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Irene Agbontaen is the woman carving an inclusive space in the fashion industry through her brand TTYA London. Her first stop? Asos, where she has masterminded the e-tailer’s most inclusive footwear range ever.
“I must’ve been about 14 when I remember my school let us wear trousers for the first time,” cultural curator Irene Agbontaen tells Stylist from her home in south London. “But none of the trousers we could wear fitted me and there was no shop that I could go to where I felt seen or represented. I was excluded from the conversation.”
Fast forward 13 years and it’s precisely this feeling of exclusion and alienation from the fashion industry that London-based Agbontaen has sought to disrupt with her 8-year-old brand, TTYA, an acronym for Taller Than Your Average.
The premise of the label’s genesis was simple: to carve a space in the fashion and cultural conversation that spoke to inclusivity, and ensuring that as many people as possible saw themselves reflected in an accessibly priced brand. With a show at Lagos Fashion Week, a bestselling collaboration with Nike, inspired by her Nigerian heritage, and endorsements from Serena Williams and Maya Jama, to name just a few, under her belt, Agbontaen is spearheading a blueprint for true inclusivity within the fashion industry.
“If we’re going to talk about inclusive fashion, we have to talk about tall girls, short girls, plus-size girls,” Agbontaen explains. “It’s about normalising every different kind of body shape. That’s why I founded TTYA – it was out of sheer frustration that I couldn’t find clothes for me.”
Today, TTYA’s purpose and goal has only been further cemented, as the label launches its debut 12-piece footwear collection with Asos, which has been five years in the works and is the e-tailer’s most inclusive offering yet, spanning the gamut of UK sizes from 4–13. For Agbontaen, who stands at 5’11” (according to the Office for National Statistics, the average height in the UK for a woman is 5’3”) and wears a UK size 9 shoe, the moment is a real full-circle achievement, given that she used to work as a studio stylist at Asos.
In fact, it’s Agbontaen’s work experience in retail as a university student (the entrepreneur has an undergraduate degree in Forensic Science) that has formed the backbone of her intimate knowledge of fashion’s lack of inclusivity. “I’d sit in these meetings where people would be claiming to be a one-stop-shop for everything a woman needs,” she muses. “But if you’re not catering to every woman, then it isn’t very inclusive, so how can you ever be a one-stop-shop?”
It’s precisely this sense of alienation that inspired TTYA’s slogan – an inclusive space for the excluded girl – which echoes the messaging of the entire TTYA umbrella that Agbontaen is building. There’s the star-studded series of panel talks Agbontaen founded in 2015, TTYA Talks, which is also a podcast that’s currently in production for its third season, and there’s her starring role in Channel 4’s recent docu-series, Highlife.
The four-part series followed the lives of an octet of young British West Africans, all of whom are chasing their own ideas of success. The decision to take part was a no-brainer for Agbontaen. “Highlife’s the first of its kind in terms of representation in front of and behind the camera and there was a real commitment to authentic storytelling,” she explains. “It gave me a platform for amplification.”
It’s the concept of executing and maintaining authenticity that is driving Agbontaen and, in turn, TTYA forward. “It all comes back to the idea of creating an inclusive space for people who have not always felt seen or heard,” she says. “Whether it’s through fashion with TTYA London or through our womanhood space, which is TTYA Talks.”
At times, she may have been “the only one in the room”, but passing on those teachings to younger Black people is of paramount importance, which circles back to Agbontaen’s purpose of being a voice for the voiceless.
As if the present wasn’t already glittering enough, the future for TTYA looks even better. “I am going to continue to use my platform to elevate and amplify voices. To make sure that everybody is seen and heard.”
Images: courtesy of Asos.