Ever since the launch of the Isy B. brand at Cayman Fashion Week in May, designer and creative director – Isy Obi – has been one of the most sought after names and one of fashion’s most-promising, emerging creators. From the Cayman Islands and an avid explorer of the rest of the world, Obi uses her designs as tools that channel the myriad of cultures that exist across the globe, while empowering women. “I love to see a strong woman, and I believe that clothing is one way in which a woman can express her strength, beauty, and creativity. The Isy B. brand grew out of [a] desire to inspire women to bring their very best selves forward,” she said. “I consider myself a global citizen, and I love the intellectual, creative stimulation, and the change of perspective that can come from travel.”
Obi’s perspective on the world of fashion has been shaped by her ancestry and her less than traditional path into fashion design. Though her mother was a fashion designer, and she studied product design in school, she ultimately chose a career in finance. However, all her years working as an accountant were excited through her involvement in fashion, either by modeling or designing her own clothes. “The pull of fashion has always been strong for me, but I contented myself by designing my own clothes and launching a shoe blog looking forward to the day that I could focus on bringing my dream of my own fashion studio to life,” she explained while in Europe globalizing her brand.
While jet-setting between London and Paris, Obi took a short break to chat with us about her growing brand and creative inspirations.
Twenty8+: Who is Isy Obi?
I. Obi: I come from generations of strong independent women who have been my inspiration for Isy B. My approach to life is that it should be savored, and enjoyed. I love connecting with people and collecting new experiences wherever in the world I find myself. I try to remain curious and open to new ideas particularly in art, science, and philosophy, and am often in awe of what the human mind can achieve.
Twenty8+: How has your work evolved since you started your own brand?
I. Obi: For the first collection I was very much focused on the creative aspects of designing the collection. I started with a tiny capsule collection but the collections will continue to increase in size as we grow. Additionally, as the brand grows, the commercial business of fashion requires more attention so I find myself wearing my commercial hat more often but find that the balance of creativity and commerciality is suited to my background. There are other creative projects and collaborations coming up in the pipeline including a new line of designer women’s footwear.
Twenty8+: You’re from the beautiful Cayman Islands. How influential has the Caymanian culture been to your work?
I. Obi: The Cayman Islands inspires my work on every level, it’s a beautiful place to live and work as a designer. The Islands blend a unique mix of traditional Caribbean culture and values, and the cosmopolitan energy of being a very modern global financial centre [sic]. It is also called home by a diverse cultural mix of inhabitants from around the world which gives life in Cayman a further distinctive zest. The idea of a modern Caribbean Island is very present in my designs which fuse Caribbean elements of color and print with strong modern shapes and textures.
Twenty8+: As a designer and a businesswoman, how do you balance your creativity with commerce?
I. Obi: As a design entrepreneur, it can be challenging to swap my creative hat with my commercial hat daily, but it is a challenge that I enjoy. I qualified as an accountant in the early part of my career, and have been fortunate to manage several businesses in very different industries. Running any business calls for creativity, and I see the commercial aspects of Isy B. as an extension of my creativity.
Twenty8+: Describe your research and design process when starting a new collection.
I. Obi: Initially my research and design process is based on intuition and gut feel, and I collect ideas until a theme begins to appear and make itself known. The design process itself is more structured and stringent to develop and build ideas from the themes.
I travel extensively and absorb everything I see everywhere I go. This year I have been to the USA, Spain, Greece, France and the UK. I carry a small sketch-book in my bag to record my ideas everyday. I particularly love visiting museums and galleries. In Cayman I enjoy visiting the National Art Gallery and recently while in Paris I visited an Yves Saint Laurent exhibition and the Jean Lanvin retrospective, both brilliant designers whose work I admire. I love to visit designer ateliers like Dior, Chanel, and Givenchy and find it inspirational to be around beautiful haute couture. Hunting through fabric stores also provides me with inspiration and I also read a lot of books and magazines.
Twenty8+: Who or what inspires you the most in fashion?
I. Obi: I am inspired by the creativity of great designers, past and present, whose aim is to make women even more beautiful, and I am also inspired by designers who push beyond the boundaries of accepted ideas.
Twenty8+: You have been traveling a lot to build your brand. How does travel influence of your designs?
I. Obi: I find that I can bring an essence of the ideas that I encounter on my travels into my core design aesthetic. For example in Paris I enjoyed exploring the question of how to blend elements of haute couture with Caribbean style.
Twenty8+: What aspects of culture currently fascinate you? How do they impact your work?
I. Obi: I think it is interesting that as a society, though technology helps us grow more connected everyday and we are exposed now more than ever to common ideas and products, there is a drive to move towards more individual self-expression. People looking for new ways in which to express their own ideas, and make their own choices. In fashion, one sees it in its extreme in harajuku style or in the rise of the urban hipster for example. My work is far less extreme but I still try to think about new ways for women to express themselves as individuals through the Isy B. clothing.
Twenty8+: You are global brand – how do you incorporate the different needs of women across the world?
I. Obi: One of the most unfulfilling things for me as a designer would be to be all things to all people, because then it could mean that I risk being unable to stay true to the Isy B. aesthetic. I hope to grow a global brand that does not lose that sense of specialness that comes from offering women across the world something unique and beautiful.
Twenty8+: Describe some of your other passions. What do you do to relax and unwind?
I. Obi: I am practice yoga and meditation for balance and harmony. I enjoy playing tennis and practicing martial arts; mainly kickboxing now, but also taekwondo, and karate in the past. I enjoy writing, for local magazines and blogging on my websites as well as guest blogging about shoes. I draw, read, travel, and I spend time with my family and friends. I love my Cayman garden where I grow mangoes, figs, limes, starfruit and lots of different herbs.
For more on Isy B., visit the brand’s website.
Featured Image Courtesy of Sarah Edgar Kelly