Model ADESUWA AIGHEWI went from Minneapolis to the world stage and back again to find her purpose. Now, with her LEGACY project, centered on the crafts and beauty of Nigeria, she’s finally home.
Photography by Dawit N.M. Styling by Alex Harrington
When I ask Adesuwa Aighewi where she’s living, she laughs and responds, “Nowhere really. I am a free spirit.” Though she uses New York as a base for her modelling career, you are just as likely to see her hanging with friends in London, laying low in Lagos or off the grid entirely. “When I really take a vacation, I want to be alone – that’s what is really relaxing to me,” she explains. She is a supermodel, though at times reluctantly. An undeniable beauty (she’s a favourite of Chanel, Dior and Fendi), she stresses the relentless churn of the fashion weeks and gruelling travelling requirements (somewhat stemmed by Covid-19) as a concern. In fact, it was in the wake of a broken foot that Adesuwa finally had time to take stock of what she wanted to do next. “I totally appreciate how lucky I am, but there are so many models that have battle wounds and have to keep going. It’s hard because you have no other choice.”
She went back to her roots. Though born in Minnesota and studied at the University of Maryland, Adesuwa spent half of her childhood in Nigeria, where her father, an environmental scientist, is from. When observing the resources, the talent and the infrastructure for creatives that were desperately lacking, she decided to found Legacy, a soon-to-be launched project where people can not only connect with Africa and discover African talent, but also support artisans and creative talent living and working on the continent by buying products directly from them. Money will go back to the artisan and also fund social and community projects both in Nigeria and across Africa. The project has been a long time coming. Adesuwa has always been an ardent supporter of the investment and uplifting of the African continent, so the project’s inception also feels like a homecoming of sorts.
“I was drawn to her. What she has done in her career as a model, but her sense of self and her strength.” says Esther Amaku, 21, who works alongside Adesuwa as the illustrator for her upcoming (and untitled) children’s book that’s being published by HarperCollins –it’s an African tale based in Nigeria that will be part of the Legacy story. In addition, there is a clothing line, bespoke jewellery pieces and a TV show that deep dives into the continent as a whole.
It’s important to note this is not a charity, as Adesuwa explains. “There is nothing about Africa that needs charity. What I am creating is my legacy. What I am creating is power. What I am creating is a space for like minded africans to unite, feel safe and create.”
Tell me a bit about Legacy; what was the genesis of the project? Modeling was never my goal. This was. I always knew what I wanted to do and modeling was just a part of my journey. Three years ago I started Legacy. It began after returning home 13 years after the death of my elder brother. He died from the consequences of that which is the Nigerian health care system. When we were kids, we were gonna be doctors and save the world and after he died, I lost myself. Initially I used modeling to finance my freedom until I healed. Through modeling I’ve visited so many parts of the world and each one is so unique. I saw how people treated each other, I saw how people treated me and saw me. I got exposed to so many parts of the world and wondered why we couldn’t have nice things. I’ve spent the better part of my last three years in duality. One part modeling and experiencing, and the other half raging in anger. I went home for the first time three years ago; during my stay I befriended a group of men who were bronze craftsmen. I watched them work extremely hard producing the most incredible hand made work and sold for nothing. I wondered why artists in the West got paid more than artists at home. I wondered why life as a black person was synonymous with pain and suffering. I wondered why all the lands I traveled to had museums where Black people in paintings were depicted as scary or lesser than. I wondered why it hurt when I’m getting fitted at Chanel or Dior or Chloe to make eye contact with the only other black person there and she’s the help. I wondered why most times 9 times out of 10, my Uber driver in Uruguay or Sweden or Poland is African. Why were we the most displaced group of persons on earth? I did my research. And the things I found out pained me so much. I felt small. I felt useless and I felt like a lie. I wanted immediate change. My time home ignited a fire in me that could only be compared to that of a thousand erupting volcanoes contained. I created Legacy from that fire.
What have you learned about yourself through setting up Legacy? Whatever change you’d like to see in the world you have to create it yourself. Be the actual change you want to see in the world.
What is the book you are working on about? My book is about a boy who loses his family during a parade and he has found his way home but in doing so he goes around Africa and tackles the definition of the word ‘Home’ in the 20th century. It is drawn in Asian manga style but African characters — combining both of my cultures.
Who do you work on Legacy with? My team so far is Esther Amaku who is 22 years old. A Nigerian living in Texas. We met on Instagram. She handles all things tech and is incredibly smart. She worked at a Fortune 500 tech company but now works full time with Legacy. Ramata Coulibaly. She’s from Ivory Coast and a former model. We met in South Africa eons ago. She’s a creative genius and mother of both Flofferz magazine and Deliah. Bashiru Oshiafi, an art history graduate in Benin. We did all the research together. He’s fire. Osazee Obaretin is my childhood friend’s elder brother and is my lawyer in Nigeria. My aim is to work primarily with women and grassroot craftsmen and artists.
How do you choose the people to collaborate with on Legacy? Who are you most excited about working with? Those that carry the fire for change. Those that do. That is how I have chosen collaborators for Legacy. For me, it’s all about how far do you want to go. I need runners. I need speed, efficiency and dedication. So far I’ve met and worked with so many incredible people already. Time will tell when they launch.
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