Taofeek Abijako, the Nigerian-born, Brooklyn-based designer for fashion label Head of State, wants to invite you home.
Through its blend of Nigerian and western influences, Head of State has always explored the tension between Abijako’s Nigerian upbringing and his adolescence spent in upstate New York, where he immigrated in 2010.
But in his latest collection, called “Memories of Home,” Abijako, 24, is turning his attention to the journey of his father, who is also a fashion designer, and his treacherous trip from Lagos toward Spain before being granted a U.S. visa in 2004.
His new collection, his second for Head of State at New York Fashion Week, explores the way their two definitions of home interact, prompting viewers to reflect on their own homecoming. The collection will be shown at Spring Studios on Feb. 14.
“Memories of Home is my dad’s definition of home and my definition of home having a conversation,” said Abijako in an interview.
Abijako’s father attempted to travel over 3,000 miles to Spain, crossing a desert and illegally sailing to reach his destination. His journey abruptly ended in Libya, said Abijako, as his father grew desperately homesick for Lagos.
“He was missing Lagos to the point where he would taste the sea salt of the ocean,” said Abijako.
A month after the stunted journey, Abijako’s father obtained a U.S. visa, and successfully brought the rest of the Abijako family in New York six years later.
The collection is years in the making, said Abijako, as the designer knew “it had to feel right emotionally.” Abijako said he has been piecing together his father’s history for years, even before the pair’s permanent reunification in the U.S.
During his father’s annual visits to Nigeria throughout the family’s separation, the pair slowly dug into his father’s past, including his journey from Lagos to Spain. Abijako described those conversations as therapeutic, a chance to learn more about his father and how it influenced the state of their relationship.
Abijako later tried to record these conversations, but decided against it, feeling like it capped how vulnerable he could be. “I felt like there was an intruder in the room, and that didn’t make me feel comfortable,” he said.
A collection infused with Abijako family memories
References to his father’s journey are woven throughout the collection, says Abijako, from Lagos’s distinct architecture to the sand his father crossed on his journey.
The Head of State team also poured over Abijako’s family photos—Abijako’s first celebrated birthday, moments with aunts and uncles—to reference specific memories during the design process.
For Abijako, it was important to stay away from the literal and lean into symbolism, and a chance to explore his varied identity given his relocation to the U.S. at a young age. “These are the nuances that exist (for me) as a Black person, that I’m very interested in exploring,” he said.
Head of State was founded in 2016 by Abijako when he was a high school senior. The brand, which calls itself a “representation of postcolonial youth culture,” boasts colorful streetwear marked with western and Nigerian influences. The growing company and Abijako have received a bevy of accolades in its nearly seven-year run, including winning a $100,000 grant sponsored by Instagram, designing two viral looks for the Met Gala with only 10 days notice, and being named a 2022 CFDA finalist.
Abijako started Head of State with no formal design training out of his Albany, New York, bedroom. Only 17 at the time, Abijako managed to raise $3,000 for a
Appearing on Freeform’s The Come-Up
Abijako’s appearance on The Come Up—a docu-series on the Freeform channel about six young, creative New Yorkers—was his attempt to “pause for once, zoom out, and really understand what it is we’ve been doing,” despite his early apprehensions about being so intensely documented given his proclivity towards privacy.
Though reception to the show was ultimately mixed, Abijako expressed gratitude at the show’s ability to capture accomplishments that he would routinely glide through.
Abijako added that the show’s themes of sexuality and gender identity also helped start conversations amid his family, particularly amid more conservative, older generations. That included explaining pronouns. “The person who broke it down was my little brother,” said Abijako,.
Beyond the hustle of mounting another collection and other artistic pursuits, Abijako is balancing another important milestone: being the parent of a five-month old.
Fatherhood “keeps me more grounded,” Abijakjo said. “I’m also responsible for an entire human life. A whole life.”
Creating his own family has given him a new perspective of his parents, and a changed understanding of the people who raised him (“the coolest people I know,” he quips) as they continue to have conversations about Abijako’s journey and next steps. His father, he said, is still demanding.
“It’s a challenging thing,” Abijako joked. “I could show him an article from Vogue and he could be like, ‘Where is that college degree?’”