International Women's Day | Ayesha Brown
The founder and creative director of football rework streetwear brand Offside Outlet's star continues to rise.
Ayesha Brown is a force to be reckoned with. The pressure to succeed in the fashion industry can feel intense for those at the beginning of their careers with no clear direction and pure uncertainty. Trying to navigate through the complexities of finding yourself in the field of work can be nerve wracking especially, when you are inexperienced or fear being ‘the odd one out’. The industry is far from perfect and is still lacking in inclusivity. Ayesha reminds us that everybody starts from somewhere and emphasises the importance of the journey rather than the destination. Being one of adidas’ digital publishing managers and the founder of Offside Outlet, it’s easy to see that Ayesha is a successful woman within the industry. As important as it is to acknowledge the achievements, Ayesha also points out the importance of being honest about the challenges and lows faced trying to balance it all— and of course, roller skating.
The fashion industry is competitive and it can be daunting to break into the industry. How did you take the first leap?
Oh wow, I guess technically my first leap was moving from working in advertising to working in fashion production. So, I worked at a company called 3r Rail and essentially, they are one of the biggest t-shirt garment screen printers in London. I worked on the marketing for their services but they also did live event printing etc. So, I was able to meet a few people there. To be honest, the best thing I got out of my experience there was managing and operating a brand's social media channel and in terms of actually learning the process of how things are made, the best place to get certain materials and those things on top of the graphic design knowledge I already had. So, I guess in terms of first steps, that was very entry level even though I had experience elsewhere because I was transitioning over to something else, it was just applying those skills in a different way. I guess that’s the thing with fashion, I think some of the best people or the people who have inspired me the most haven’t necessarily gone down the traditional route. I don’t have any formal qualifications in fashion, I didn’t even study fashion GCSE, and I still kind of regret that but, I’ve still kind of, through my own way of learning, got to where I am now through doing things in a way that were accessible to me. I think a lot of people go to university, study one thing and then think that is what they are going to end up doing when actually, quite a lot of the time, life doesn’t necessarily pan out that way and goes the opposite. I’m always super intrigued by those who don’t have access to (resources) who have kind of had to be creative in a different sense by learning through YouTube or TikTok in terms of how they apply that creativity in a different way. I have always said that, in fashion, it feels instantly different to me. I can kind of always tell the people who have had loads of lecturers tell them they need to do this and that, compared to other people who have had to go and do it on their own or those who push back against their lecturers.
Not only do you run your own brand, but you are also one of adidas’ digital publishing managers. How do you balance it all?
There have been times where I kind of have to make a sacrifice in one way or another. I’m in a relationship. I like to be at home and have a nice tidy home. I like cooking and eating but also being able to balance being in the studio, designing stuff and also doing marketing things in terms of projects with adidas as well. It can be a bit full on, but I think because my core job at adidas is kind of ‘Okay, you are kind of managing the calendar’ through no choice of my own, had to kind of do that with my personal life as well which makes it a bit easier but it does mean, okay, I’m going to be staying up until 3AM to do this because I want to be able to meet my friends tomorrow and I don’t want to miss that.
Do you have any role models? If so, did they inspire your journey into fashion?
I think in terms of designers, I’ve always aspired to those accessible to me. I have met Martine Rose a couple of times. She’s absolutely one of the people I’ve seen who started selling t-shirts on the market. The other one for me is Grace Wales Bonner. In a similar vibe, seeing how someone has taken something that is so distinctly true to them and a similar community to mine and bringing it, not necessarily to the mainstream, but to a much higher level while keeping that connection with communities and in particular, women of colour. I think it’s so important. In terms of a creative perspective, those two, not only for their designs but also how they carry themselves and the projects and collaborations they choose to engage in.
Music, print and your father are all things that inspire your creative flow. Do any of these things help you to overcome burnout?
Honestly, I think that I’ve noticed a change in me since I started working at adidas in that I’ve become a lot more engaged in sports. Not necessarily just sports but exercise in general in that it’s become such an important aspect in my daily life. If I don’t get some access to exercise a few times a week, I find that’s when I tend to get more burned out and stressed. I recently started roller-skating because I think that the exercise you like should be fun, like dance classes. If you’re a gym babe, then that’s you, go be a gym babe if that’s what you enjoy right? That is kind of me but personally, I’ve always enjoyed and felt good when socialising and exercising with people to avoid burnout and stress. This means quite usually, I get a bit of me time or it means I get to have fun and meet and chat to other people which is super important. I think that links back to my dad, he was basically my karate teacher growing up and I think that’s why I feel a bit of connection in that way also.
‘No one is going to hand out opportunities to you on a silver platter’ How much do you agree with this statement?
I definitely think it does help if you’re a nepo baby or if you are mad rich, right? I think that’s honestly the truth. I think fashion itself needs to get a bit real in the fact that so many of the elite people in different industries have come through the private education system despite being such a small amount. So, I do disagree with that to an extent but I also do agree with that for people like myself. Yeah, it’s hard and you really have to go out there and put your best foot forward and challenge not only yourself but also the notions of who you are. I think that’s the thing a lot of the time, everyone and their mum want to start a streetwear brand. It’s one of the fun things to do and loads of people go on YouTube and make it look so easy when it’s so much more than that. The ones that are really successful, it's mainly because they found that one thing that stuck true to it from the beginning. All these corporations, people forget that they had to start from somewhere, right? And you as an individual, or a group are starting a brand or starting something as a collective whether its fashion or music, it’s a similar process of finding yourself and establishing that and sharing it to the world. If you don’t have that core heart of what it is, it’s really hard to sell that to others.
What is your advice for young Black women at the beginning of their careers in fashion?
Don’t listen to bullshit ass men. If there is anything you take out of this interview, it is don't listen to bullshit ass men. Also bullshit ass women, but mainly bullshit ass men. I think that sometimes people are intimidated by ‘the new’. I think that if you are starting something or coming from a completely different perspective, some people don’t like change and being that change or point of difference can be scary. If everyone is on one side and you’re on another, it can feel a bit nerve racking, but that is where the confidence in what you are doing yourself (but also the product or service you are trying to put out) is key. If you don’t believe in the brand, product or service that you are trying to say is valuable, then it is very hard for others to do so. That is where imposter syndrome can sneak in. I think in especially, women of colour and Black women, we’re told ‘oh what about it being accessible to this person etc.’ But then, the same people will go out and pay £2k for a Prada bag. So, if you think something has value and you have gone through the process of establishing the value and purpose, don’t feel like you have to dim yourself down and put yourself in a box because you have to do a certain type of design or creativity. Ultimately, if you are able to break through that, you then become the next set of inspiration for someone to challenge and do something even better. I think that is why I left advertising. I had such negative experiences. I knew I had value and it wasn’t appreciated or understood in that industry. I would encourage people to do that, as scary as it is. Some people train to do one thing and then decide to do another but it can be very rewarding after.
Fashion is always changing - what qualities do you think are going to be important for coming generations?
Organisation is a key one but also creativity. We live in a world where there is so much noise, so many people talking and positing all the time. There is so much sensory information and with the advancement of technology like AI. The understanding of the need to be reactive and come up with that creative thing that can resonate truly with an audience, is such a desired skill. It’s not something that comes naturally to a lot of people so for me, it’s the one thing that I would definitely look for but also just an appetite to learn. I’m always trying to learn something new to the point where I stress myself out too much in taking on new things. That’s why I said roller-skating is something I want to be good at and it’s something fun with a big community in London.
You’ve produced some amazing pieces of work in your career like Offside Outlet, Arsenal remastered and Ajax 3 little birds’ collaboration with Bob Marley’s estate. Career wise, do you believe in the journey rather than the destination?
I definitely believe in the journey rather than the destination. There are so many things that I have learned and picked up on along the way that people have no idea how much goes into that one thing at the end. It is actually in those lessons of ‘oh this didn’t work out’ but actually, it’s in the benefit of that thing because the thing we thought was better, wasn’t actually best. I think the journey of learning and doing those things, is worth the end outcome. I think that is the problem with consumerism, is that we only care about the end product but, with the advancement of Tik-Tok and YouTube, especially younger audiences 30 and under, they care more about watching how things got to where they are and taking people on that journey means that you can be more engaged with the people who may want to take part or be involved. I guess that’s a part of brand building and community building as well so, I would definitely say the journey although, the journey can be quite cool.
As we know, the industry is still progressing on diversity and inclusivity. As a gay Black woman in the fashion industry, do you ever feel nervous about standing out in a room?
I don’t think so at this point and the reason I don’t feel nervous about standing out in a room is because there is a distinct reason why I am likely in the room at this point. It’s really funny because Offside Outlet is still very small and I have kind of kept it that way at the minute because it is very manageable for me. It is kind of a passion project that I am looking to explore in different ways. You would be shocked how many people have absolutely no idea who I am relative to Offside Outlet. They have no idea. Majority of people assume Offside Outlet is Martyn or a white guy in the midlands, they have no idea it’s me. I think there are positives and negatives that come with that, but it also means that within the football industry specifically (which is kind of the category of fashion that I am in) I am very much the other. Compared to other branches of fashion, where queer people tend to be quite a dominant figure in terms of designers or creatives in haute couture, ready to wear, they are in very high positions. Football is very much the opposite. For me to be doing what I’m doing, I guess I’m hoping to be that again for other people in a similar way like they are for me. So when it comes to the women’s world cup or the next big women thing, suddenly they need a woman creative and I guess that’s where I benefit from being ‘the other’. A lot of the times, it can be a bit challenging and I have noticed that when I’m talking over emails, I have been ignored and other people who have been talking on the email that are males have been spoken to directly. When in essence, it's actually me that is the key player. Similar in terms of different levels of respect in communication given to different people and I put that down to, if I’m honest, being a woman. Football has a long way to go. Women’s football is a big part of change and I can see that when I was a teenager, how much better women’s football is being supported, but it’s still got a long way to go.
If you could give your younger self 3 pieces of advice, what would it be?
Take fashion GCSE. You’re going to be great, don’t worry about people talking negatively about your sexuality, you are going to be fine, great and happy. The third one is, start looking at football stuff, I really wish I started earlier but like I said, the journey is important and I think if I didn’t work at places like 3rd rail to pick up that knowledge, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Follow Ayesha and check out Offside Outlet
Article by Mia Mazzocchi
Creative direction and photography by Martyn Ewoma
Assisted by Jewel Kaye and Teddy Munetsi Bullen
Styling by Breje Amar
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