His edgy street wear looks have made fans of celebrities including hip hop artist Desiigner. But for Muktar Onifade, owner of emerging label VIZUVL GVDS (pronounced “visual gods”), fashion hasn’t always been in his blood. The 26-year-old American born Nigerian designer began his career working with carburetors rather than clothes pins, earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and becoming a calibration specialist for General Motors. It wasn’t until 2015 that Onifade decided to transfer his technical skills to garment making, debuting the first of four collections inspired by geometric lines and traditional African garb.
Emblazoned with the acronym GVDS, which stands for “Gifted with Visual Diverse Skills,” the label is designed to inspire other young Africans to pursue their dreams. Every piece is also hand-made in Onifade’s Detroit-based studio – a testament to the talent and tenacity required to succeed in any creative field. On the heels of his latest Spring/Summer 2017 collection, we caught up with the stylish polymath to chat about his unique fashion inspirations and the future of his up-and-coming brand.
Samantha: What first sparked your interest in fashion design?
Muktar: As part of my culture, we always love to dress up and look fly, but it was never a subconscious idea for me to make clothes. About three years ago, I went to a fashion show in Atlanta focused on African designers. It was not well put-together and I felt disappointed and a little bit angry because what I saw was so predictable. When I started researching, young creative African designers all wanted to be the next Gucci. They created interesting pieces, but they didn’t really touch the masses – there was no value in them. Some of the first questions I asked myself when I thought about designing were, “Who are you?” “What is your story?” and “What are you trying to sell?” It was [about] finding the balance of creating an African brand that is street luxury but still very accessible and wearable. It’s by Africans for Africans.
S. How has your family and those close to you responded to your career decisions? Leaving behind engineering in the pursuit of something creative?
M. [They’ve been] extremely supportive because they understand the level of commitment and passion I have for what I believe in. I don’t really think I left engineering to pursue something creative, I am just applying my engineering background into a more creative field. I also think engineering and creativity are not mutually exclusive. In the sense that creatives need engineers to make their ideas functional and engineers need creatives to bring their concepts to life.
S. Do you feel like you’re at a disadvantage compared to other designers, having not gone to school for fashion?
M. Because there’s so much I want to learn, I have to work 10 times harder to keep up. I take on every collection as a project where I have to acquire new skills, so I feel like I’m taking my own college course of fashion. However, not having all the knowledge and access that fashion kids have help me create from a very fresh perspective. I take positives from certain deficiencies in my garment making and make statements for my collection out of the things I don’t know how to do. I’m always looking for those perfect mistakes that can be used as staples. The process is very creative and intense, but very exciting.
S. What has been the biggest struggle in your career so far? And have you overcome it, or is it still an on-going difficulty that you’re working through?
M. I think my biggest struggle is not having all the necessary skills and resources to execute certain ideas or designs that currently sit in my brain or sketch pads. However, I try not to look at this as a struggle or a disadvantage but instead as a source of constant motivation to develop my skills. For me, I truly believe that with constant dedication and persistence in what you believe in, its only a matter of time [that] you perfect your failures and struggles. So it’s an endless cycle of the pursuit for more knowledge.
M. My designs and ideas really come from my engineering background. I go back to my days in college and think about different concepts that have nothing to do with fashion. For example, in my second season, I adopted principles of fluid mechanics, which involves applying different forces on a fluid to test its reactions. Based on that concept, I used 3-D stitching to create wavy lines, while ensuring the look was very minimalist.
I’m also very inspired by African kaftans – which are lightweight tunics made from strip materials. My idea was to make them into something more trendy and high fashion, while still being very causal.
S. Your pieces are very minimalistic and versatile. Would you say your collection has sort of an androgynous feel?
M. Definitely. When I first started designing, I thought of my sister who always went through my closet and wore all my clothing. I wanted to make a collection that girlfriends would want to wear off of their boyfriends. The cut and the way a garment sits on the man makes it easier for a female to just pick it up and wear it.
S. Cutting edge techniques like 3-D printing and wearable technology have come to the forefront of the fashion industry as of late. Do you see your brand going in this direction?
M. I do see myself going into wearable technology, but right now I’m focusing on developing this vision that hasn’t even been manufactured to where I really want it to be yet. In the future, I might create something that reads your pulse or a wet suit that emits some type of signal to keep sharks away. I think this focus on safety and health is where fashion and technology can really prosper.
S. What would you attribute your own success to?
M. With every success I experience, there’s a kid back home who will probably run into my product and be inspired knowing that somebody who speaks the same language and looks similar can make clothes at this level. And I think that’s why I push myself; I do everything that a full manufacturing house would do for a brand. I want people to look at my work in 10 or 12 years and say, “Wow this guy really put in his effort and didn’t make excuses for where he was in the moment.” You don’t need to have anything given to you to be able to create. I’ve failed so many times; it’s even taken me a year to figure out how to make a pant. But when I figured out how to make it, I felt a lot better knowing that I never gave up.
S. In order to reach your audience of young African creatives, how do you plan on making your work as accessible as possible?
M. Mostly through social media platforms. And also through design installations that bring the entire vision of the brand to the forefront — not only here in the U.S., but most importantly, back home in Nigeria.
S. What is the best piece of advice you would give to an emerging designer?
M. You have to follow your instincts and be patient. Whatever you’re doing someone has done before. In order to have that edge, you must contemplate how you are going to sell what has already been sold a million times, and what the purpose is behind selling it.
S. What’s next for VIZUVL GVDS?
M. As much as I’m creating, I’m still working on my design palette so that 10 seasons from now I can have a consistent aesthetic that people know my brand for. I also want to do collaborations in design, furniture and technology with unexpected companies.
S. Can you tease us about any upcoming collections?
M. I’m doing a show in march for LA fashion week with a contemporary brand, so I may do a genderless collection for that. My female collection is also coming out very soon.