Jacques Agbobly (@illinoize) is a 25-year-old designer whose namesake knitwear brand, Agbobly, honors the designer’s Togolese heritage while celebrating Black and queer culture. Stemming from Jacques’ first company, BlackBoyKnits, the Agbobly brand embodies multiple pillars of the designer’s identity, through colorful knit pieces that tell a story with every stitch.
As the founder and creative director of Agbobly, Jacques ensures that their brand’s custom clothing pays homage to the designer’s background. “Custom clothing is something that I grew up around. I was born and raised in Togo, West Africa, and I grew up living partly at my grandmother’s house, and she rented part of her home to seamstresses,” they say. “I would always sneak under the work tables and just watch in awe as they would create custom clothing for clients.”
Jacques’ upbringing allowed them to see firsthand the impact that custom clothing can have. “When something is made for you, you want to protect it and you want it to last longer, so you take care of it more,” they say. It was this affinity for high-quality, detail-oriented clothing that led Jacques to their signature style and technique.
“I was drawn to knitwear as a medium because I’m really passionate about creating things from scratch,” says Jacques. “I’m someone who is very tactile. I love to work with my hands. Knitwear allows me to do that. You’re really building that fabric from the ground up and you actually have a say in how that fabric behaves, and your mind is the only limitation. Knitwear allows me to be creatively spontaneous, but also have a plan.”
For Jacques, the Agbobly brand is meant to connect consumers with the artisans who are making the clothes. “I really want people to go back to the maker,” they say. “Knitting, specifically, is a craft that you have to spend many, many, many hours and days and years and generations learning, and when people are wearing my clothes I want them to pass it down to [future] generations.”
Jacques views their clothing not only as a representation of their own history, but also as an example of how artists, specifically Black artists, can use their creations to expand the horizons of what they’re capable of. “As a Black artist living and creating in America today, we have more of a platform to tell our stories, and not feel the need to live up to anybody’s expectation,” says Jacques.
Agbobly clothes seek to tell stories not just of the past, but also the present and future. “When I’m creating, I get a lot of thrill from knowing that it could end up in a place that I’ve never even thought of,” says Jacques. “That’s such an exciting aspect of clothing—creating clothing that tells stories. Clothing has the ability to transcend time. You don’t have to just write it on paper, you can tell it through what you wear.”
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