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Exchanging fabrics and stories with London-born designer Isaak Ayo

Usually, I acquire my fabric online, meaning  I can only imagine what the person who wore it was like, so using fabric from Yumi’s family and knowing the person with whom the fabric was associated was truly an honour.

Isaak Ayo

Isaak Ayo was founded in 2013, when designer Rickardo’s son Isaac Ayo Mascarenhas Reynolds was born. All Isaak Ayo bags and T-shirts are ethically made in London, using recycled (and mostly organic) fabrics such as upcycled kimono silk, wood felt, organic cotton and bamboo. 

Before creating Isaak Ayo, from the 1990s to 2005 Rickardo used to run his own clothing business “BOK” with a friend. BOK sold clubwear at Portobello Market, and Camden Market and sold wholesale to shops around the UK, Germany and Miami. When clubwear died down, Rickardo became a landscape gardener before deciding to co-create ethical T-shirt label “Organik Rocka” with a partner in 2005. Facing difficulties in a long-term friendship and business partnership, Rickardo decided to begin anew in 2013, boosted by the energy and inspiration provided by his newborn son.

4649.REC:   Your main collection is the “World Series Collection”, which intends to represent your love of traveling. Would you say your creations are also reflective of your cultural background? 

Rickardo: The “World Series Collection” as a whole is not reflective of my cultural background, as a lot of the fabrics I use are from Japan. However, I am increasingly using fabrics from West Africa because although my parents are from Jamaica, our ancestry is mainly from West Africa. 

4649.REC:  Isaak Ayo creates bags made from upcycled, and natural fabrics, particularly bags from upcycled kimonos. How did you get the idea to start upcycling? 

Rickardo: I had actually worked with upcycled products before I had started my own brand. My first job was actually working for a small company, which made jackets from upcycled leather jackets, jeans and silk scarves. Years later, I started making backless Kimono from silks.  I bought a deconstructed kimono, but there was not enough fabric, so I followed my wife’s suggestion to make a tote bag instead. That’s how my bag collection began. 

4649.REC: How would you say your brand has evolved over the years in terms of vision, particularly over the COVID-19 period?

Rickardo: My brand has developed over the years. From tote bags and T-shirts, My product range has continually increased from tote bags and T-shirts originally,  my latest and most successful pieces are backpacks and cardholders. I intend to continue to expand the product range, to eventually include clothing.

Over time, I have also expanded my online presence. During COVID, my orders increased a lot in the UK and the USA. However, orders from Europe decreased significantly after Brexit.

4649.REC: How do you usually acquire the kimono fabric, which you use in your bags?

Rickardo: At the moment I acquire my fabric online, but I hope to one day go to Japan and bring back a load of old Kimono. 

4649.REC: Yumi fell in love with your creations on Instagram and decided to  reach out to you for a collaboration based on an exchange of fabric:  you provided the indigo blue cotton fabric from Gambia for 4649.REC’s Haori top, which matches your backpack, while Yumi provided you with the leftover fabric from the Gold Katana co-ords. which came from Yumi’s mother, so you could create a matching bag. Could you tell me a bit more about the one-off pieces, which came out of this partnership?

Rickardo: This partnership is great because we both have a love for sustainable fashion, fabrics from Africa, and fabrics from Japan, particularly Kimono fabric, and Obi*. In this collection, we used an Obi that belonged to Yumi’s mother, which  she used to create the Gold Katana camouflage co-ords. The fabric was perfect to create a matching clutch bag. Using the indigo blue cotton fabric from Gambia from which created a backpack, Yumi created a Haori top. In order to create the backpack, the fabric had to be interfaced and reinforced to give it body and durability. I also added upcycled leather to the bottom of the backpack for protection. 

This collaboration was a really interesting experience. Usually, I acquire my fabric online, meaning  I can only imagine what the person who wore it was like, so using fabric from Yumi’s family and knowing the person with whom the fabric was associated was truly an honour. After exchanging the fabrics, Yumi and I discussed what type of pieces we would create, but neither of us knew exactly what the other had in mind. In the end, we both love each other’s creations. 

4649.REC:  What is your creative process like? What inspires you? 

Rickardo: My creative process is a bit chaotic; I tend to start many projects simultaneously.  I am inspired by what my eyes take in everyday. I look at everything, especially when I’m walking with my headphones on. I also love people watching, which is a good way of seeing what people are into.  Being able to come up with an idea in my head and actually create it, brings me a lot of joy and satisfaction. I have noticed that when I’m not creating, my stress level goes up. 

When I have an idea, I draw or write it down, then it goes through a few changes before I begin the actual crafting process.  Once I have created a bag, I try to see how it can be improved by having my wife or friends test them out and give their feedback on wearability, durability and design. Their, sometimes brutal, honesty is really helpful. 

Ultimately, I want to demonstrate that sustainable doesn’t have to mean boring.

4649.REC:  More generally, what would you say is the main challenge in sustainable fashion becoming mainstream?

Rickardo:  I think sustainable fashion will become more mainstream when large companies realise they can make money from it, but I think consumers need to change their buying habits, to force large companies to change. When we buy, we need to focus on quality, rather than quantity. We should also support environmentally friendly independent brands. Small brands may become big one day. 

4649.REC:  What would you say is the key message behind your pieces? How do you contribute to the sustainable fashion movement?

Rickardo: I am trying to create sustainable bags from natural and biodegradable sustainable sources. For instance, I do not use plastic in any of my bags or packaging.  I look at my bags as little pieces of art, mixed with the art of the original fabric maker. I love upcycling fabrics because of their history. Some of the pieces I use are over seventy years old, and still in great condition.  Upcycling is the way forward: we have to re-use as much as we can, if we want to protect the planet. Ultimately, I want to demonstrate that sustainable doesn’t have to mean boring.

You can read more about Isaak Ayo and shop the exclusive pieces which came out of our collaborations below. 

Want to discover more sustainable designers interested in authentic Japanese fashion? Stay tuned for our upcoming blog article here soon. Who should 4649.REC collaborate next?

*the wide silk belt that is worn with the kimono

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