Wonderland.

TALLER THAN YOUR AVERAGE

Founder Irene Agbontaen serves up some inspiring style talk.

All clothing TTYA

All clothing TTYA

There’s nothing better than a CEO that lives out the message of their business: Irene Agbongatean does exactly that. Founder of clothing label Taller Than Your Average, Irene – standing gracefully at 5ft11 – closed a gap in the market when she started producing fashion forward styles and wardrobe essentials under the banner in 2013.

Taking diversity and inclusion to new levels with product rocked by the likes of Wonderbabe Jourdan Dunn – alongside a series of #TTYATalks that have hosted everyone form Radio 1’s Clara Amfo to Rinse FM’s Josey Rebelle – TTYA has grown exponentially in just four years, selling out in ASOS, Selfridges and Barney’s New York.

“TTYA represents the excluded girl and makes her included,” Agbongatean says proudly of her label, as if speaking of her own story – a black woman at the forefront of London subculture, Irene is one of few.

Combining her heritage and international influences in the latest occasion wear focused collection entitled I Do, Irene nods to the grandiose glamour of Nigerian weddings with vibrant colours and elegant tailoring, elsewhere a lookbook that screams #blackexcellence and #teamtallgirls (find it here).

Together we spoke about inspiration, the future of TTYA and why, with its strong message, the label is clearly about more than just fashion.

All clothing TTYA

All clothing TTYA

Congratulations on a brilliant collection! I’m a huge fan of TTYA and what you stand for. This collection is looking hella saucy, but also graceful and elegant – how did you strike that balance? What inspired the silhouettes?

Thank you so much! My mantra for the brand has always been style conscious not self conscious, functional wardrobe essentials. The silhouettes were inspired by Nigerian weddings – each piece is unique and functional.

How has your background as a stylist helped with building TTYA?

Coming from a stylist background meant I had a good foundation and knowledge on how the industry works along with a contact base; the ability to build and maintain relationships with important contacts is so imperative in this business. I actually worked as a stylist at ASOS too so that opened me up to the world of ecommerce.
  
When you started your career, did you always think you’d go into business in this vein?

NO! TTYA started as a small business on the side – out of my room! I just thought, there must be girls like me who struggle to find just the basics so I just launched with seven key styles: a body, leggings, staple tee’s – products that are the function to a women wardrobe. It took off from there really. 

My collection launched in Selfridges and was the first tall-specific brand to ever launch within the store. It then went on to be stocked in Barney’s New York and ASOS – where it sold out in one week. I did a four-season collaboration for Long Tall Sally, which I designed and creative directed, featured in American Vogue with supermodel Jourdan Dunn. I launched TTYA Black in 2016, which specialises in well-fitting occasion wear.
 
What was the hardest part of building a fashion brand from scratch?

Learning your mark ups and logistics! It’s a whole operation. Every stockist has different packaging rules and requirements that you get fined for if you can’t comply. I was so nervous about my first delivery to Selfridges that my mum drove me to the distribution centre just so I could be extra sure! 

Since the launch in 2013, TTYA has become the go-to brand for tall girls worldwide, likewise making a political statement with its focus on inclusivity. What else does TTYA represent?

TTYA represents the excluded girl and makes her included. That girl that always stands at the back of photos (tall girl problems), the girl that needs extra leg room on the plane, the girl who just wants to shop with her friends and can feel confident she can have a brand catered just for her, that fits! That’s the girl I live for. 

All clothing TTYA

All clothing TTYA

TTYA Talks are also a big part of the brand! How important do you think it is for women to help other women, especially in business?

It’s super important – as women we are so much stronger in numbers! I wanted to give shortcuts to some of my hard lessons and also provide a platform for women to come together organically. Talks focus on career and industry-specific topics, providing direct access to successful women working across the creative industries.

We’ve had everyone from Caryn Franklyn MBE to FKA twigs and covered topics from fashion, the modern day tech girl, using social media to build your business, broadcasting to branding.  

There seems to be a rise in black female entrepreneurs, with women like yourself leading the way. What advice would you give to the next generation?

Business is built on relationships – nurture them. You will make mistakes – learn from them! 

The fashion industry in Nigeria is definitely booming – a number of fashion houses, including Stella McCartney and Kenzo, have featured the country’s vibrancy in their campaigns for example. In terms of TTYA, how important is it for you to tap into this part of your heritage?

I went back to Lagos back in December 2016 and reconnected with my roots! I fell in love with my city all over again. The food, the culture, even the business of the streets! The best thing I took away was that people just make it work with whatever they have. I shot my latest collection in Lagos (here). I sourced the team through Instagram and had a friend who is an amazing producer on the ground out there. We did the model casting over FaceTime – crazy!

It’s been amazing to watch the brand evolve from wardrobe must-haves to now more statement occasion pieces, what’s the next big thing for the tall woman’s wardrobe? 

I’m currently working on a Spring Summer holiday collection. From cover ups to all your tall women holiday essentials. 

You’ve seen amazing success so far, as we’ve discussed. What can we expect from TTYA in future? 

I want to start to connect tall girls globally and expand on collaborations. The brand has done so well in such a short amount of time – I’m looking forward to the future! 

Photography
Amber Grace Dixon
Fashion
Abigail Hazard
Words
Abigail Adeoti
Hair and Makeup
Nina Jackson using Bumble and Bumble and NARS Cosmetics
Model
Mouna at Storm
Photography Assistant
Sofia Farnesi
Fashion Assistant
Rosie Sykes
TALLER THAN YOUR AVERAGE

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