a r o u s e l ]

beyond design, what were the things you considered when choosing the fabric and then the leather for the footwear and bags?

Definitely lightness. I like light things. I want to feel like I’m floating, like I’m air. I realize that a lot of things I used to wear were very tight, and I mean, it’s fine because the body accentuates itself through these form-fitting things. It’s just, I realized that I wasn’t free. it always felt like I had something on and that’s also fine but I wanted something that wind could pass through and I’d be comfortable wearing.

I sweat a lot, so I had to consider how I could allow for more wind-flow, more comfort, and more functionality. I really like linen and I’m also now going to explore the Funtua material. I realize that it’s a very light material and also structural… it stands and also falls. It’s a very sensual expression of the brand. It’s weightless, I do enjoy walking so i really like weightlessness as it allows for me to glide better. I ended up having to settle with things to tie on the sides. to ease air flow. I have adjusted it to my exact prescription and tailored to my being.

[ p o r t r a i t ]

What would you say If someone were to ask you this simple but complicated question: “who are you”?

Ahh, you really want to know the answer to that? Let me start from the beginning. On a more broader note, if you zoom waaay out, I’m actually a star. Like I’m a light that passed through the channel of the sun and has come unto earth to be. So I’m a star, like the sun literally, being in flesh. I’m from a Leo cluster and also also half Cancer. I’m definitely stars that have agreed to be in a being. So then, understanding myself through the context of light, I feel it’s been a whole journey. It’s been love, creativity and all of these things that manifest through me. I used to pigeonhole myself as just an architect, but I am more so everything that I decide I want to be at a certain point in time. You know, one day I want to paint, and that’s what I am at that point in time, a painter. There are so many expressions of light. I feel like I am an expression, I am light, I am a star.

So you’re all about expressions?

Yeah, I think that’s what we all are; vessels of expression of our light And because your light is informed by so many different things, like where the sun or moon was, and all of these things have now been channeled, and you exist, and only you will exsit as an expression of this light. So I mean, that’s just mad. That’s who I am, and everything else that happens here is just then a result of it.

I think it’s beautiful being able to realize what it is that you want to put out into the world and then you can now start consciously doing that. 
It is surrendering, being aware that there is something bigger, and realizing that there is a system that exists and allowing the system to now manifest itself through me, not fight it but allow it. That doesn’t mean there are rules and regulations that you must follow blindly. 

So, we are all literally light, expressing as different things. It’s just a knowing of the universe and then an acceptance and then surrendering. It’s more like, “do you through me”.

So when people give advice and say: “do you”, how do you interpret that?

I mean it’s literally like, if you want to go take a stroll in baghdad, go take a stroll in baghdad. You know, do whatever you think you need to do.

[ i m a g e ]

All of this external manifesations of what is within you… how open are you open to sharing that with people?

Let me not lie to you, I am very stingy with my expressions because I did it for my personal self But you know the story of Christ and how he came and gave himself for everybody else; sacrificed himself for you, for your children and people he hasn’t even seen. There’s that understanding in the back of my head that really this full expression of ourselves is not for the sake of us but for the sake of humanity, and that is pretty much my ultimate goal; to be able to give and create and do things for the sake of humanity. 

So you know, after my five minutes of wanting to keep it to myself, I’m open to sharing. I’m a sharer and a giver, so I’m not opposed to it But there are somethings I just can’t share, like my paintings, because I feel like those are for me and they are personal stories that I’m able to tell through color. It’s something I can’t begin to explain. As for my expressions through clothing, I would like to see it on somebody else… love to, actually. Though I’m weary that people will start asking if I can change things And that’s the part I never like to engage with because it’s like I’m sharing a gift with you and you’re asking if I can go and change that gift.

Is that what you mean when you say you don’t get fashion, because sometimes it involves a whole lot of compromises?

Yeah. I think it’s kind of bizarr. Honestly my perspective of fashion is ‘overpriced’. Like, why is it so expensive? It’s just top and trouser, so why are we trying to act like it’s anything more? So I bypassed it And that’s the thing, I would wear the same thing in different colors everyday of my life and I’m okay.

also I don’t think they preach contentment. Fashion is not about contentment, it’s all about following trends. I’ve been so happy and so content with what I have created. Honestly, I’d rather create the perfect thing that someone buys one time and wears everyday than creating many imperfect things that someone would have to keep coming back and buying everytime. But I still go through that process of new realization and iterations, so it’s part of the journey.

[ t o o l s ]

I guess that in being able to make and create and express through this medium, you’ve found contentment. And that is…

Yeah! that is the koko. I don’t know why it didn’t seem like an option before. I guess because there’s always something to buy and try, I didn’t think that I could actually create what I wanted. And you know, it’s really bizzare that we never really apply ourselves into it in a way that is tangible and practical. But after having all of this stress with clothes over 20-something years, its now in the 26th year that I’m like, “actually, let’s give this a shot”. 

I think my mum was kind of the inspiration for this. She literally provided the tools and so when I had the idea, I was able to express it with these tools. That was very necessary, ‘cause then I saw the possibilities. I had drawn everything a while ago, like some slippers styles but I didn’t know where I was going to get the tools. Then, one day I went to the market with my carpenter to buy some materials, and I saw a guy that had all these cobbler items to the stamp of the sole, and another person had leather, and you know I was just putting these together and thinking let me see if its possible. 

So I think it’s always the idea, then the tools, then it all comes together. Tools are key. Without the right tools, you can’t execute a vision. 

Even this tailor my mom has, his attention to detail is incredible, and that is the reason why this is fully expressed the way it is. But yeah, it’s been such a great journey, and also kind of random. Because you know, I’m trying to sell furniture, and turns out this is something the world also wants.

 

P.s: this interview has been condensed and a few sentences have been paraphrased for editorial purposes. *This interview has been transcribed, edited and condensed Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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