Andrea Iyamah: Design Inspired By Cultural Stories

Designer and entrepreneur Dumebi “Andrea” Iyamah‘s talent is not simply contained in her artistry, but also her ability to reflect the bold inner beauty of women, illuminating the worlds they inhabit and the majesty of the unique cultural fabric they possess. Modern and elegant, expressive and unapologetic, her muse is the confidence that lies within every woman. The global lifestyle brand invites us to seize life’s moments with confidence. Draped in Nature’s kaleidoscope of colors, cultural narratives are stitched into the heart of Andrea Iyamah’s collections.

Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Andrea credits her parents with fostering a sense of confidence in her, to both express herself and overachieve: “My mother encouraged me to express myself. She didn’t like you being too shy, she didn’t like you not walking confidently. In life, not just design, my mother was the person that really instilled a sense of confidence in me. She had a luxury boutique and would stock designers from Paris and used to travel a lot. My mom was extremely stylish and had a very unique style. She was really good at expressing herself, so I grew up seeing that, especially in the creative aspect – that was what was normal to me. That’s how fashion became a confidence zone for me. My father was a businessman so that entrepreneurial spirit definitely came from both of them. I saw them work a lot and travel a lot, so that lifestyle felt normal to me.” All of this, combined with her parent’s love for traveling and style, instilled a creative spark in her beginning in childhood.

In 2009, Andrea emigrated to Canada, going on to pursue a degree in communication and multimedia at McMaster University. She had barely begun her studies when the blog she started changed everything. Sharing her artistic creations, including everything from fashion sketches and portrait drawings to photography, her following began to grow. A popular blog took note, and featured one of her designs. This serendipitous event inspired the creation of the Andrea Iyamah brand and later that year, at age seventeen, she premiered her inaugural collection, “Dinma.” Remarkably, she juggled her studies as a full-time university student while building the A.I. brand. Fueled by her passion for creativity, she was determined to build an African-owned brand that was rich and bold in style and internationally accessible. 

Taking her inspiration from traditional Nigerian and international cultures and nature, she infuses designs with a modern aesthetic. Her unique creations serve as a nod to her African roots, with wearable styles that are embraced around the world. “They’ve always said, ‘You know a Nigerian when they’re not even speaking.’ A Nigerian is going to want to be the most noticed person in the room! No matter their social class or situation in life, they go all out with their style and colors. That was something I wanted to bring to my brand. I’m a traveler, so beyond the Nigerian culture, I’m always interested in learning about different countries and getting inspiration from them. That’s what I take from home – that confidence, diversity and celebratory culture. My work always has to tell some form of a cultural story. It has to imitate colors, silhouettes, or motifs from my environment and have a burst of excitement.” 

For Andrea, her brand is not merely clothes, but a cultural story. She and her team work together to ensure that stories are told through every piece they create. A.I.’s vision is to persistently build an embrace cultural stories through design. 

In 2013, the first official Andrea Iyamah swim collection launched, receiving worldwide acclaim. Her unique take on swimwear uses vibrant colors and cuts inspired by an array of African cultures. The brand primarily consists of resort wear, which partially stems from the challenges Andrea faced herself when trying to locate fashionable swimsuits that would fit her fuller figure. Andrea Iyamah designs are treasured by fans across the globe, including notable figures such as Michelle Obama, Issa Rae, Kate Hudson, Gabrielle Union, and Ciara. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Forbes, InStyle, and Essence, among others.

Ultimately, Andrea’s goal is to become an all-encompassing lifestyle brand, reaching the full spectrum of design and lifestyle: “We want to offer more than just clothes. We will eventually get into homewares, from bedding to home accessories, really tapping into that story – because it’s a whole lifestyle. It’s the lifestyle of being able to express yourself in a celebratory, energetic and expressive way. Either through fashion, the beauty products you use, or what’s on your table, it’s really about informing the lifestyle of this adventurous woman that we cater to.”

Pictured: Andrea Iyamah founder Dumebi “Andrea” Iyamah

What would you like people to know about your journey?

The A.I. woman is an adventurer in spirit, mind and style. The brand caters to women across borders who are confident, adventurous and unafraid of clothing designed with a statement. The brand focuses on celebrating ethnicity with a modern twist, while maintaining its attention to quality, detail and figure-flattering silhouettes.

The core of the brand is: design inspired by a cultural story. Whatever product we are creating, there is an element of story in that whether it’s from my African roots – or even from Western roots or Asian roots – it’s just always telling some kind of story. We try to make a homegrown African brand internationally accessible and we celebrate that. E-commerce has been a really big part of that. I knew that these designs needed to reach people somehow and I wasn’t going to open a thousand stores around the world.

What advice do you have for others wanting to start their own business?

The best advice I’ve ever received came from my father: In life, sometimes you will be tested. That the worst thing that someone could say is ‘no.’ That outcome doesn’t mean anything about your efforts. A lot of people think of a ‘no’ as the end of things, or a way to beat yourself down. But then you keep going. It’s not final. For example, when I was working to get my collection into department stores, I would literally just go up to the person and pitch myself, because if the worst thing they can say is ‘no’ that would be fine. Surprisingly, when you go in with that attitude, you don’t actually get that many ‘no’s’! ‘No’ is not really the end of growth. It’s just a way to get better.

What do you love most about the work you do?

I love the fact that I’m doing what I love…it never gets boring. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team, because I couldn’t do any of this without them, and being around people that really understand what it is that you are trying to do. Lastly, people receiving what I create with open arms. 

I want to show people that you don’t have to travel to wear a beautiful garment. When people receive what I create with open arms, I believe they are seeing people around the world. You can be in your living room. You can bring the travel home. I want to create clothes that remind you to LIVE: embrace life and enjoy yourself!

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