These Designing Sisters Are Making More Than A Fashion Statement With Their Line William Okpo
It’s not easy to run a successful clothing brand. The competition is always high and tastes of consumers consistently fickle. But two sisters, Darlene and Lizzy Okpo, have not only been able to keep their fashion brand William Okpo running for seven years, it’s also growing.
The New York-based womenswear line was founded in 2010 when Darlene and Lizzy were only 23 and 19 years old. They named the brand after their father William Okpo who immigrated from Nigeria to New York in 1976.
In 2015, the siblings opened their flagship store in New York City’s South Street Seaport, which interestingly “is the former hub of the transatlantic slave trade (it’s the last stop on the city’s Slavery Walking Tour, a guided walk through Lower Manhattan),” reported Racked.
“For me, even though the history is very dark, being two Black women to own—to operate, not even own—a store at the Seaport for the past two years is such an accomplishment,” Darlene told Racked.
Over the years, while the line has become more cohesive, it has stayed true to its signature style. “The aesthetic of the brand has matured consistently since its launch, but the sharp tailoring, rich colors, and mixed fabrications and hardware—combining materials like neoprene and silk chiffon in one garment—have stayed at the core of William Okpo’s look. It’s with this approach that the brand pushes the boundaries and expectations of designers of the African diaspora–if you’re looking for traditional African prints pumped out for mass consumption, you won’t find them here,” reported Racked.
And that’s because the sisters want to make more than a fashion statement with their clothes. “Just because we’re coming from a Nigerian background, that’s not what we’re about. We were born here also, so we wanted to break that stigma of black designers and African print,” says Darlene. “This is why the brand is named after my dad, William Okpo. When he came here, he didn’t fit into that stereotype. He came here, in our opinion, influencing people with style. There are pictures of him in three-piece suits, bell bottoms, and ‘fro, with a Members Only jacket, all white. My dad is the most stylish man you’ll ever meet.”