Autumn Adeigbo: Making a Difference One Dress at a Time

The designer's capsule collection of African-inspired frocks are as vibrant as she is!

One of my favorite designers right now is Autumn Adeigbo. She is an amazing artist with an extraordinary heart. As such, she makes clothing with a conscious, helping to support female artisans in Africa and donating proceeds to the charity Women for Women International. (I've shot two of the dress-designer's pieces for my "Feel-Good Fashion" page and hope to continue to support her line!) I met with Autumn last week to talk about her collection and her big plans for the world.

So, first of all, tell me about the dress you are wearing.

It's the same silhouette as my dress that is in your Marie Claire April feature (a.k.a. the Billie Dress) but it's one-of-a-kind. The fabric was sourced in South Africa on a styling job I did there last year. It's by a company called Shine Shine, and the fabric is in celebration of Barack Obama — hence his portraits all over the dress. It's one of my favorite pieces for spring because it's so bright, colorful, and cheerful. And it's celebrating such a turning point in American history with the election of Barack Obama.

How did you decide you wanted to be a fashion designer?

My mom used to sew many of my dresses when I was a little girl. I was the 4-year-old in a leopard-print sweater at my birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. I clearly remember the moment I decided I wanted to become a designer. I was 19, in my sophomore year at Spelman College up late night doodling and dreaming about my future career. I was an economics major, but I did not see myself working in the finance or banking world. After writing the careers of "designer" and "stylist to the stars" as my two top career choices, I decided to apply to Parson's Summer Intensive Fashion Program. After completing it, I returned to Parsons to get a degree in Fashion Design after graduating from Spelman.

What is the ethos behind your line?

As I've matured, I've realized I want to make a real difference in the world, especially in the lives of the women and children of Africa. I decided to donate five percent of each dress sale to an organization that feeds back to this cause. I love the organization Women for Women International because they don't just donate money to African communities, but they offer micro-credit loans and instill women with the skills they need to become self-sufficient business owners and community leaders. Women learn the skills to support themselves, their families and their communities.

What inspires you in your designs?

My collection, which is a capsule collection of dresses, is inspired by women. That's why I design a product that is exclusive to the female gender. I incorporate African prints and influence because my family is Nigerian, and I find the color and prints dramatic and awe-inspiring. I love the idea of women in the west supporting women in Africa by wearing something inspired by the African homeland. It's like this mutually inspiring and supportive relationship — and aren't those the best kind of relationships?

Who inspires you in life?

I'm inspired by anyone or anything I come into contact with that makes me feel more alive in a positive way and makes me want to become a better person. I also love astrology, children, animals, nature, and the ocean.

In ten years, what will you be doing?

In ten years, I will have made a positive difference in the lives of a million people using my particular gifts — fashion, color, style, and a whole lot of heart.

Falling Whistles is a California-based non-profit campaigning for peace in the Congo. The whistles are inspired by the child soldiers who stand on the frontlines of the war and whose only "weapons" are the whistles they blow letting everyone behind them know that the enemy is approaching. Symbolically, when you wear a falling whistle, you show the world you are a whistle-blower for peace.

In my April "Feel-Good Fashion" page, on newsstands now, I tell readers to wear this dress by Autumn Adeigbo ($419) with these necklaces of paper beads handmade in Rwanda (Anthropologie; $42) and — my favorite — sustainably produced Calleen Cordero sandals ($365).