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Kingsley Gbadegesin is reinventing a fashion staple, while using his brand to create a safe, open space for the Black and queer communities. In this episode of In The Know Style: Changemakers, Kingsley talks about how his brand, K.NGSLEY, started with an undershirt and a pair of scissors, and skyrocketed into an iconic cult favorite brand that’s taking over the fashion world one tank top at a time.
“K.NGSLEY’s literally just a representation of how I show up in this world,” said the designer. “This brand, it’s Black, queer, trans—that was like the opening message.”
After working at top fashion brands like Versace, Balenciaga, Celine and Loewe, Kingsley felt a strong personal connection to fashion.
“There’s a power clothing has that I learned very early on,” he explains. “Being fully clothed and feeling sexy.” It was this enthusiasm for clothing that led Kingsley to first create his now-iconic tank top.
“The Fist tank started after I left my job. There was just a moment where it was just, it was dry. Like no contracts were coming in. A friend of mine was hosting a party called Fist,” explains Kingsley. Kingsley reached for one of his favorite tank tops to wear to the club, but was disappointed to find that it was dirty.
So he took matters into his own hands. He took an old Hanes tank, put it on the ground, and started cutting away. “The moment I took off my coat, people were like, ‘Oh my God!’ I posted the tank on IG, and it took on a life of its own online,” says Kingsley. “But I really didn’t take initiative for like a year and a half.”
After sitting on his tank top design for over a year, Kingsley drew inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, to use his designs to start a brand centered on social activism and inclusivity.
“I was with a group of friends, and we would literally hit the streets, like everyday, you know protesting, marching,” says Kingsley. Based on these experiences, Kingsley decided that, moving forward, however he used his platform and talents “will have to continue to contribute to this space, pushing the Black, queer, femme, [and] trans narrative forward.”
Naturally, the first idea Kinglsey had was to start selling his tanks.
“That voice just kept getting louder,” says Kingsley. “And it was like, b**ch you can do this.”
Kingsley told himself that he would be happy if he sold three tanks in the first month. He ended up selling 12 in the first hour, and from there, the brand took off.
“K.NGSLEY was literally built on unemployment. I have no investors,” says Kingsley. “And literally from them buying the tanks, I’ve been able to build this.”
Kingsley isn’t just selling clothing, he’s also selling a culture and an idea that everyone deserves to have a space to express themselves. And Kingsley’s passionate customers are taking ownership of that ideology.
“The K.NGSLEY community, they’re so protective of it,” explains Kingsley. “Boys girls, they/them’s—[they] all deserve to have a space.”
Kingsley hopes that he can continue to use his brand to give his customers a voice.
“I just want to continue to be the voice of the girls. I just want to echo that voice. To be a girl, is literally just showing up as you,” says Kingsley. “In five years, I still want that to be the core. And I just want to continue to build that.”
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