What’s luxury when it’s not white and dripping with European heritage? This is the question posed by the Togolese-American designer Hogoe Kpessou try to answer. Her eponymous womenswear brand appeals to a small audience with its leather handbags. They are designed as messenger backpacks, saddle bags, handbags and rendered in a variety of colors like hunter green, honey brown and lavender. But it’s the ingenious details that elevate the product, the crest of bumblebees and fireflies.
In October 2020, Kpessou established its mark in the crucible of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just two years, the label caught the attention of mainstream pop culture. Her messenger bag was featured on an episode of Beautiful Air. Janelle James, star of ABC’s hit show Abbott Elementary School, held a satchel when it premiered last December. In September, Kpessou will present his label at New York Fashion Week.
The trip was long for Kpessou. At six years old, Kpessou came to the United States, where she fought against racism. “My experience in America was more of a love-hate relationship for a long time,” she said. “Accepting racism at a young age, watching my mother experience it without being fully aware of it.”
There was also xenophobia. At school, her name was mocked, ridiculed as “hoe go away”. She found it confusing, mostly because she didn’t expect to be abused by people who looked like her. “I grew up hearing it and it strained the relationship between me and my cultural identity,” she said. “What was once normal became uncomfortable in this new world that had its rules and regulations.”
Hogoé, which means “light of God/chosen one”, is also a name given to the first daughter in Togolese families. The microaggressions she faced motivated her to achieve even more. While working to pay for her studies, she did modeling on the side. It wasn’t always smooth, however. She didn’t work for the big brands. She modeled for friends and small brands on Instagram, where she was consistently underpaid.
Today, his name is no longer a punchline for jokes but a symbol of luxury. For Kpessou, luxury is an experience, which is why she incorporates convenience into her designs more than ever. It also diversifies the concept into other products. “I also make candles and gift boxes. Simple and small accessories, because not everyone can afford my prices but there is kindness in those who try to help and support me.
She started out making clothes, but bags ended up being first. “It was just easier to get a bag right before the clothes, which required countless swatches and corrections for a good fit,” she said.
Bags, apparently, are the brand’s most eye-catching merchandise across all of its product categories. Along with the insect patterns, the bags also carry a sort of sentimental narrative for the label.
“For bees, that means you can find the sweetness of life,” she said. “For the firefly, it is to guide itself in the dark. I was a writer at one point, so it makes sense that the same metaphors would come across in my work.
As an emerging label, they mostly deal with running things but get help from friends and a small team. “I have a wonderful wife named Reka who helps me with the tech packs and designs,” Kpessou said. “Being new to the industry, it helps to have my designs looked at with experienced eyes as I’m still learning.”
She also oversees quality control and pre-shipment checks. Although purchases can be made through the brand’s website, it hopes to partner with huge retailers like Selfridges and Nordstrom in the future. She counts the appearance of her messenger bag on Bel-Air as a personal accomplishment. “It meant that my items were associated with luxury and blackness, the two being synonymous. It meant my items were in rooms I hadn’t even been in yet and that was reassuring. I hope my items will appear in more trade shows in the future as my brand grows. ”
While she may want to collapse darkness and luxury, Hogoé Kpessou is also driven by a greater cause. In addition to reinvesting in the label, part of the money goes to humanitarian aid and the financing of community projects in Togo. Intentional donations can also be made. It’s a move that keeps her grounded in her identity, as she wants the best for those in her home community.
Kpessou would like to design a dress for a celebrity or two, especially for the red carpet. She wants her label to be supported in the films. This critical mass positions her better to help those in her country. Here is a young designer who does not dream only for herself but also for others.
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