Ashlea Atigolo, Founder of EBYAK

The first female fashion designer to create the UK’s first men’s sustainable streetwear collection 

Prior to forging a career in the fashion industry, I spent 15 years working in education. Some people reasonably assume that I must have taught Textiles, Art or Design Technology but in actual fact it was Maths and English! As well as my work in the classroom with three to 15-year-olds, I co-developed a national independent school curriculum that served to boost Year 6 children’s numeracy and literacy skills before entering secondary education.

On my way to work – passing time on the train – I used to sketch shirts and the odd stranger would say to me: “They’re great, you must be a designer!” I felt flattered of course, so when more people on my commute took notice and made positive comments, I started to think that maybe there’s something more to these drawings…

When I was on maternity leave, I sketched more frequently. The passion for it grew and so did the need to take a leap of faith; it was time for a new challenge.

With no experience of fashion design but a strong advocate for self-tuition, YouTube and Google became my best friends until I was capable enough to stand alone. I enrolled on college courses, learned to sew, read books and harnessed my latent abilities.

EBYAK was launched privately at last year’s London Fashion Week and publicly this January. Sustainability is the heartbeat of my brand, which is why I’ve gone to great lengths to create menswear that is environmentally friendly.

It was vitally important to me when I conceived EBYAK that all my collections are, therefore, sustainable and on trend. Although not a vegan myself, my first collection has been made vegan-friendly and PETA-approved – making us especially unique… ethics and aesthetics in perfect harmony.

As a woman exclusively designing menswear, I’m in the minority (the fashion world is male-dominated, with most male and female brands principally run by men), so a big personal motivator is to challenge any questions or misconceptions about why I do what I do. I don’t want my daughter, who’s two, to be asked “Why?” about anything she wants to do when she grows up because she’s female; gender shouldn’t matter – and that applies to men too.