Getting to Know You: Modus Vivendii
As the population of Nigeria's diaspora continues to expand, Jimmy Ayeni, Ola Badiru and Anthony Oye, three young boys epitomising the Lagos to London lifestyle, decided to launch their own streetwear brand, Modus Vivendii, in order to represent Nigerian youth culture and shine a light on contemporary Africa. Here Jimmy and Ola share more about their journey into the fashion industry, their drive for success and how they are planning to put Nigeria on the world map.
I can’t entirely remember how I came across Modus Vivendii. Undoubtedly it would have been the usual millennial ‘Insta-met’, sliding into each other’s DMs to share mutual admiration. Meeting IRL was tricker than how your average 21st Century tale goes. Between a jet setter lifestyle, the launch of a new collection, their photoshoots for HYPEBEAST and pop-up parties across London, trying to catch up with these boys was like trying to catch the wind. I was determined - I would swing by one of these pop-ups (invited of course, I’m no stalker) and make a proper introduction. I turned up and barely managed to get a word to the founders, battling against a fandom of kids snapping pics and grappling over clothes. It was a frenzy - one I had only ever experienced whilst stuck in a One Direction mob (a story for another day). Seeking safety in a quiet corner, I fell in love with the vibe of the event - the subtleties of my Nigerian upbringing scattered across the walls and floor, contrasted against new-age streetwear on display. It’s exactly what I, a girl who grew up in Nigeria but was educated in England, wanted from a brand: a representation of my cross-cultural lifestyle. Set on meeting them properly, I scheduled an interview to better understand the hype around this brand and why these young boys are forcing Nigerian youth culture into fashion’s limelight.
Journey to Founding a Company…
Ola: I was born in London and lived here for 11 years before moving back to Nigeria. There I met Jimmy. After a year at the same school, he left for England and later I returned to the UK for my A Levels and a law degree at LSE, followed by a masters in international business at Regents. I’m now back in Nigeria, working with my father in commodities, trading, etc… All throughout that period, Jimmy and I stayed in contact. It’s the beauty of living in an age of information, where people can contact so easily.
Jimmy: While I was on my GAP year and Ola was in his first year of university, we decided we needed a creative outlet of some sort. We wanted to express our own version of creativity. So we bought cameras started taking pictures of people on the street, whoever was looking fresh. It was just lifestyle stuff really - anything we felt was cool in Lagos and London. We shared all our inspirations on a blog, back in 2011.
Ola: From that, we started working with a streetwear brand and that’s when we really got our ideas out there.
Jimmy: An opportunity arose to showcase some of the work we were doing with the brand to Roberto Cavalli and Franca Souzzani from Vogue Italia. They loved it and invited us to Milan the following January, flying us out to attend the Cavalli show. We got featured in Vogue Italia and decided to create our own line.
Jimmy: Modus Vivendii means our way of living in Latin. That was always what the blog was about, our lifestyle. We represent a small demographic of people who are transcontinental - a tiny diaspora of youths that live between two countries. Some people find it peculiar but staying in one place can box up your way of thinking. I’ve seen harsh poverty and insane wealth, sometimes on the same street. It’s those experiences that gave us a balanced perspective on the world, something we want to represent within our brand.
Ola: We started out small, just making merchandise for our blog but it grew into a global message about our people and shedding a spotlight on Nigeria.
Vivendii is about representing the Nigerian youth and their lifestyle, as well as educating the rest of the world on contemporary Africa. We want to give Nigerians everywhere something to be proud about, even if it’s as little as a clothing brand.
Jimmy: In the society we come from, there’s an expectation put on the youth that the only road to success is by becoming lawyers or doctors - the ‘traditional’ realms of employment. There’s not enough support or appreciation for the creative industry. We have a creative vibe and we want to inspire the kids back home that you can do well in other realms, not just academia. Right now, the youth are starting to realise how much power they have. Our clothing further promotes the idea that they have a say in society and it matters. The reception has been so good because people are down for the idea of rebelling against the existing rules.
Jimmy: To start with, it was Nigerian kids like us who were shopping the collections, those who had left home to go secondary school or university in the UK or US. Our brand was made for that Nigerian diaspora. Now we’re seeing people wearing our clothes in Thailand, China and France. We can’t take credit for that, it’s down to our customers. Because this group of Nigerian youth travel, they have spread the word internationally for us. They have become our advertising campaigns.
Ola: In this era of globalisation, your market is no longer set in one country. With social media, the whole world can see your product - we’re now selling to a globalised market.
Ola: There have been so many disappointments along the way. It’s like a long-ass Cinderella story!
Jimmy: Obviously we didn't study fashion, so there was so much to learn and so much money that got wasted. During one of our first collections, our manufacturer at the time produced our clothes based on the size guides we gave them, something we just googled. Everything turned out super small - the extra large was like a medium! Essentially size requirements for high street stores are different from fashion houses and it took us a while to realise that. Things like that have to happen in order for us to learn properly and now we’ll never make that mistake again.
Ola: When we met Cavalli - that was so crazy! We were in Nigeria and a friend’s uncle was hosting both Cavalli and Vogue Italia to see some key Nigerian designers.
Jimmy: They were in town for 2 days so they could only see 3 brands, one being us. Franca Souzzani was in the room by herself and met with the other 2 brands before us.
Just as we were about to present, Roberto Cavalli walks into the room. Because his flight was later, he only saw our brand. He barely speaks English but was still able to communicate how much he loved our ambition and what we were trying to do. Three weeks later, he flew us to Milan and the rest was history.
Ola: Also, there’s a place called Alara in Nigeria, that’s like a contemporary concept store similar to Selfridges or Harvey Nichols. They now stock us and having our first official stockists in our hometown is something we’re very proud of.
The Fear of Failure…
Jimmy: In the beginning we were so wary of people thinking our ideas weren’t good. We had some friends telling us that it was a waste our time and even our parents thought it was a distraction from school. But when you’re doing anything art based, perseverance is key. You just have to keep going and one day it’s going to blow. It might not be today or tomorrow but one day it will click.
Ola: All those fears and doubts just become a part of you. It’s normal to have down days in any field but you don’t give up on yourself; the same applies to working in the creative industry.
Ola: Every single day is a different fight. You can’t take life all at once. Each morning you wake up is another chance to better yourself and add value to the world.
Jimmy: Each day is another opportunity. No matter how crazy today was - even if you lose everything - tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow could be your big break. Or the next day. So just keep going!
Perseverance is the ultimate key to success. Also get a good team. Having people that you trust and who share the same vision as you is underestimated.
Jimmy: We’re working on getting stocked in London and we want to get involved in more Fashion Weeks internationally to show the level of creativity within Nigeria. We just want to change the game!
Ola: Our plan is to be one of those companies that hold subsidiary brands and puts out different products. Take Sir Phillip Green as an example, he owns Topman, Massimo Dutti and a bunch of other brands, selling goods internationally. Why can’t something like that come out of Africa? We want to build that kind of power from the beginning.
Pieces from Vivendii... The Vivendii Shoulder bag. It’s one our most functional pieces.
Hangout Spots in Lagos... NOK, a restaurant in Alara. They've fused West African cuisine with European cuisine. It's a must! Oh and our cribs - you’re all welcome to come and hang out.
Collaborations... Our latest collection is a collaboration with J11. By putting our ideas together, it’s made one of our best collections to date. Also being featured in Vogue. They really believed in the vision and that gave us the motivation to never stop.