December 4, 2022

Eye candy: We talk sustainable fashion and Afro-Asian fusion with Ify Ubby, founder of OliveAnkara – AsiaOne

  • October 26, 2021
  • 8 min read
Eye candy: We talk sustainable fashion and Afro-Asian fusion with Ify Ubby, founder of OliveAnkara – AsiaOne

You might have heard of OliveAnkara, the Singapore-based fashion label known for its head-turning African fabrics.
But its founder Ify Ubby comes from a background as colourful as her clothing. Born in Italy to Nigerian parents, she first moved to Singapore to pursue molecular cancer research.
These days, she’s a full-time designer with her own showroom, and she’s recently launched her first Afro-Asian fusion collection – that happens to be waste-neutral as well.
We catch up with Ify about cultural fusion, sustainable fashion, and the courage to wear bold prints.
Hi Ify! Tell us a bit about your background – we hear you first came to Singapore as a cancer researcher?
I was born and raised in Italy, near Venice, where my parents moved from Nigeria in the early ’80s. 
I have a degree in Molecular Biotechnology, and after graduation, I decided to embark on a journey in scientific research.
I was awarded a PhD grant to join Scuola Normale di Pisa, where I studied Human Molecular Genetics for 4 years. At the end of my PhD, I wanted to continue with academia and research, and was looking overseas.
I applied for a few positions around the world, but the most interesting project was proposed to me here in Singapore.
I was offered a postdoc at NCCS (National Cancer Center) in Molecular Carcinogenesis, which I concluded in 2019. It was an amazing experience!
What first sparked your decision to start OliveAnkara?
The idea came, as often happens, from a void that needed to be filled.
It was 2016 and I was looking for African fabrics to make my Nigerian wedding gown. I checked and couldn’t find any in Singapore, so I decided to get some fabrics from Africa and designed my own gown.
Thereafter, I made other garments for myself and received a lot of compliments, which led me to making a few for friends.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I realised that I enjoyed the process a lot.
I decided to create a small capsule collection and started OliveAnkara in July 2017 because I couldn’t find any cool African-inspired brand around. It was an experiment that I decided to fully commit to after realising it’s my true passion.

You were born and raised in Venice, but have Nigerian roots. How was it like growing up with two cultures, and how does that impact your work on OliveAnkara?
I grew up surrounded by Italian culture, but my Nigerian roots always played an important role.
I’ve been exposed to African cultures a lot during my youth, especially thanks to the big Nigerian community that grew in Italy during those years.
One aspect that always fascinated me when attending family gatherings was the colourful clothing they wore. I fell in love with African fabrics, and this love never faded.
I would say that OliveAnkara is a deeply personal platform where I invite you to discover my vision of fashion in its most authentic form.
I draw inspiration from several worlds – art, photography, painting, and of course, my Nigerian-Italian heritage. My creations result from an infinite love for diversity and a desire to light up people’s lives.
Growing up in Italy and Singapore, understanding the different cultures and how they dress in different spaces helped me to assert myself as a person who is expressive with clothing and appearance. It’s about drawing people into my space.
You’ve just launched your first Afro-Asian fusion collection, AJO AYE ’21. Tell us more about the inspiration and the process behind these striking prints.
AJO AYE translates to ‘Colourful Journey’ in Yoruba language.
For almost a year now, I’ve been working on bringing meaningful changes to the brand in terms of sustainability – making our supply chain transparent, and increasing our production in a clean, ethical way.
It’s a long journey, but every step in the right direction matters. This is also the first time we’ve designed and created all the fabrics of a collection, hence the prints are called OA ORIGINALS.
The inspirations behind the collection are Yemojá, the Yoruba water goddess that was the mother of oceans and rivers, as well as Sui, the Japanese water element that represents flow and change.
Every piece displays this fusion of West African and Japanese-like motifs.
The river deity is often portrayed as a beautiful, queenly mermaid, whose swaying hips would cause waves when she walked. She remains an important orisha in Yoruba mythology even today.
Meanwhile, Sui is often associated with adaptability and magnetism. Its innate flexibility makes it easy for it to swiftly adapt to shifting boundaries and continually seek out the best path.

AJO AYE ’21 is also about female power. How did you come to name the pieces after women blazing their own trail?
It’s all about inspiring women to embrace the fact that there is no singular right path – just your own!
There’s been a common theme, which is women really worrying about their path through life and being afraid they’re going to get it wrong.
I wanted to both embrace the idea that there’s no one right path, and create this sense of solidarity by weaving data around the experiences we all share.
We explore the representation of women in the collection, from the warriors to the goddesses.
Despite the obstacles they faced, such as lack of formal training, exclusion from male life, and prejudice, they succeeded through their determination and talent.
Telling their stories through our pieces spotlights the significance of their contribution. We want to celebrate their achievements as role models now and for the future.
Do you find that Singaporeans tend to steer clear of bold prints for everyday wear?
You know, I am on a mission to empower women to wear prints and express the boldest version of themselves.
It’s a process – sometimes it comes naturally, and sometimes you need a bit of push. But most of our customers are curious, open-minded, love colours, and are not afraid to wear something bold.
In fact, what if I told you that bold prints could fit into a professional wardrobe with ease?
They are a great way to give an edge to power dressing. I love to see my customers’ pictures and discover how they add some joy to their workwear.
Recently a customer wrote to me: “I’m very happy I was introduced to bold, coloured prints. I love how they immediately elevate an outfit! The jumpsuit was really comfortable, making me feel very good about myself.”
AJO AYE ‘21 exemplifies your commitment to slow fashion, as you’re a local pioneer in working with NuCycle to neutralise your clothing’s waste impact. Can you share more on how offsetting waste works?
Yes, the AJO AYE collection is officially waste neutral! We’ve chosen to work with NuCycle to ensure that we aren’t contributing to the current waste crisis but taking part in the solutions of a regenerative tomorrow.
Through NuCycle’s services we have offset the equivalent amount of waste produced in this new production line. We’ve also taken into account all the materials used in our final garments, to ensure we’re responsible for our products’ end of life as well.
NuCycle conducted an in-depth assessment using data from our latest production.
Combined with industry averages, this data allows NuCycle to determine the amount and type of waste needed to be offset for AJO AYE to be waste neutral. The waste offsets sold by Nu Cycle are an allocated amount of offset credits into a new project.
The best part is that our offset credits have a real impact. Ocean plastics and non-recyclable plastics are being removed from the natural environment and converted into renewable fuel in Indonesia by NuCycle’s offset partner, Geo Trash Management and Gili Eco Trust.
Running a business with a retail space must be exhausting – what do you do to unwind?
Connect to nature. Spending just a few minutes in nature when I feel stressed helps me to relax. Or I would just go for a 5K run.
Now that borders are reopening, what’s the next travel destination on your list?
There is only one place at the top of my travel list and it is HOME. I’ve been away for almost three years, I can’t wait to reunite with my family and friends!
Keep up with OliveAnkara on their website, Facebook, and Instagram.
This article was first published in citynomads.


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