Mariam-Taiwo-is-Connecting-Cultures-Through-Fashion African Fashion International

Mariam Taiwo is Connecting Cultures Through Fashion

Exploring Cultural Identity: Mariam Taiwo's Ile Meji Project

Mariam Taiwo is using Fashion as a Bridge: Connecting Africa and the Diaspora

By Ranji Mangcu

In the bustling heart of London's fashion scene, a remarkable tale of cultural fusion and creative exploration unfolds. Born in Nigeria and nurtured by the eclectic energy of London, Mariam Taiwo's fashion odyssey is nothing short of extraordinary. Her transformative journey commenced with a final MA project at the prestigious Central Saint Martins, but it was no ordinary project—it was the birth of "Ile Meji."

As the name suggests, "Ile Meji" translates to "Two Homes" in Yoruba, embodying Mariam's quest to harmonize her dual identity as a "Nigerian-Londoner." This remarkable endeavor delved deep into the intricate tapestry of her existence, bridging the gaps between her ancestral roots in Abeokuta, Nigeria, and the vibrant streets of London.

Ile Meji is more than just a fashion project; it's a cultural symphony, a narrative spun from the threads of her heritage and her cosmopolitan present. With the visionary lens of talented photographers Jurnee Peter Chukwu and Adetolani Davies, Mariam Taiwo not only stitched garments but wove connections that transcend borders. 

Tailored suits, Mariam's sartorial signature, met the vibrant spirit of Nigeria, as Victorian headdresses danced alongside the intricate patterns of Ankara cloth. Ile Meji brilliantly captured the essence of contemporary identity, a fusion of British tradition and Nigeria's iconic "Nolly Babes" aesthetic.

In an exclusive conversation with AFI, Mariam Taiwo bares her soul, sharing the profound insights and stories behind Ile Meji. She unveils the power of fashion as a universal language, uniting the African continent and its diaspora. In a world hungry for connection and understanding, Mariam Taiwo's Ile Meji is a fashion journey that resonates far beyond the garments it adorns. 

What was your first job in fashion? What was it like?  

I was 15 when I had my first job in fashion, and it was for my secondary school work experience. I got a two-week internship with Star Magazine. It was the first time that I felt what it was like to be in the fashion industry. It was also around the time the MTV show “The Hills” was huge. Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port were interns at Teen Vogue, and “The Devil Wears Prada” was recent, so being a fashion intern was an “it” role. It felt awesome.  


There’s a lot to read about the impediments of the African fashion industry. In your experiences working both on and off the continent, what would you say are the rewards of being in the fashion industry right now?  

I find that, right now, people care more about the story and message behind the concept. Fashion may still be a superficial industry, but it doesn’t show itself in that way as much as it used to. It’s certainly not as superficial as it was when I was younger. One thing I love about today’s fashion industry is that people want to hear cultural stories – in my case, Nigerian stories. People can relate, and they care.  

Have you always seen yourself living as a creative professional in the fashion industry? 

I certainly have. Since I was a child, I’ve known nothing else but fashion. I first thought I’d be a designer or dress maker.  

I was born in Nigeria, and [as a child] I used to watch my grandma – who loved parties – wear her gèlè and I’d be in awe. When I got to London at five years old, I’d look for towels in the house, just so I could show my mum different styles of the gèlè. For many years, I didn’t know styling and art direction were a thing – they didn’t teach it in school, nor did I have anyone at home who was familiar with the fashion industry. 

Growing up in a Nigerian home with no other creatives in the family, the moment you share an interest in fashion, the assumption is that fashion design is the only career there is in the industry. That’s if your dream is not immediately shut down.  

Culturally, most people think all there is to fashion is making the clothes. That idea clouded me throughout my teenage years and early 20s. But I’ve always loved styling. From the age of 6-7 years old, I used to dress my sisters and photograph them in film and polaroid. To this day, I remember the happiness I felt when I held the developed photos in my hand.  

 What project are you most proud of to date?  

That’s a very tricky question, but I will say the work I did alongside Jurnee Peter Chukwu and Adetolani Davies for my final MA project at Central Saint Martin’s – Ile Meji.  

Ile Meji was the beginning of something within my work.  There’s nothing better than discovering what your craft is and being consistent with it. I have upcoming projects that I have recently done in Nigeria – which also touch on my Christian faith – that I am excited about. 

How did Ile Meji come about?  

Ile Meji is Yoruba and means “two homes”. In early 2022, I was in Abeokuta, Nigeria for my “Introduction”. This is the first part of traditional wedding celebrations, where the two families meet. I’d heard the stories about how Introductions go but had never experienced one. Mine was the first.  

The day before my Introduction, I was in an online lecture. I just thought, “Wow, these are two different realities of mine. I fully understand both, but they do not understand each other”. I cannot say which one I belong to because I belong to both. In that moment, it became very clear: I’m British, but not really “British”. I’m Nigerian, but not really “Nigerian”.  

I knew that I would be coming back for my Traditional Wedding in the following months, so I started my research. I wanted the project to touch on the emotions that both “homes” evoke in me and find resonant ways to merge their two cultures.  

In producing Ile Meji how did you find that fashion allowed you to stay in conversation with your Nigerian home when you’re living in London, and vice versa? 

Fashion played a huge part. Usually, my go-to approach to styling is tailored looks – from suits to shirts and ties.  

In producing Ile Meji, my aim was to highlight the perceived superiority of Western dress. In both of my homes, people see you in formal Western dress and they take you more seriously. But if you walk into a room dressed in your cultural garments, people’s entire perception of you can change.  

This reality was a huge conversation in this project, and it was important to me that Ile Meji reflected it. I deliberately dressed many of the models in Nigeria in tailored looks to highlight the urge from that side to be seen and accepted by Western culture.   

It was important that materials such as Ankara were used too. I had to balance the clothes and accessories that both cultures related to. 



One of the project’s biggest strengths was this interweaving of Nigerian traditional and British traditional dress — what was your approach when it came to the styling and art direction of the project? 

Looking at the dress of both cultures, one thing I found in common was formal dress. This was something that I had to keep in mind, as my most common approach to styling is suits and ties. 

Ankara is also a daily norm in Nigeria, but most people still wear a suit over it in professional settings. It was important that I showed the Ankara (made by Nigerian tailors) within my work. I selected traditional English accessories from Michelle Lowe Holder because [when merging the two], I needed the message to be clear. Victorian accessories brought that clarity.  

I also touched on the “Nolly Babe” looks. It is a huge community in Lagos. Most Nigerians in the UK saw Nigeria through movies before social media, so we grew up watching film characters dressed as Nolly Babes. Today’s Y2K style references show a lot of Nolly babe influence. It was therefore important to me that I showed that style of dress too.  

AFI is currently on the road to Joburg Fashion Week – Who are 3 African designers on your radar right now, who you think the world needs to pay attention to? 

Mazelle, Pepper Row and Bloke are certainly my top 3 to look out for.  

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