Agape Mdumulla – Agi to pretty much everyone – is 50 per cent of award-winning British menswear label Agi & Sam. He is perhaps the most laid-back person you will ever meet. Brought up in north Yorkshire, by Tanzanian parents, Agi studied fashion in Manchester before descending to London to start his career as an intern.
I met Agi when he and Sam moved from working out of his front room and bedroom into the studio building about 9 months after I had moved my label House of Billiam there. We have since spent time together over the last five or so years laughing at how useless we are and how amazingly badly things go wrong and drinking.
I can tell by that slowly fading northern twang that you are from up north but give me a brief family history.
My father is a Vicar, and for some reason was asked to move from Tanzania to the beautiful Northern city of Hull, located in sunny Yorkshire. The move was supposed to only be for a couple of years, but a couple of years turned into 33. At least they had the decency to move me and my sister from Hull to a nice small village about 30 miles away at the age of 10, but now they’ve ditched me and returned to Tanzania, and all I’m left with is this ‘slowly fading northern twang’.
Let’s fill in some holes. I know you used to want to be an airline pilot. What happened?
I smoked a joint.
How did you end up working with Sam?
Sam and I met whilst interning, and after doing this for over a year, we decided enough was enough. I did a collection on my own after finishing the internship, and Sam got close to getting a job at Paul Smith, but this never materialized.
Sam is super neurotic and I’m super chilled.
With my background in design, and Sam’s in print, in the end, we just thought we could do something interesting together and would rather work for free for ourselves rather than for other people.
Do you think you would have done it if you were just doing it by yourself?
It’s hard to say really. If we didn’t have any prints then I think I could have because designing and putting a collection together is what I had trained to do, and worked in. Also during that first collection there was literally no business stuff to do, only design a collection and art direct our show space.
I definitely think print aside, it would have been very difficult to have done the brand on my own following our first season as there is just too much to do for one person. Also Sam is super neurotic and I’m super chilled. Sometimes its good to have that balance so stuff actually gets done.
Do you think that timing has been important for Agi and Sam? You came into the industry just as they decided to have a separate men’s fashion week, has this been important?
Timing is definitely important but it’s also something you can often gauge yourself. With regards to London Collections Men that definitely helped as it allowed our company to sit within a normal calendar of showing a collection and selling it straight away. Before that, it was almost pointless because showing with the women’s schedule meant that the buying season finished months before you’d even shown the collection. So this has definitely been instrumental to building emerging menswear brands in London.
Often in the fashion industry, black men can be stereotyped into being ‘urban’.
The same can be said more personally, whereby we were, and still are to extend known as a maximalist digital print brand. We consciously entered the industry doing this, because we felt there was a gap in the mens market for this as it was rapidly gaining a lot of traction in womenswear, so timing definitely helped in this regard.
Your AW14 collection was based on your Masai heritage, you used an all black casting for the show, how hard was that?
Very. Actually it’s not that difficult to find an all black cast, the difficult part was finding black guys that looked a certain way.
Often in the fashion industry, black men can be stereotyped into being ‘urban’, I hate that phrase, so we found a lot of the models were pretty hench. So the difficulty came when trying to find more slender, elegant, Masaai type models. Needless to say there was a lot of street casting to be done.
Do you think the fashion industry has a racial bias?
I guess, but its hard to know, unless you really are part of it in the upper echelons. Its very true that most of the people in fashion, and especially in high fashion, are often white middle class, often privileged. But the same can be said for probably every other white collar profession, so I think its probably a slightly deeper question.
You and Sam have won a number of awards. Does this turn into financial reward?
There are awards out there that have a financial reward, but unfortunately we haven’t won many of these. The awards that we have won, are amazing for publicity, and of course we’re humbled to have won some, but in general, I feel like an award is more of a long-term thing. If you win, it can make a company sit up and take notice of you. This can be great for commercial jobs, such as collaborations or consultancy but of course, this generally doesn’t happen as instantly.
You are self funded/not funded, would you ever take investment?
It would be nice to keep the company completely independent, but I cant speak for what is going to happen in five or ten years. We’re not in this business to become millionaires, but if we reached a situation where we could expand and really grow the company but it required funding, then it would definitely be something to consider.
You are getting married in Tanzania soon, would you ever consider moving your company there? Would it be possible?
Definitely, in fact we very seriously thought about moving the company to Zanzibar this year.
What are your top five things to do in Tanzania?
Have a BBQ
Drink Safari beer, which is probably my favourite beer of ALL time.
As a vicar’s son, have you ever used ‘son of a preacher man’ to try and pick up bitches?
I don’t really believe in pick-up lines – usually because I don’t have to.
Give us your essential style tips.
Understand your body, and work out what works, and what doesn’t.
Understand your age (ditto).
If you wear shoes, wear socks.
Don’t follow trends too closely.
Name your top five crisps
Salt & Vinegar McCoys
Roast Beef Monster Munch
Salt & Vinegar Crinkle Mini Cheddars
If you could define yourself with one rap lyric what would it be? Mine is probably ‘Too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks.’
‘Let’s get ready to Rumble’ – PJ and Duncan.
See more at Agi & Sam
Photography by @shotbydk