Fisayo Longe Revisited - An origin story of sorts.
I can see why those who do not blog would be fascinated by it - blogging. Good blogs reek of a certain grace and nonchalance that is often mistaken for ease. And it does look easy. You may look at a fashion blog and think, "I can put an outfit together better than she can" and you might read a wordy blog and think, "I'm definitely a better writer than he is" but, chances are that you aren't, and even if you can put an outfit together better than she can, and even if you are a better writer than he is, can you create content with diurnal regularity? When people hate what you've done, do you have the strength of character to keep at it regardless?
It's been a little over a year since I started blogging properly, and though I'll admit to being fairly decent at it, you'll never hear me say that I'm the best. The world is littered with my betters. Sometimes I stumble across people who are so good that I despair a little. It's difficult not to when the world is as competitive as it is. But we mustn't lose ourselves to despair because the possibilities for growth are endless. Fisayo Longe, of mirrorme.me is one of my betters and I go to her routinely for help because it would be impossible to become as good as she if I didn't seek out her guidance from time to time. Now, you mustn't start a dialogue comparing our blogs. To embark on such an enterprise would be pointless as we do very different things. What you can say however is that she is one of the best at what she does. In under a year she established herself as a leading Nigerian fashion blogger in the UK.
I would say Fisayo and I go back a long time but if I did you might imagine that we had frolicked and gambolled on green fields, or that we had bathed together and had seen each other so much and so often that I had lost all the trappings of my gender to her. That she no longer saw me as Afam the sexy beast but as Afam, the almost brother. The first time I met her, she was a small ten year old who carried herself with a seriousness that belied her age. Her eyes were a little too large for her face and she rocked a buzz cut that her school at the time, Loyola Jesuit College, insisted on - even though it made the majority of it's wearers look like they belonged in a different life; a life that involved the fetching of water from rivers and the deprivation of education for girls. I saw her repeatedly over the years but I never really looked at her. I imposed the image of her ten year old self on her until it was impossible for me to do so any longer. Her once too large eyes are now just the right size, and while she is still small, she isn't small enough to be mistaken for a child. I should have noticed when all of this was changing but I didn't. It was as if she metamorphosed from an incredibly serious child, to an appropriately serious young woman overnight.
As you must know by now, I'm no fan of question and answer type interviews. While they're extremely effective, they are also incredibly dull to write. ________________________
I made the two hour journey from Manchester to London, that we may do the interview in person. I wanted to be able to say that we'd sat outside the Patisserie Valerie on Edgware road, and that I'd offered her a cigarette even though neither of us smoke. I'd have had a decaf soy latte and she'd have had a black Americano and a croissant but some dreams are forever fated to remain dreams. We would have to settle for a Skype conversation at 10pm on a Sunday, but I didn't mind too much. I didn't mind too much because if we hadn't made it work you would have been without vital knowledge about Fisayo that the bulk of you do not know, but I'm sure all of you care about, and I would have been without material.
On her blog's facebook page Fisayo writes that bizarre travelling plans are dancing lessons from God but you could say that about her life as well. Fisayo had an offer to study Law at a University she was very pleased to have been conditionally accepted to. Fisayo did her A levels believing that she had done everything that she needed to do to meet her offer. When the results came out she discovered that she had missed her offer by a grade and that the University of her choice, the University that she had staked everything on, would not accept her. She toyed with the idea of going to another university, but her friend, Tobi, advised her to take a gap year.
If any one of those things had happened differently - if she had made the grades she needed to, if the University of her choice had accepted her anyway, if she had gone to another University, if Tobi had not suggested that she take a gap year, then Fisayo would have gone on to do Law that autumn. But life being what it is, a series of events the consequences of which we cannot forsee, Fisayo did not enroll at University that autumn, she went on a gap year, and then she started a blog. She said, "I just wanted a space where I could document things that inspired me, countries I travelled to, stuff I was wearing... It was more like a personal diary. It wasn't meant to be anything big at all." And her blog is rather big. She's just finished a collaboration with Asos Africa, where she styled Asos pieces in an African way.
In the beginning her blog was rather personal. She wrote about topics that even I, a self professed over sharer haven't touched. My failings and challenges are presented so heavily shrouded in metaphors and other literary devices that it is all but impossible to decipher them, but hers are accessible at the click of a button. In her fourth blog post she wrote about her often tenuous relationship with God in times of difficulty something that I have yet to discuss. When I asked her about this she said, "I wasn't expecting that many people to be reading it. They were situations that I'd been through and that was what I was going through then, but then when my blog started to be read and I could see my readership growing I didn't want it to be that sort of diary anymore... there are some posts that I wrote back in the day that I'm quite embarrassed by but I wouldn't go back and delete them because I believe it's all part of the process and I shouldn't delete something I once documented because it'll be like deleting a part of who you once were. This sounds rather deep but you know what I mean."
And I do know what she means. Our histories are recorded in our daily activities. They're stored in the height marks we make on our walls, the stickers on our mirrors, and the year book pictures we despise. I was taken aback by how articulate she was. It was perfectly natural that I expect that she be well spoken, most people as well educated as she are well spoken. What they lack that she has is a deliberateness which makes her listeners aware that there isn't a word that leaks from her pretty little head, through her mouth or through her fingers that hasn't been well thought out. This deliberateness colours her blog with a seriousness that most others only dream of.
I was eager to know what her process was. I imagined that she sat on the floor of her room for days and put her pieces together with mood boards. I imagined that the items that she put on were discarded and sold the moment they left her petite frame, but the scenario I imagined, was strictly a figment of my imagination.
"My posts are just pictures of outfits. I dress up to go somewhere. I don't really dress up just for my posts, it's always to go somewhere and then I take pictures of it. I made a mood board recently - which might actually be the only one I've done, for my collaboration with Asos Africa. I was meant to style some of their pieces that they sent me in an African inspired way. To do that, I researched African editorials to get in the mood. And that post wasn't like my normal outfit posts, because I wasn't dressing up to go out, I was dressing up to shoot this collaboration. "For that shoot in particular, Fisayo employed the pinning skills of her mother, to make the orange gele look the way it did. "If she wasn't here, I wouldn't been able to do that." The gele is a head wrap in Yoruba, a West African ethnic group and Language. It's typically made of aso-oke, damask or brocade.
Fisayo's blog is celebration of her friends and family as much as it is a reflection of her. Through it her readers get some insight into how her circle works. Everyone in it chips in as much as they can, as often as they can. Sometimes it's a pin in a shirt, sometimes it's a photograph, sometimes it's a feature and other times it's being featured. This may lead several of her readers to think that she's always got a member of her entourage on hand, ready to take a picture of her at the click of a finger, but that isn't the case. "Most of my pictures are actually taken by me on my tripod, some are taken by my sister, my brother or my mum, my friends whoever I'm with I'm with but most of them these days are by me."
I had to ask then if she ever felt awkward doing them, because it is rather awkward to stand on the road and pose for a friend, so it must be even more awkward to stand and pose for a tripod.
"I used to" she said. "Like in the beginning it was so awkward, because sometimes I'd be taking them in the middle of the road and people would look at me like I was crazy! These days, I'm just so oblivious to all of it. It's a little bit weird because I'm in the way of people trying to get by and I don't notice. I just need to get the shot."
She often doesn't have a lot of time to achieve the "shot", the final image that goes on the blog, so her nonchalance at the discomfort of her fellow pedestrians is understandable. "I've got Saturdays, Sundays, and sometimes in the mornings before work. My mum thinks I'm crazy, but I've got to do what I've got to do."
This is an attitude that is reflected in most of her pictures. There's a strength that her facial features display unreservedly. I cannot tell if it is because her features themselves are strong, or if it is because they're a reflection of her indomitable spirit. Either way, her audience is left in no doubt that she'll do everything that she needs to, to get where she wants to. I did not ask her, if it the attitude reflected in her pictures was as a result of the trials she faced after she'd finished her A- levels. I feel that I should have. In fact I would have, but Fisayo's very particular about the things she will and will not talk about. It isn't that she said strictly, "don't go there." It's that she brushed over the details of the period in such a manner that rendered them unimportant. They were part of a past that was firmly behind her, and because of this, they couldn't possibly be of any interest to anyone. This feeling was projected so strongly that I, who had gone into the interview wanting to know all about the events that led to her gap year, and the details surrounding her rather unusual work and study arrangement was distinctly uninterested in them.
Her Instagram account is peppered with shots like the one above, where she is either in the process of working out or about to work out. When I suggested that working out, and living a generally healthy life was something that was important to her, she exclaimed,"Food is really important to me as well!" And it is for she blogs about food more often than I consider eating out. The writer's budget does not entertain such luxuries. I went on to ask about her gym regime.
"Do I have a regime?" she asked herself while laughing. She didn't give me the opportunity to ask, whether or not she had a regime before she continued, "I try to work out at least 4 times a week, sometimes I don't do that very well. In the winter it's just gym. I do twenty minutes or half an hour cardio, then I do ab stuff or push ups, or weights, I don't really have that much of a routine it's just what I'm feeling that day, but I also do a lot of gym classes, like spinning. I swear by spinning! I completely love it! I actually find it fun! The first time I did it I thought I was going to die, and I thought it was so painful. But as time went on it got much easier, so I do a lot of spinning. What else do I do? I do Body Attack, or Body Pump. Sometimes if I'm running I do like 10 minutes or 15 minutes and I just stop because i'm bored or tired, but in a class when everyone else is going you can't just stop. So I really like classes, they're very motivating. If I'm getting closer to a holiday I go harder with my regime."
While Fisayo is in great shape, it is obvious that she isn't modelesque. She isn't 5 ft 8, and she isn't a size 2. I didn't ask her what size she was, because that would have been rude. If I'd asked, she'd probably have laughed it off, or told me to behave in a light but firm manner. She knows that she can't "pull off" every garment, but she works around this.
"It's a challenge sometimes, because some clothes that I like just don't look good on me. Sometimes, if I like something and I think "this doesn't look too great on my frame" I'd still wear it just because I really wanted to. As I grow up and mature more, I'll get to know what my real style is and what really suits me and I'll leave behind stuff that don't suit me even though I really want to wear them. So I'm looking forward to when that time comes. It's a little bit of a challenge, because something is really nice and I know how it's meant to look but it just wouldn't look that way on me because I'm short, or I'm not that skinny."
She doesn't agonise over these things, because she can't really change them, or even if she could, I do not think that she wants to. Instead she sees it as "all part of the fun and the challenge." Asos seems to do the best job of providing clothes that fit her. "Most of my clothes are from asos. I don't really like going shopping like going into stores. Once in a while, when I haven't done it for a while, I will, but I'm a massive online shopper. Asos is my favourite high street store. On Asos they've got a lot of stuff that goes with my style or what I like. It takes time to sift through all their stuff but they're the most consistent for me. I also really like Zara, but Asos just has so much and so many brands. It's my go to place."
Fisayo admitted to me that she enjoys blogging more than her degree, and more than her London job. I identified with this, as I can testify that my blog has been the most interesting thing in my life for the past year and a bit. But still, I wanted to know what she enjoyed about it in particular, so I asked. "Getting emails from readers asking for advice or saying how I inspire them or asking to meet up or asking for travel advice. That really gets to me and makes me happy. More than anything else that I've achieved with my blog, it's the fact that I'm actually inspiring people. And especially in inspiring people to travel, because as much as I love fashion, I love travel more. It gives me so much more happiness, and to inspire people to do that and feel that way really really makes me happy. The relationship I have with my readers is really the most, fulfilling thing."
One thing that people find unsettling about blogging, is the why. Everything that we do as people needs to have an expected end. A reward that makes all the hours, and tears, and cuts, and bruises worth it. I know mine. Everyone that has ever read my blog knows mine, but I didn't know hers. I didn't know if she'd one day branch into design, or styling, or fashion consulting, but that's only because she herself doesn't know. "I would never consider my end game because there's no way that I want this to end. I just want it to grow and grow and continue and evolve into whatever it's supposed to be. It's already evolved so much from what i thought it would be. If I had an end game then that would have gotten in the way of taking opportunities that have not really been on track of what I thought they would be. I don't have an end game at all, I'm very happy go lucky or easy go lucky or how do you say it?"
This was something I came to understand by the end of the interview. She acknowledges that she is and probably always will be a work in progress but she sees the value in every form of herself, as unfinished as it might be.
All of these pictures were lifted from Fisayo's blog mirrorme.me
I published this interview on the 12th of September, in the year 2013 - 7 years ago. It’s amazing you know? Because as awesome as I thought, scratch that. As inspiring as I thought Fisayo Longe to be then, she is even more so now. 7 years, what a lot of life we’ve lived since then.
As you do with the people you’re interested in and the people you find inspiring, I’ve paid attention to her and her journey. Her blog mirrorme.me is still there, still great, even better than it was then. She’s grown. She’s become more than she was, added titles that I never quite imagined for her. It is to her credit.
At the moment, she‘ s a fashion entrepreneur, a business woman., the founder of Kai Collective. She’s back in university. Walking her talk, living her truth, just as she was 7 years ago.
I’m happy that I did it, the interview. I’m happy that I was able to see that she was special. I’m unhappy about some of the language I used, my attention to how she looked, her body. It’s diminishing. It’s disgusting. It isn’t who I am now. Who gives a rat’s ass about a face, or a body, people are always more than what they look like. But the past is the past - a permanent record of who we were. If given the opportunity now I’d do things differently, ask better questions.
But still the profile I did is interesting. You can see it can you not? How who she was, and what she did, prepared her for the now. Then look at her now in the present, who she is, what she has become, all that she is doing and imagine her future. It is glorious is it not?