Hey Guys, How’s your week been? What’s new?
So I’ve been wanting to do another interview after having the best time doing it with the Bad Gyals of Black Girls Book Club! I love meeting people who are doing interesting and exciting things. Now, I’ve had another amazing opportunity to meet the brain behind M.I.A LDN.
But what is M.I.A?
Well, the first time I heard about M.I.A was when the founder and CEO, Aji Ayorinde was gushing about his recent trip to South Africa. He was in need of a suit, but couldn’t find a fit that fulfilled his love for contemporary trends, the high-waisted fit and exulted pure luxury while paying homage to African print and skill-set.
Alas, M.I.A and his desire to create something bigger than him, was born. In essence, it would show the world that Africa can compete on the formal-wear front, and more.
And M.I.A has been moving from strength to strength, with Broderick Hunter as their latest cover model, endorsing the brand as something special.
We met in Angel, Aji’s rocking a bright, canary yellow bomber jacket, with navy trousers that have yellow side stripes to match. The ensemble is loud, yet stylish, exuding the Aji I’ve known since university.
We decided to go to Bryon Burgers because The Breakfast Club was completely packed out. But shout out to those yummy chicken nuggets at Bryon!
So, tell me about yourself?
Aji: I’m a lawyer, a business owner, African projects consultant and writer. Yeah that’s me! I founded a project called M.I.A which stands for Made in Africa. We collaborate with tailors across Africa to create formal wear. We launched quite recently, but we spent the last year or so refining the business concept and product.
The long term plan is to be in collaboration with at least one tailor across each African country. We are currently working with tailors based in South Africa and Zambia.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
He ponders for a moment, twiddling his beard.
Aji: You see, if had you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said something deep. I think now, it’s the feeling that I’ve finally found my purpose.
There’s a lot of synergy in the things I’m doing and seeing the results. So ultimately I’m motivated by the encouraging fruits of my labour.
Do you have any mentors or people who deeply influence you?
Aji: My family of course! It’s also the communities around me, like my friends. I think you can learn a lot from the people around you. They can also act as soundboards for ideas and connecting me with other people who can help me on my journey.
How did you come up with the idea for M.I.A?
Aji: It actually came about, partly through necessity for me and also partly through frustration. I had ordered a suit from a tailor while I was in South Africa. I wanted the suit to be designed in certain way, especially addressing my pet peeves that I found in typical formal trousers.
But I also felt like the quality of tailoring in Africa is a largely underrated.
From there, I had a few more things made for myself and then decided I want this to be an actual thing and bring the formal wear back to the U.K. There’s demand for it too! I had spoken to a few people, particularly those in the diaspora who want to give back and do something different. M.I.A was that for me. So, there’s quite a few reasons for starting this up.
And did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today?
Aji: I would say I’ve had life changing decisions, like my trip to South Africa, which helped me get out of my bubble. I think, without that I wouldn’t have had the experiences that led me to M.I.A. I followed my gut and met new people that helped me reconnect with my African roots.
It changed my life and propelled me on this whirlwind journey, but it gave me a really strong sense of self. Before South Africa, I didn’t get out of my comfort zone enough, like I didn’t really like being alone. Now, I appreciate that alone time and truly understand myself.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far with M.I.A?
Aji: I guess when you’re building something from the ground up, it’s very easy to fall back on other things you’re already doing, that’s more established and you feel comfortable with.
But with M.I.A, every day is different and I think that’s the biggest challenge. Yes, that’s exciting, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. You’ve got to keep motivated, persevere and continue doing the work. So, there’s many continuous changes that you need to keep on top of in order to move forward.
So, what’s the most rewarding thing so far?
Aji: Honestly, the most rewarding thing was getting to a point to where I could bring M.I.A into my law space. Building the brand, I had to keep that separate from my day-job. I was venturing out into something new and it may have made me seem unfocused.
But I wanted to prove that you can combine your interests and do it successfully. So, bringing M.I.A into my corporate law sphere allows me to work on all my projects openly.
I also ask about Broderick Hunter, because he’s such a babe and I want to know how he got this model to see the M.I.A vision.
Aji: Oh yes! It literally started with a DM and the right timing. He wanted to get to back in touch with his Nigerian roots and we seemed like the right opportunity for him to do that. So, that was one of the biggest achievements for us at the time because it went from a DM into a full blown shoot, with all the stages in between like agreeing a fee, negotiating the terms and signing the contracts – it was amazing really.
That was a great day, it legitimised a lot of what we were doing and Broderick is a really cool guy. It would be great to do more collaborations like that in the future or even work with him again!
And as the interest for M.I.A grows, would you consider expanding the team?
Aji: Well, in the future yes, but we are trying to make things as efficient as possible. We have three core members, so myself overseeing things, a manager and another team member. And then we have a lot of help on an ad hoc basis.
We outsource a lot of things as well, but at this stage we want to keep things as simple as possible as well as streamlined. I think it’s best to focus on how to work well with the team that we have and the current business model, before expanding any further.
Could you give us a snapshot of any future plans for M.I.A?
Aji: One of the things we are currently working on, is an app. The products, i.e the collections are only one side of the business. The long term idea is that the customers are not only able to keep in touch with the tailors, but allow us to be able to put businesses in touch with other businesses across the continent and globally.
So, we essentially become a middle man, helping businesses who are in need of a service, e.g. a photographer to link up and work together. Again emphasising that M.I.A aims to bridge the gap and the disconnect between some places in Africa and the world.
What are you most looking forward to?
Aji: I think what I’m most looking forward to is walking into an M.I.A store and people not necessarily knowing that I’m the person behind it!
Finally describe M.I.A in three words:
Aji: Dynamic, progressive, Africa.
Find out more about M.I.A LDN here
Catch Aji online (Twitter) @AjiAyorinde
Watch M.I.A in action