Last year was a big one for sisters Darlene Okpo and Lizzy Okpo. Former employees of Opening Ceremony, they’d already been working on their own fashion line, named William Okpo, after their father, for five years when things broke wide open for them in 2015. They opened their own boutique in the South Street Seaport, reviewed rapturously by the New York Times for its “mirthful eccentricity.” They put out two collections of luxuriously voluminous pants and tops in a range of vibrant colors and denims. And, you know, got profiled in Vogue. This was years after their first collection got sold right at their old workplace, Opening Ceremony, where it drew the attention of Solange Knowles, with whom they designed a shoe for Adidas in 2014.
Success like this isn’t automatic for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for black women in an industry that’s still disappointingly, glaringly, snow white. So to forge a path to real accomplishments in that environment? And to do it on their own terms, celebrating their heritage and not simply aping what’s popular? That is pretty impressive.
Where do you live and how old are you? Darlene Okpo I Live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I am 29. Lizzy is 26.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened? Our father was the influence behind the brand. His style is like no other and he takes so much pride in the way he presents himself. We started designing at the age of 15 and 19 and officially started William Okpo a couple years later.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career? Growing up in New York, Brooklyn was always that cultural hub for us, besides Manhattan. It was raw, an experience, and a place for creative people to express themselves. We do think Brooklyn is still a viable place for young people to build a career. There is so much happening here from new businesses making the shift to Brooklyn
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Darlene: In ten years I see myself still residing in Brooklyn and owning a home in Lima, Peru. I love traveling Lizzy: I see myself having many businesses and homes. I really want to build a home for myself and my family in Jamaica. For that home, I wish to actually be a part of the building process. I also would like to have a few convenient stores. Of course, launch many William Okpo shops throughout the states and overseas.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path? Never considered leaving it, but more so adding to our career path. [We would like to] find ways to incorporate educational programs into our brand, as well as opening new businesses outside of the fashion industry, but relating it back to the William Okpo brand. We love being entrepreneurs. At times it is a bit overwhelming, but after the storm there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
What’s felt like you’re biggest professional accomplishment? Our biggest professional accomplishment was opening a retail store at the South Street Seaport.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?We often tell the people to do a lot of research, intern, and make sure they have the right professional experience.
Who are your role models in your industry? Acne, I feel like they’ve always told their own story so well, and are the most innovative
Who would be your pick for a 30 Under 30? We would pick Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs from Street Etiquette, DJ Kitty Cash, Nia Porter, Vogue Writer, Anthony Prince, Videographer, and Ashley Smith, Visual Artist
Should we all move to LA?
Darlene: Well, I actually thought about it, but we are so loyal to New York City. I love this city so much. Lizzy: Never, New York all day and forever (if it’s not Jamaica).