This Is Us x Dye Lab in Conversation

In conversation with the great minds behind Lagos labels This Is Us and Dye Lab


Nigeria’s sustainable fashion scene is quietly thriving, no small thanks to This Is Us, founded by Oroma Cookey-Gam and Osione Itegboje in 2016, and Dye Lab, which was launched by Rukky Ladoja and Ozzy Etomi in 2020. Friends in life and allies in business, these four are veterans of Lagos’s creative scene having worked across fashion, graphic design, media and luxury retail. And since channelling their formidable talents into their own artisanal brands, they’ve proved that by thinking locally and acting locally, you can create covetable fashion that enrich lives and enlivens wardrobes. While This Is Us centre on workwear-inspired staples and Dye Lab revolutionise agbada silhouettes, they both preserve and transform age-old dying and weaving techniques. Here, we gather round to discuss what it takes to build an ethical business in Nigeria today.


                                                           THIS IS US transforms local materials and heritage crafts into stylish, functional items.

Dye lab Founder Rukky Ladoja and Ozzy Etomi


Assemblage Worldwide: How healthy is Nigeria’s sustainable fashion scene?


Rukky: It’s in a good place. Due to covid, the creative energy moved into being more focussed on locally sourced and appreciated products. We had no choice but to look to what was in our own environment. So, now you’re seeing more brands exploring Nigerian textiles, dying methods and inspirations.


Oroma: Plus, the fashion system in Nigeria has always been inherently sustainable. Being ethical is a need, not a choice. For example, when you go to the market to buy fabric, it’s deadstock that you’re saving from landfill. And because there’s not a lot of it, you can’t make many of any one style. Small batch is just how we produce here.


Osione: Sustainability is a mindset. Even if we can’t do something exactly as we dream it, we’re still going to try. We’re going to patch it here and there. In Lagos we’re always in problem solving mode – thinking about what might go wrong and how to work around it.


Assemblage Worldwide: So, this way of working must have been a boost to the scene’s sense of community?


Oroma: Yes. We’re developing networks and sharing information because we’re all using similar practices, and that way we’re building the infrastructure in a positive way. 


Rukky: In the early 2010s, there was more of a scarcity mindset. The master brands guarded their information and their teams. Now people have realised that it’s from a sense of community and working together that the industry can grow. 


Assemblage Worldwide: Let’s discuss your innovations in materiality and production.


Oroma: Indigo dying is the This Is Us north star. It’s a sustainable practice that’s existed in Nigeria for over 500 years so we use it and promote it. We’ve been working with the Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano to develop new techniques. Typically, the dyers work with tie dye but we’re innovating by using casava paste as a resist, which allows us to create prints that aren’t so commonplace. 


THIS IS US: The Dyeing Process
                                                           THIS IS US: The Dyeing Process
Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano


Osione: We buy our cotton from a textile mill in Funtua, where the cotton is both grown and woven. They offer us a choice of weights and weaves, so that means we can control our design from the yarn, to the shade of indigo and patterns, all the way through to our production in Lagos. Being able to create on that level is brilliant.


Oroma: We travel around a lot and each village we’ve visited has its own crafts and weaving techniques, so we’re always discovering new things. Recently we found these woven strips that are less tan 1cm wide, which are then stitched together. These are what the Tuareg people use to make their turbans. It’s mind-blowing how much more there is out there to explore.


“We want everyone to appreciate Nigerian design and be proud of it”


Rukky: For Dye Lab it’s important to design and produce in a tight way. There is very little waste in our studio because we stick to patterns with straight lines, meaning the offcuts can be repurposed. From those leftover strips, we can make limited edition pieces that feel even more special. We also consider the fact that dyers prefer to dye in five-yard lengths so we start creatively from that point. It sounds limiting but it’s about finding contemporary ways to interpret what’s already been done. With the adire prints that we develop in-house, we see them as an entry point for new audiences who might find original adire designs too traditional. We also order a lot of our fabrics from This Is Us and it’s always so magical to see what they’re doing.

Dye Lab Collection



Dye Lab installation

Ozzy: For our signature agbada, we incorporate Yoruba aso oke and then when we travel to other West African countries, we like to look at their woven cloths that have a similar language, such as baule kita from Côte d’Ivoire. We meet local craftspeople to understand their local context and why they weave in certain ways. And then we think about how we can translate that into our designs in a way that’s modern yet still respect the history behind it.  


Osione: What’s special about Dye Lab is that they’re innovating from the customer perspective and the product perspective. By reinventing the agbada, they’ve created an iconic product that solves issues all the way through the value chain – aesthetics and design, sustainability and materiality, identity and representation – and at the same time, it’s zero waste. It’s a brilliant product that people want whether they care about being conscious or not, and that’s transformational.


Rukky: That’s such a lovely explanation of our brand!


Osione: I’m very jealous of it, I won’t lie. It’s so easy – guys can wear it, girls can wear it, everyone wants it. And no two garments are exactly the same.


Assemblage Worldwide: You regularly collaborate with each other and with many other brands. What do these meetings of minds achieve?


Rukky: This Is Us and Dye Lab is a very organic relationship. What are we feeling in this moment? Let’s try it and see if it works. And then with last year’s Dye Lab X Anya Hindmarch collaboration, it was successful because they didn’t just want to appropriate our kaftan. They translated it for what a girl in Kensington would want to wear. It was important for us to hear that and together we created a product that understands both of our brands.


Oroma: We’re always open to collaborating and we’re instinctive about it. We like to play around with other people’s ways of making to keep things fun. Let’s make pyjama sets with Dye Lab prints. Let’s work with Iamisigo’s patchwork denim style. With WAF., they wanted to experiment with local fabrics so it was a way for us to exchange and share knowledge. With each collaboration, we’re all taking away different learnings.



Osione: It’s about showing instead of telling, you know? We want everyone to appreciate Nigerian design and be proud of it. We can be preaching and running some strange hashtag but the easiest way to realise the possibilities that exist is to open our book of new things to other people to see if a product come out of it. 


Assemblage Worldwide: Economic growth can often mean compromise. What does success mean to you as sustainable businesses?


Rukky: I believe in the power of the singular product, especially in the space that we’re in where, if you over extend yourself, you’re going to struggle with manufacturing. So, what is the one thing we can sell 100,000 units of? Being sustainable means producing only what is needed, what is ordered, and that works. For Dye Lab, we need to grow our brand marketing rather than our product line. 


Osione: For This Is us, if we can continue to have fun with all of our different experiments, and still keep the lights on, then we’ll get closer to the vision. Oroma is very good at growing and nurturing a team. We’re paying people’s salaries and somehow this business is performing. For me, that’s more than enough.


Oroma: I’ve come to this wanting to prove to myself and to the world that fashion can employ people; that it’s not a side hustle. I want to get to a point where we are hiring so many people, in Lagos and in the north of Nigeria and wherever else we have operations, who can make a living from this thing. That’s what growth looks like to me. 


Ozzy: When we think of growth, the temptation is to focus on what collections you are putting out. But we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before and we’re determined to do it in our own way. We all went to design schools and we know the rules. But actually, we’re here now in this crazy place, so what makes sense for Nigeria? Let’s not follow any western seasonal calendar. And beyond design and product, we have to structure real teams to ensure there’s continuity. We have to look at our whole eco system to ensure our processes are growing along with us. Is our culture being carefully crafted and are we leaving behind an African fashion blueprint for the future? If we are, then that means someone else come in and say, ‘This is what This Is Us did and Dye Lab did, and we can see that it works, and we can do it too.’


Visit This Is Us 

Visit Dye Lab 


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