Kingsley Gbadegesin is the Nigerian American designer best known for the genderless fashion brand K.ngsley, that aims to empower bodies of all genders and races. We talk to him about starting this brand during the pandemic, his mission to showcase different types of body, and his love and inspirations from ballroom culture.
I read that before you founded New York-based brand K.ngsley, you started a sales and marketing firm where you planned events for fashion brands such as Alexa Chung, Giorgio Armani, and prior to that, held marketing and sales roles at Versace, Celine and Loewe. Having this experience under your belt must have been extremely valuable when going to create your own brand. Would you say that working for these companies gave you insight into how you wanted to manage your own brand?
To a degree, but I will say my alma maters have played a crucial role in how I see my brand as a whole and the infrastructures needed to get to where I wish to see the brand.
What was the initial idea behind K.ngsley? Why did you decide to take matters into your own hands instead of working for other brands?
K.ngsley initially started as a small project and blossomed into what it is today. It began with a mission to center the conversation around Black, Queer, Femme bodies – all the identities that make me who I am.
I know the pandemic itself was one of your inspirations to start your brand, as lockdown had ensured that many small businesses in Black and queer spaces had to unfortunately be shut down. Was kickstarting K.ngsley a sort of rebellion against this?
I wouldn’t say that.
How did you manage to grow this brand amidst the pandemic?
K.ngsley’s growth is a huge testament to the girls. I wouldn’t have been able to grow it without their support, as I have no investors – our Direct to Consumer channel has been instrumental to our growth.
Of course, your brand began by selling tank tops, which went viral online. Your asymmetrical high-end tanks were said to elevate an everyday staple, and were worn by celebrities like Lil Nas X, Bretman Rock, Issa Rae and Zaya Wade. Why did you think giving a new lease of life into the previously plain, rigid, and masculine style of the tank top was important to your brand?
The tanks were pure chance and a desire to feel like the girl when going clubbing. Tanks and cargos are pretty much my rave uniform. So it's been very humbling and great to see how I choose to represent myself in the world has been received by so many.
I think it’s wonderful that you’ve taken something as simple as a tank top and made it suit every type and shape of body. This attitude is prevalent in all of your work, from your oversized recycled wool cardigans to your combat boots. You’re quoted to have told Insider that you “want all types of people and body types to feel that they too are deserving to feel like ‘the girl’.” In relation to your Instagram bio “Home of the girls,” I was wondering what this statement means for your customers. Is every one of your customers a so-called it girl? Is it a matter of self-expression?
To be one of the girls, simply means, showing up for yourself, however you choose to show up for yourself. It’s such a powerful thing to do, and I hope to continue to help people do that through our clothes and community.
Talking a little more about your love for ballroom culture, K.ngsley has collaborated with the HBO Max show Legendary, which follows LGBTQI+ house members as they compete in nine balls – featuring dance, vogueing, and walking events – to win $100,000 for their respective houses. This show was praised for featuring queer and trans artists from the New York ballroom scene. Can you talk to us about this collaboration?
It was such a pinch me moment, when I saw that email. HBO contacted me and pretty much said they've been following me for a while, and saw my involvement in Ballroom and asked to collaborate on a tank to gift the family and friends of Season 2. It was such a full circle moment and something I will forever cherish, because I wouldn’t be who I am today without Ballroom.
Your newest collection C1A1 (Collection One Act One), ranges from new pieces of genderless clothing to accessories and your first dip into footwear – your twist on a combat boot that I mentioned earlier, named the Clandestine Boot. What are the aims and key values of this collection?
The spirit of C1A1 is a continuation of how I choose to show up in this world, and pretty much a uniform and code of garments for the girls at K.ngsley.
I find it interesting and empowering that this collection features the new 701 jewellery, which is modelled after the colour and shape of PrEP pills. PrEP is, of course, the prescribed medicine sexually active persons take to eliminate the risk of contracting HIV. It’s amazing that you’ve incorporated these pills into your designs, as it really helps to destigmatise them and open up a conversation around HIV-prevention, which is relevant to all people but not yet spoken about freely. Can you talk to us about the 701 jewellery and your use of the new shade PrEP blue?
Queer people of colour are at higher risk for HIV/AIDS and have long been oppressed when it comes to our health care. We don't learn about it in schools and we often lack full access to it in our adult lives. Starting this line is a middle finger to all that. The 701 series is a call to action and an act of resistance — and more than that, it's a celebration of showing up for ourselves.
The tagline for your campaign around the Clandestine Boot was born from a similar attitude, reading “Welcome to Clandestine club. Take your PrEP, lace up your boots, it’s about to get sticky.” Thinking about this tagline, and the promotional images shown on your Instagram that show bare bodies of all colours and genders, uncensored and proud of their sexual confidence, can you talk to us about this club and of the aims of sexual liberation this collection is pushing?
The conversation about sex positivity and safe sex is as important now as it ever has been — as it has been for decades. But we're emerging from a once-in-a-generation pandemic. We've all heard about how people are ready to get back on the scene and have a wild summer. And as we all find our ways back to each other, in celebration of our bodies, our identities, it's important that we ensure our sexual liberation is unbounded and that we protect ourselves while we embrace the joy in who we are.
Do you have any ideas for a C1A2, or a future collection?
Stay tuned, see you June 25th