Nigerian-American designer Kingsley Gbadegesin’s clothing line, K.NGSLEY, is a demonstration of how authenticity can grow both the individual and the community. In 2021, Gbadegesin was the first business owner featured in Ally and the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD’s critically acclaimed Changemakers series, which provided the K.NGSLEY brand with an opportunity to broaden its reach to the Black, Queer, Femme and Trans community.
This year, Gbadegesin attended New York Fashion Week as a speaker and mentor to up-and-coming creators at the Earn Your Masters program, where he talked about his entrepreneurial journey and offered advice for those seeking creative and financial freedom and success. We were happy to catch up with him to talk about the past, present and future of K.NGSLEY, as well as his advice on growing a business while staying true to your values.
Gbadegesin and models wearing his designs pose on the streets of New York. Photo credit: LaQuann Dawson
When did you first know fashion was your art form?
The moment I knew it had the power to speak for you before you opened your mouth. How it sets a tone in people’s approach to you. There was something about how powerful women I admired dressed— it had an audacity that I’ve yet to shake. It has affected how I dress and present myself.
What is the inspiration behind your brand? And as the founder of the brand, how do you stay grounded in your vision?
“Coming as you are” is one of the pillars of the brand – no one is you and that’s your power.
I have a huge admiration for people like me with specific passions. To stay grounded in my vision, I enjoy joining forces with those individuals to see how we can create something uniquely beautiful together. For me, it reinforces the value of coming as you are.
Who is someone you’ve looked up to or that has been your ally throughout your journey?
In my professional career, I’ve always looked up to the women that I worked for. There is something about the tenacity and wit of the female spirit that – against all odds – they get it done, while still handling all the things that are simultaneously thrown at them. I guess you can say it reminds me of my mother, no matter what she went through, she got it done and that’s the same spirit I hold and look up to.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs on finding their niche and being authentic to themselves?
My advice for young entrepreneurs wanting to be their most authentic selves, is to be just that. Only you know your voice and the story you want to tell. Don’t let anyone else tell your story. Tell it for yourself.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
That someone would have told me to buckle up because it’ll be one heck of a ride. A ride of unimaginable highs and lows that have turned out to be the greatest teachers of how to navigate the journey forward.
Outside of being creative, what are some of the important aspects of a successful business?
Take time for yourself! No one will do it for you — you have to be intentional about it.
What does it mean to you to now be a mentor at events such as Earn Your Masters at NYFW?
Being able to share my story and letting people know that if I can do it, they can too, is incredibly powerful to me. The scariest part of any journey is starting, but I promise it gets easier once you do.
Gbadegesin joins Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s Chief Marketing and PR Officer, and Brandice Daniel, founder of Harlem Fashion Row, on stage during the Earn Your Master’s panel at NYFW.
What challenges do you think creative entrepreneurs face specifically?
You need to make sure you know the financials of your business. It doesn’t matter how creative you are – if you are spending more than you take in, you won’t be successful. I would encourage other creatives to really know their operating budget from the ground up and check in on it often. Make sure that you can turn a profit from your creativity.
How has the experience with Changemakers influenced your life and business? Why is it so important for brands and corporate America to reinvest in creators and business owners?
Being a part of the Changemakers series has been an incredible honor. The investment we received helped us pay factories, vendors and staff on time. Being a new business – especially in fashion – cash flow is a huge problem. It’s important that when corporations invest in new brands, they are intentional about it. If they want to help a new business, I would say, they first have to believe in the person and then be able to stand behind them with both capital and resources.
What’s next for K.NGSLEY the brand, and for you personally?
The response to K.NGSLEY has been overwhelming so far, to the point of having to turn down clients who wanted to stock us, because I didn’t have the proper infrastructure in place to pull off such a feat. I’m not someone who is used to “winning” in life but this has been life-changing — and I’m nowhere near done.
We’re laying down the infrastructure for Collection 2 right now that I hope to release next year. Until then, I’m genuinely excited to keep working hard with people I truly admire and to let the future naturally unfold.
Catch up on Gbadegesin’s story and season one of Changemakers, and stay tuned for season two coming this fall.