Autumn Adeigbo’s latest collection is full of cherry-popping reds, lemon yellows and sky blues with lots of feminine touches, like Fifties flare skirts, puffy sleeves and leopard-print headbands.
“My customer is optimistic, which is why she shops with me,” Autumn Adeigbo, founder and lead designer of her nameplate fashion brand, told WWD over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, where she’s recently relocated. “I wanted to create a brand where I’m happy to go to work, where my team is happy to go to work and we’re creating products that bring joy to the makers. And our end user gets to wear joyful, colorful pieces, brightening her day and brightening the day of people who see her out in the world.”
Adeigbo’s fan base — which includes Tommy Hilfiger, Rent the Runway cofounder and chief executive officer Jennifer Hyman, Stitch Fix founder and ceo Katrina Lake and Tory Burch — has been growing since she founded her brand in 2016.
Now the designer has secured $1.3 million of institutional investments from approximately 15 investors, including Stitch Fix’s Lake; venture capital firm Fuel Capital; Sonja Perkins, founder of angel investment group Broadway Angels, and female investment network Pipeline Angels.
Leah Solivan, general partner of Fuel Capital, which led the round, said Adeigo’s background — and the fact that her brand did “not fit the typical venture model” — was precisely the reason why her firm took an interest in her.
“Other investors tend to shy away from businesses outside of their social network and previous investing realm,” Solivan said. “This is one of the biggest blind spots in the venture community and one of the main reasons why underrepresented founders and their ideas often don’t get the attention they deserve. We are leaning in here, recognizing that investing in a diverse group of founders means opening ourselves up to a diverse group of businesses.”
Lake of Stitch Fix said she was “struck by [Autumn’s] entrepreneurial energy. I love her bright, bold point of view that is so uniquely hers but at the same time universally appealing. I’m very excited to see her grow and succeed and so happy to play a part.”
Adeigbo said she’s humbled by the support. Even more so now that so many retailers, both big and small, are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“It’s pretty incredible that these investors have decided to rally around me and this brand at this time, when historically we’ll look back at this as one of the most difficult times economically,” she said. “And I think it also needs to be looked at in terms of Black Lives Matter and investors creating opportunities for Black founders and Black creatives in their portfolios. I’m excited for what this round of capital means and what me making this achievement could mean for other young Black creatives. And doing a bit of trailblazing, creating opportunities for others within Black and minority and underserved communities.”
Adeigbo’s story began in New York, where she was born. She grew up in Indiana after her mother, a Nigerian immigrant, relocated there to attend medical school.
“When I was young, my mother was working numerous jobs, supporting the family,” Adeigbo explained. “To tap into her creative vibe, she would buy patterns and fabrics from JoAnn Fabric and dress me in colorful printed dresses. From kindergarten on, I was always the little girl in the custom dresses that were one of a kind. That’s what created my love of fashion.”
Later, while studying economics at Spelman College in Atlanta, Adeigbo ordered a book on eBay to teach herself how to draw fashion figures. Inspired by her idol Donna Karan (Adeigbo said she’s a big fan and used to wear DKNY), Adeigbo applied to Karan’s alma mater Parsons School of Design and got in.
While in New York she “fell into” celebrity styling and freelanced at W Magazine as a fashion assistant. To help pay the bills she worked nights as a hostess.
“I’d wear my dresses that I designed to the restaurant and I’d pitch the high-profile clientele and editors that came about my brand,” Adeigbo said. “That’s how the line got started.”
In 2017, the designer met angel investor Christopher Elliott who provided enough funds for Adeigbo to upgrade her web site and produce her first official collection.
Around that time, Adeigbo also crossed paths with Rent the Runway’s Hyman after she took a liking to a jacket Brit Morin, founder and ceo of lifestyle and DIY web site Brit + Co., was wearing — a jacket designed by Adeigbo. (Morin is also an adviser for Adeigbo.) Today, Adeigbo’s dresses can be found on Rent the Runway. Her designs are also available at retailers such as Anthropologie and Olivela.
“Autumn’s designs are rich in color, texture and artful storytelling, and I knew immediately that her timeless styles would resonate with Rent the Runway’s customers,” Hyman said. “Her commitment to ethical and sustainable practices align with RTR’s focus on sustainability and supporting women, making Autumn an ideal partner and collaborator.”
In 2019 Adeigbo got another big break, when she was named a Tory Burch fellow at the Tory Burch Foundation. That same year Adeigbo was one of 12 finalists to compete in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Design Entrepreneur program, where she presented her business plan in front of seasoned fashion veterans like Morris Goldfarb, ceo of G-III Apparel Group; Marc Schneider, ceo of Kenneth Cole; and Tommy Hilfiger and his wife, Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger.
Hilfiger remembered Adeigbo “as someone who was able to express her individuality and unique voice through design. Designers like Adeigbo who are purpose-driven are the future and I hope as an industry we can continue to provide them with the platform and resources they need to advance.”
At the FIT event, Hilfiger also gave Adeigbo some advice: invest in marketing to help create brand awareness, something the designer said she intends to do with the latest round of investments. She also plans to grow her wholesale footprint, expand into other categories and hire a permanent team. (It’s currently just her.)
“The goal of the brand is to grow to a lifestyle brand and listen to the customer, for her to tell us what she needs and meet her in all of those places,” Adeigbo said. “I’m not where I envision myself yet, [but] I’m getting closer. Fashion is definitely not for the weak of heart.”