This week’s GFF Talent is Gloria Ogunyinka from Norwich university of the Arts. Her final collection — which happens to be the first collection in her brand GLRGNYNK — explores her experience as a mixed race girl. Gloria’s collection, called SPOT THE REAL THUG, seeks to challenge preconceived ideas about what the media and society deem to be thugs, looking particularly at football hooligans. Gloria shares with us some images from her collection at Norwich’s selection day a few weeks ago!

What was the starting point of inspiration for your final project?

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My original inspiration for my project came from my heritage. Being mixed race is something I hadn’t explored properly, and in other projects I always wanted my collections to have a story. Over the summer, I came across an old poem that I hadn’t looked at since studying it in GCSE English. That was John Agard’s Half-Caste. The poem is performed comedically and the one line that stuck out to me the most was “yu mean Tchaikovsky / sit down at dah piano / an mix a black key / wid a white key / is a half-caste symphony”.

It reminded me of my childhood, and how in being mixed race the topic of either race was and is a difficult thing to talk about. It’s interesting how being mixed race, there is a lot of focus of being “half” of something. In some cases people decide you’re not white enough to talk about white issues, or not black enough to talk about black issues. I felt because being mixed race wasn’t a thing that was spoken about often, it was difficult to learn to defend myself or my views.

This was because I hadn’t formulated the ways in which I could discuss these issues. This definitely paved the way for my youth, and I feel I unintentionally acted in a way that meant I could be perceived as “ not enough”. This may seem dramatic but when you are young you tend to hang around with people that you can relate to. But depending on who I was spending time with, dictated how I felt I was supposed to act and allowed to act. In being mixed race in some cases it felt odd to be able to say “I have had both of these experiences too” and it would feel like I was an outsider of something I had every right to be a part of.

What will the finished product look like?

I have just recently finished my 4 outfit menswear graduate collection SPOT THE REAL THUG which has been chosen to be shown at Graduate Fashion Week in the Norwich University of the Arts show.

Alongside this, I will be producing a short magazine with exciting photographs of my work and a bit more detail on certain garments. The magazine will include styled shoots, behind the scenes imagery and progress shots as well as information on the inspiration and references within my collection.

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How has it evolved from your initial ideas?

As I progressed through the year, it was very easy to pick out the differences between Liverpudlian people and Nigerian people, and even though I originally wanted to make 1980s Liverpudlian fashion with traditional African prints, it was lacking the part that made it “me”. I decided to go back to the clothing that I liked, and as someone that has always enjoyed men's streetwear, I started looking more at terrace culture and the terrace wear that came from it.

This eventually lead me to look at football hooliganism, and I got completely engrossed with the idea of these men that dressed very well and went to football games to fight each other. However, I started to learn a lot about firm mentality, and how they saw themselves as a group, that looked after each other and protected each other only ever going after other firms, not random football fans that the media claimed they would.

This started to make me think about my family, they are very big Liverpool fans and the support for the team has created a strong bond amongst us. Even though I didn’t take much of an interest in football, the Liverpool mantra of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was a massive part of my childhood to the point I cannot remember a New Year’s Eve where we didn’t all hold hands and sing it together as the clock struck 12.

To make it a lot more me, majority of the prints used in my collection are made by me, using old photographs of my childhood. All pictures are at important parts in my life, and in using these I got to challenge myself to make something that was contemporary with photos that were taken many years ago.

What have you learnt along the way from beginning this project til now?

I’ve learnt a lot during this project, especially about myself. Doing something so focussed on me meant that I had to address a lot of topics that I had perhaps shut out to avoid. I’ve learnt to accept the past, accept the mistakes of my youth and accept that all these things made me who I am today.

I’ve learnt to become more confident in myself, and how to articulate myself in a way that I no longer feel so worried about defending myself on topics I am allowed to relate to. I have learnt a lot about the different types of racism and how the media perpetuates it and how important it is to do your own little thing to make a difference because that is all it takes really, everyone doing their bit to create a change. 

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What is the message behind your project that you want people to take away?

I guess it’s to not judge a book by its cover. The collection title SPOT THE REAL THUG, came from a 1980s article of the same name, telling the reader how to tell the difference between a football “thug” and a typical football fan. The words “the bovver-booted model on the left looks ready for a punch-up but the casually dressed model on the right is wearing the new disguise. And he is the real villain” really stuck with me, because from researching a lot about the differences both races have, one of the big ones is the way they are depicted in the media.

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In America especially, I see images of white people that have done horrific crimes shown with photos of them smiling with their families, and images of black people that are victims shown with photos that try and depict them as the “villain” and I wanted to push that idea with my collection. By naming the collection SPOT THE REAL THUG, I wanted the audience to try and guess which one is the real thug, but inherently there isn’t a thug.

I want the audience to think about the decisions they made, why they chose who they did and ask themselves, is it the way they are dressed that made them think this, or is it them that is the real thug, dictating what a person is simply by the way they look? It’s not to make you feel bad, but instead to address the issue of society and the pre-judgement we all subconsciously have and to instead learn to change in a way that you’re more accepting of differences.

 What is your plan once you finish your BA?

I loved doing my degree but I have always wanted to start my own brand and Spot The Real Thug is my debut collection for my brand, GLRGNYNK. I have really enjoyed the freedom of deciding what it is I want to make and I can’t wait to go crazy with it now that I have a lot more free time!