Fashion stylist, writer and social commentator Ayishat Akanbi is an emerging voice from South London whose face you’ve probably seen before.
After studying media and cultural studies degree she followed her longstanding interest in fashion and turned it into a career. Getting her start styling musician Labrinth she’s since worked with celebrities like Craig David, Amir Khan, JLS and for Nike, Black Lives Matter and the V&A Museum.
She recently appeared in the video "The Problem With Wokeness" which became a viral hit on Facebook, her words resonating with millions of people around the world. She’s interested in the way that style can influence personal politics, and writes on this, as well as race, politics and activism. She’s a prolific speaker on those topics in her home town of London, and we’re excited to welcome this emerging and important voice to All About Women for more of the same.
She loves London
The streets of London have been a major influence for Akanbi. Observing people in South London she says feels like going directly to the source of inspiration. “Brixton in particular is a place where you can get away with being whoever you are.”
More interested in people and her surroundings than following catwalk or fashion trends, for Akanbi riding the tube and observing the style of other commuters was an early inspiration. “The streets of London are open to everyone no matter where you’re from”.
Combining people’s personality with their look has always been at the heart of her approach to fashion styling. She said, “When I meet an artist we speak about almost everything but music to find out who they are.”
Drawing inspiration from these conversations and observations of people in the world she’s noticed the impact that clothes can have on people’s self-esteem. “Imagine if I could make people feel confident just by changing an outfit”
"Wokeness" is a term that has been floating around for the past couple of years since it arose out of the Black Lives Matter movement circa 2013. After the death of Trayvon Martin, #StayWoke accompanied social media posts about police brutality and systematic racism. Over the following years the term was adopted by feminists to symbolise an intersectional awareness, including knowledge of structural inequalities and a commitment to examining privilege.
In the viral video “The Problem with Wokeness” Akanbi takes issue with the way wokeness has been removed from its original meaning and the way it’s now used among feminist communities. She says “Wokeness has been co-opted by a type of moral superiority.. it reduces very complex issues, doesn’t leave much space for nuance”. Taking a human approach to conversations about identity politics is important to her
Akanbi is passionate about encouraging everybody to have difficult conversations about social and political issues. In this video she reiterates the same messages in her writing and speaking: there can be no forward momentum if people don’t feel like they can ask questions and be part of conversations.
“Unfortunately 'activism' is a loaded term now, often misunderstood and has taken new negative connotations. I'm not sure if I challenge other people, it feels like I challenge myself.”