Welcome Riveriswild to FNL
New Brand Alert: Riveriswild
Riveriswild is committed to an exploration of esoteric Blackness, continually diving into concepts and stories that shape their product. We chatted with co-founders Akinwale Akinbiyi and Thomas Davis to learn about their paths in life that brought them together, how they built Riveriswild, and how elements from African culture and respect for the environment drive their explorations in design, including the exclusive “Water is the Weapon and the Shield” collection.
Who are Riveriswild co-founders Akinwale (Wale) Akinbiyi and Thomas (Tom) Davis?
Wale: I’m a Nigerian-born creative who was raised on two continents. I’ve spent half my life in Lagos, Nigeria and the other half in various places in the United States, namely Prince George’s County, Maryland, Chicago and Los Angeles. My mother makes and sells fabrics––I was always gonna end up doing the same.
Tom: I’m a Philadelphia-born, multidisciplinary creative with a passion for self-imagery as well as developing fine garments and moments in time.
How did you two dream and build Riveriswild?
Wale: Riveriswild started serendipitously. I was two-years removed from the end of a previous brand I had been working on and had just been trying to find the next medium of expression. I had about four or five collections worth of designs and samples that I never shared with anyone except for Tom.
Tom: Wale brought me a pair of shorts he had designed and spoke to me about starting a brand with him. No timelines were discussed, but it was something that I was excited about instantly and couldn’t wait to get going.
Wale: I figured we’d develop ideas and in about a year or two we’d release something, but life (and Tom) had other plans.
Tom: I posted a picture of the shorts online and people went crazy.
Wale: I think [the post] was on a Monday. By Friday, we were selling our first capsule collection.
What is Riveriswild’s mission statement?
Wale: Riveriswild is committed to an exploration of esoteric Blackness. There are many words in my language (Yoruba) that don’t exactly translate directly into English. We wanted the brand name to sound and feel like an incomplete translation. Me being Nigerian and Tom being American set us up perfectly for an exchange of ideas and interests. We’re friends first, and both black, so it was always dope to see how the diaspora connected in our friendship. [Tom] would show me things that I recognized from back home, but it would be in a slightly different format. Black people are so varied and different, yet connected, despite all that the world has historically put us through; and we love sharing the nuggets of that connection with the world.
Tom: Our mission is to share that connectedness with everyone. As we designed for the brand, we chose to make sure we explored the less obvious connections between our cultural exchanges. Riveriswild is about the bridge between our cultural perspectives. It is the translation of a diasporic experience to each other. The familiar and somewhat self-searching; a constant exploration.
What inspired the “Water is the Weapon and the Shield” collection?
Tom: When we were approached to do this collection for Finish Line, we decided to reconnect with some of our earliest concepts for the brand. We had many conversations about the importance of water. One of my favorite Fela Kuti songs is “Water No Get Enemy.” It explores the duality of water: life-giving and possibly even fatal.
We started to think of this in relation to climate change. We need water to live, but the ice caps melting and oceans rising isn’t exactly good for humans on the planet. We wanted to celebrate that duality as a complete circle in harmony and constant contention with itself. We also pulled from various childhood memories––from cool showers in hot Philadelphia summers to drinking “pure water” (plastic bags of water commonly sold in Africa) in the streets of Lagos.
What does the creative process entail while exploring esoteric African fashion?
Wale: We always try to connect. Whether it’s African patterns and colors on Western Silhouettes or an innocent exploration of previously unknown facts about the diaspora. From the colors to the graphics we use, we always try to have fun, but if you’re paying attention, you can see and feel the threads of its meaning. One very cool story we explored in a previous collection was how a Jamaican immigrant had come to Lagos, Nigeria and taught the locals how to make Coco Bread. This eventually morphed into something called Agege Bread, and it was so fascinating to both of us to discover how the diaspora connected to give us two versions of a bread that had the same roots. These are the stories we love to tell through our garments: the ones of our lost history and a continued connectedness, whether we realize it or not.
How does Riveriswild position itself in the community it serves?
Tom: We run the brand out of our respective home cities (Philly and DC) and we try as much as possible to be accessible to our community and support it with our time and dollars. We volunteer to feed the homeless, we donate to STEM programs for black and minority children, and we support as many black businesses as possible! It’s not enough for us to just do periodic acts of kindness. We live our truth and walk in it every single day––from the clothes we choose to wear to the time we spend encouraging our peers and the next generation of Black creatives.
Get Riveriswild at Finish Line
Thank you to Wale and Tom for enlightening us about their brand history and vision, and for sharing their creative process that led to their exciting new collection. The exclusive “Water is the Weapon and the Shield” collection is now available at Finish Line.