Designer Isy Obi has spent her life around sewing – and the world. All of her experiences culminated in the Cayman Islands, where she set out to create a brand that embodies the understated sophistication and ease of the modern island lifestyle by combining effortlessness with feminine sensuality. With the launch of her latest collection, Modern Tribe, Isy designs for the global citizen with luxurious taste, combining fresh custom prints and textures for a look that is relaxed cosmopolitan elegance infused with a unique island flair. Today, we chat with Isy B. about sewing together the fabric of your life to create an identity uniquely your own.
How and why did you start designing?
I grew up with a fashion studio literally in my backyard! I’ve been designing clothes for as long as I can remember. My mother was a fashion designer who set up a successful fashion studio in our garden. As a kid, I would wander into the studio after school looking for scraps of fabric to make clothes for my dolls. Her tailors and seamstresses saved me bits of pretty fabrics that they thought I might like. I first learned to sew with a needle and thread, sitting on the floor under her vast cutting table, where I could be part of all the action without getting in the way.
What is your fashion philosophy?
I believe in fashion as a way to express yourself. However for me, fashion can never be a substitute for inner beauty. When fashion is elegant and uncomplicated, it becomes the backdrop against which your inner light and personality can shine, and the canvas for your individual creative expression. The ultimate result is a beautiful collaboration between the designer and the wearer.
How has your design changed over time?
My design style has evolved over time with the various places I have lived across the globe. My Nigerian heritage inspired my love of prints, London added a modern sculptural element, Spain sharpened my eye for design detail, and now the Caribbean has added a vibrancy and island-inspired effortless ease. It’s a combination that’s uniquely and unapologetically me.
What inspired your latest collection?
The most recent Isy B. collection is inspired by the natural beauty of the Cayman Islands and its diverse modern tribe. I’ve lived on these tiny, idyllic islands in the Caribbean Sea for over 10 years and am grateful to have become a part of its rich cultural diversity, which began with the first settlers moving to its shores. That migration still continues today, and its cosmopolitan and globally mobile population has given rise to what I see as Cayman’s modern tribe.
The modern tribe has formed new traditions by drawing from the heritage of all those who have migrated to the islands over the centuries. The latest collection reflects the blending of once rigid traditions to a freer, inclusive and more pragmatic way of life. A life lived in vibrant color.
What is your biggest hurdle building a brand today?
Running a fashion brand today has so many facets to it. Designing the collection is just one aspect of the business of fashion. Marketing, PR, operational management, finance, sourcing, building supplier relations, maintaining customer communications, legal – the list of activities that a design entrepreneur has to constantly pay attention to is seemingly endless. As a result, a design entrepreneur needs to be able to wear many hats at once (both business and creative) and then have the resources to access all the different expertise that will be needed to build the brand as it begins to grow. It’s a task that requires major participation from both the left and right brain and that’s not always easy.
What do you think about fashion today?
Fashion has been made faster and even more fleeting by social media. New ideas take hold and disappear just as quickly, while technology makes it easy to jump on every new trend. However (and more excitingly for me), in the midst of all of that, maybe even as a reaction to all of that, I see a relatively small but growing movement away from the mainstream fast-fashion towards a wish for greater individuality, self expression, and discernment from buyers. There is more interest in thoughtful design, carefully considered fabrication, and construction. There is greater interest in clothing with a unique story, and brands with a distinctive voice. All of which makes it an exciting time to be an independent designer.
Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
I’m fortunate to live and work on a beautiful island where inspiration is easy to find. Nature feeds my creativity and so I love to get outside whenever I can – the more remote the location, the better. I also love to travel and soak up the colors and culture wherever I find myself. One of the things I love most about travel is the change of perspective and the inspiration it brings. Some of the places where I have had the type of inspiration that kept me up sketching for nights on end are some of the most exotic places in the world – Morocco, Brazil, Vietnam – but I also love spending time in my favorite urban fashion capitals – Paris, London, and New York. There I find inspiration in the work of my favorite designers and in the fabulous street-style brigade who turn each city’s streets into a brilliant source of inspiration.
Any tips and tricks of the trade?
My motto is to stay focused but stay open. It’s easy to get distracted by all the possibilities and opportunities out there for Isy B. and so it’s been important for me to regularly take a step back to see whether we are still on track with our goals and vision as a brand. At the same time it has been important for me to remain open to the new ideas and opportunities that come up because there is always something new to learn. The trick is being able to judge whether something will take you closer to where you want to go or whether it’s just another lovely distraction.
Who is the Isy B. woman?
Isy B. is created with the independent spirit of the modern woman in mind; she is a global citizen who is confidently understated, comfortable with who she is, and enjoys life to the fullest, always on her own terms.
Join the modern tribe with Isy B.’s latest collection.
Pascal Pernix – P Creative
Tianna Martinez – TVM Photography
David Wolfe – David Wolfe Photography
Model – Monica Walton – Caribbean Life & Travel