Darlene, how would you describe Lizzy’s style?
D: Lizzy is very Lisa Bonet-ish. True story, we are on the train two weeks ago and Lizzy is like, ‘Do you like my hat?’ And I look and her braids are coming through the top of the hat. She had cut her baseball cap on the top for her bun to come through.
L: People were stopping me and asking how my hair was on top of there.
Lizzy, how would you describe Darlene’s style?
L: She is very Aaliya some days–very 90s, and then all of a sudden she’s doing this whole Tracy Ellis Ross thing all dressed up with her eyes done and platform shoes.
So tell me about starting William Okpo?
D: We started designing in 2005. I was 19 and Lizzy was 14 or 15. We started with a t-shirt line called Mayhem. We would reconstruct clothes. Lizzy was more into sewing, and I was more into merchandising.
L: Mayhem was the real deal! We would silkscreen. Once we cut my denim jacket and put buttons all over the yoke and flannel on the back. I thought it was so cool, and so did everyone in highschool.
D: Then in 2008 we went to Nigeria and we came back and had a meeting and knew we had to start this. The scariest thing was telling our father we wanted to start a label. We had a family meeting and told our father, and he supported it thankfully.
L: We were supposed to go into nursing and medicine, so it was a big deal.
How did you build experience to know what you were doing? Did you have a business plan?
D: We had to do a lot of research. A lot of it came from Lizzy working at Opening Ceremony and me working as a visual merchandiser for H&M. I did a lot of magazine internships, even though I knew I wanted to do more design. Lizzy wants to design crazy things, and I focus more on the business side.
How long after going to your dad did the label come together?
L: It was a process. Darlene was like, ‘Let’s find factories.’ We found this place in Queens. Mentors were really important to us and helped us a lot. We used all our resources.
D: We started this business, but we didn’t know anything about how the factories or any of it worked! You think it’s easy, but people would ask, ‘Where’s your line sheet?’ or ‘Where’s your silk pattern?’ We didn’t have anything.
That sounds difficult. How did you make it work?
L: Just literally going places and putting it out there. People thought we were interns because we were so young. People sized us up, and nobody took us seriously.
D: Some people don’t want to work with new designers cause you have to teach them so much. We had to humble ourselves and say, ‘Teach us.’ Some of these factories and companies really opened up to us because they saw our potential and our hunger.
L: People were also were reluctant to take us seriously because we didn’t go to FIT or Parsons.
D: You can go to school for whatever, but it’s all about the experience. We are learning every day.