When Ifafunke Oladigbolu moved to Berkeley from Nigeria in 1991, she missed the vibrancy and vividness of Nigerian fashion.
Knowing the impact of clothing on one’s self esteem, Oladigbolu said she made the decision to bring back fabric and clothing from her 2010 trip back to Nigeria, setting the foundation for what would become Lola’s African Apparel.
“I’m a great believer in that you dress the way that you want to be addressed,” Oladigbolu said. “So when you have on nice clothes, they’re killer to you, they’re structured, it has an impact on your self-esteem and the way people treat you.”
Bright yellow, red and purple dresses adorn founder Oladigbolu’s website, where she describes how her clothing is sewn by local and independent tailors and seamstresses. During biannual trips to Nigeria, Oladigbolu said she sources washable, durable materials in an effort to make her wares accessible.
Lola’s African Apparel did not fully take form until 2017, when Oladigbolu got the opportunity to build a shop and website. Prior to this, she sold her clothing at the Ashby flea market.
One of Oladigbolu’s priorities is to improve the finances of clothing makers in Nigeria. By employing individuals over an extended period of time, Lola’s African Apparel is able to help tailors obtain dental and medical care, while providing a stronger financial standing for families and children.
“I believe that the future of Africa is and should always be in the hands of Africans and the African Diaspora. This is true independence,” Oladigbolu said on the company’s website. “Lola’s African Apparel is a small part in building the economy and supporting the livelihoods of the African people who share their craft with us.”
Oladigbolu said she received her master’s degree from San Francisco State University, where she worked on a thesis looking into patterns in African American and Black student enrollment in higher education.
Reflecting on her studies, Oladigbolu noted that it can be difficult for Black students to have a “positive self-identity” due to insufficient education of their history and culture.
“These students, when they went to school, had the option of taking ethnic studies and learning about Africa, which greatly impacted their own self esteem,” Oladigbolu said. “That’s always been in my mind, too. How can I facilitate and helping people develop or grow or recognize their own self love and their own self esteem?”
While Oladigbolu said it was difficult to juggle her personal life with the business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted that it forced her to innovate and think outside the box to keep Lola’s African Apparel afloat.
But in terms of facing challenges with a minority-owned business, Oladigbolu said she thinks a lot if it is in people’s mindsets, caused by a systemic feeling of disenfranchisement.
“I don’t really believe that there is a boogeyman out there holding me back,” Oladigbolu said. “I believe that I’ve learned some things about my own capabilities. And I don’t believe anybody’s holding me back.”