Oyinkan, Founder of Aseda: Lawyer turned Graphic Designer

As expected, being her younger cousin comes with looking up to Oyinkan; and for very good reason. I've always seen her as an example of the fact that us women can do and have it all. A high achiever, a charming personality, a creative from time, a multi-faceted lady bursting with wit & humour, a radiant beauty and the nurturer of a kind heart which yearns for more & more of Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, we arranged to meet for a much needed cousin catch-up...yes, I just named it that so therefore it is now a thing. Over bowls of Thai, we had an insightful chat about her journey from law to graphic design, the unspoken stigma attached to moving back home to Nigeria, imposter syndrome and the acceptance of vulnerability. Read all about Oyinkan's journey so far on Episode 02 of #TheSitdownSeries.

K: What kind of day have you had?

O: Mmm, I had a Lagos-kicked my butt kind of day! (laughs) No but really, I had a very evenly-paced day. Got to work not too late, I did some sketching for a logo I’m working on and I worked on a proposal. I also worked on my portfolio; I’m trying to get it up to par. I saw a friend of mine from fellowship; we talked and prayed together. Just a nice, chill day, really! Afterwards I went and had my art escapade…

K: (laughs)

O: I bought a piece of art off the fly.

K: As you do!

O: As one does, right? (laughs) And now I’m here having dinner with my beautiful cousin (smiles). It’s been a good day in retrospect, aside from Lagos trying to kick my butt. I tried to pick up my PVC [Personal Voting Card in Nigeria] and they told me that the pick-up location has been moved back to the location I got it.

K: Aw man!

O: So I couldn’t get it but it’s fine; we live to fight another day!

Oyinkan on her Career Change

K: For the record, what is your name and what do you do?

O: My name is Oyinkan, I am a graphic designer (beaming smile). I run Aseda Design Agency and I develop brands!

K: So as I know, you recently went through a career change.

O: Mm-hmm.

K: What you’re doing now, how long have you known you wanted to do that and has it been what you expected?

O: So how long have I known that this is what I wanted to do… I guess when I first admitted to myself that it was what I wanted to do (both laugh) because they’re two different things, right? So I knew I enjoyed it from uni. In university, I went under this alias of ‘Astro’ which people thought was a guy.

K: Interesting…

O: I would design flyers for all those parties people would throw in Nottingham.

K: Oh, I did not know this!

O: Yeah, then I started doing student union flyers for (university) societies in the Midlands. So I did that for a bit and it was fun. Then I moved back to Nigeria and I started working as a lawyer. I worked for two years and you know, what they pay lawyers in this country is just atrocious. So obviously everyone was like ‘you need a side hustle, you need a side hustle’ . For a long time I was like (sarcastic tone) ‘oh I mean, do I sell weave? What do I do?!'

K: (laughs)

O: I was so stressed! (laughs). I had forgotten that I had this thing that I enjoyed doing. Eventually, I remembered and was like ‘I guess I could do this?’. So I set up an Instagram account and I started just posting random pictures of logos I had designed. One thing led to another, someone called me (for a job) and I was doing it!

O: The first time I admitted to myself that this is what I wanted to do was when that Abstract show came up!

K: Righttt!

O: And it was Paula Scher’s episode. I was just watching it and I fully cried! I was like ‘oh my days, like this is the life…this is everything!’. I was watching it thinking ‘woah, if I could do this in life… what?!’. It blew my mind, you know? But it just felt so far apart from my reality at the time. I was in my law firm job and there was just no way it was going to be a full time thing at the time. Yeah, I guess that’s when I first realised.

K: And has it been what you expected?

O: Mmm… I think so. I expected a bit more of an uphill battle. I mean, I’ve definitely had my bad times with it. Everyone talks about how entrepreneurship is so hard and I don’t know whether it is because I transitioned out of side hustle into this but I haven’t felt that kind of resistance. It’s just felt like one opportunity linked to another linked to another. It has just felt very organic. I expected it to be harder and it hasn’t been too tough… yet! I mean, I don’t want to speak too soon (laughs) but so far, yeah.

Oyinkan on Imposter Syndrome

K: So you talked about how there haven’t been as many uphill battles as you expected but of course, there still are a few here and there. Without any restrictions, is this how you would practise what you are doing right now?

O: I would definitely like to find my feet a bit more. I would like to have less imposter syndrome!

K: Right, we talked about that! What’s your imposter syndrome rooted in?

O: The fact that I never had any training in this; it’s all very self-taught. Even more so, it’s deeply rooted in the fact that as a child I was told that I was terrible at art!

K: No way! Why, because you couldn’t draw?

O: Yeah, by syllabus standard which is ridiculous! I have my own issues with that… But yeah, a lot of imposter syndrome. I’d like to mature; develop that side of my brain a bit more and just be a bit more confident about it. Read more literature; know a bit more about the industry for that imposter syndrome to go. I would also like to work with people who are a lot more established in their own aspect of design so I would like to work on a lot more collaborations. I envision working in more of a team set up as opposed to the solo thing which is what I’m doing now.

Oyinkan on Paula Scher

K: Who do you look up to? You mentioned Paula…

O: (sing song) Paulaaa! Paula Scher! I just love her (smiles). I love her because she’s just not pretentious at all; she’s brilliant! She’s the person that showed me that being a designer is not always about wearing torn

clothes, doing all the artsy stuff and everything being you know, just about feelings and… fluffy!

K: (laughs) Fluffy!

O: (laughs) You know? She’s just shown me that it’s a business decision. It’s real and it has value. You use both sides of your brain when you’re designing. The career she’s had is completely enviable.

I’m also trying to find other expressions of how I can be as an artist. She (Paula) has this personal project that she does which is like maps; very weirdly depicted maps. It’s just interesting because it’s not strict art. It’s just something that she finds interesting and has just been doing. I like that she’s not on that grid of what you think art is. She’s passionate about this; she has a voice, she has a style. People recognise and value her for it so I definitely admire her for that.

K: It’s funny because speaking about career changes and people that you admire, I recently found out that Virgil Abloh was a civil engineer. I didn’t know this!

O: I didn’t know that either!

K: It blew my mind. I think he got his Master’s as well [Virgil Abloh, CEO & founder of Off-White and the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's men's wear collection, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and is also a Master of Architecture]. After his degrees, at a point it was him and Kanye running off to fashion shows and one thing led to another and now we have Virgil Abloh-Louis Vuitton! [slight misinformation here; Virgil and Kanye interned at Fendi in Rome and then one thing led to another lol] Incredible!

O: Whaaat?!

K: I know! His story has helped me come to terms with the possibility of a dual career because when I first moved back to Lagos, I was like this side hustle thing… is it quantity over quality? Like just doing the most all in the name of being busy-busy-busy. People like him (Virgil) are making me realise that actually, it depends on what you make of it. It depends on what you want from it and your ‘why’.

O: Yeah, yeah. I mean, Lagos wash is definitely real. Some people just have a side hustle just in the name of being of that ‘I’m busy o’. Lagos wash is completely real; you have to know why you’re doing it.

Oyinkan on the Stigma of Failure/Moving Back to Nigeria

K: Your full name, Oyinkansola, what does it mean?

O: It means honey dropped into wealth. Yeah, because you know-only girl! That sweet-sweet (smiles)

K: (laughs) And where would you call home?

O: Umm… I don’t know-Lagos? Yeah. I would call home Lagos.

K: Do you feel like you failed in anyway when you moved back to Lagos? This is asking without the attached fear of the word failure. Were there any hiccups along the way?

O: I definitely had a feeling of failure because before I moved back, I did the LPC which is the Law School in London. What I would I would have liked to do, you know, for reasons like money, status or whatever and reasons like looking good because you look like you’ve succeeded, is to have gotten a training contract. (I would have liked) to have gotten a training contract to practice at a law firm in London then two years later come back, do NYSC, do law school and then go back (to the UK). So that was the plan.

Nigeria definitely looked like the safe option, you know? Almost like ‘oh, you always have your bed in your parents’ house’ type of thing. It was just the… settling. Like ‘you didn’t achieve your goal, so here’s your safety net!’. That’s how it felt. So there was definitely that feeling of failure but you don’t talk about that. You just say ‘oh you know, plans changed’ but it definitely felt more like failure than anything else.

K: What advice would you give to somebody moving back to avoid… well not really avoid to be honest. I guess we all have to go through the motions or the process.

O: Yeah...

K: But if you could go back and tell yourself something to counter that feeling, what would you tell yourself?

O: I would definitely tell myself that God really has a ‘why’ for everything. That God has His plan and it’s infinitely better than your plan. Infinitely better. Even though something doesn’t look like the path that you were supposed to be on… the first thing is to evaluate why you even want that in the first place. A lot of me realized that why I wanted it was… it was just the wrong reasons. It wasn’t because I was passionate about law or because I really wanted to work at a particular law firm in the UK...it was because money, because my friends were still there, it was because getting a job in England looked like the ultimate ‘oh, you’ve done really well-clearly.’

O: So you know, evaluate. Really ask yourself why do you want to stay? Why do you really want to stay; do some soul searching about that. Also again, just know that God’s plan is best. I don’t necessarily think that if I had stayed things would have been… I mean, they would have been different but I just feel like the people you come across, the opportunities that you get, the impact you have are all shaped by where you are. For me personally with my story, I wouldn’t have had it any other way because the people I’ve met and the kind of experiences I’ve had just being back in Nigeria… being in England would have felt empty in comparison. Even from just a purely spiritual angle, it’s not comparable.

K: When moving to New York came up for me, I was quite happy because I thought ‘somewhere else to go [run to] because this England thing isn’t working out’ [job wise]. I think that was brought on by what someone said to me in Brighton. I was in my final year [of university] and a friend of mine in second year said to me, jokingly, “What are you guys going to do-your visa is running out soon! You have to go back to Nigeria” as though to say ‘that’s the end, that’s the ultimate failure and disappointment.’ As small as that seems, it actually stuck.

O: Yup!

K: I thought ‘I cannot give up and give in...’

O: '...and go back'.

K: Exactly. I felt like God took me through my experience in New York-6 months of unpaid work-to firstly de-idolise money in my life because that was a big thing. I hadn’t even gotten a job in England after school and I was already calculating how I would be spending the salary that was stated in the job ad. Two, it made me realise that I wanted to come home. I want to be here and it’s part of the plan for me. I keep getting confirmation that I’m meant to be here [in Lagos] at this particular time.

K: I don’t think we speak enough about the avoidance of moving back to Nigeria. The stigma of failure that is attached to it.

O: It’s like ‘oh yeah, I moved back’ and you ask why and the response is ‘*mumble mumble*’

K: (laughs)

O: No, we definitely don’t talk enough about it. I think a lot of it is around that visa thing and that feeling like you have no option. Like [living abroad] was your past-your better life-and now, it’s over. Now (playful Nigerian accent) ‘you haff to go back to wia you are coming from!!’

K: Like the abroad is goals!

O: (laughs) The abroad is goals and your home country is nonsense!

K: It’s crazy… it’s something we still have to work through.

O: Honestly! I know that I would not have enjoyed living in London.

K: You don’t think so?

O: I know now. When I go and visit my friends, I want to come back [to Nigeria]. It’s all nice and great but I described it to my mum as being in a hotel. It’s amazing, it’s fancy, it’s great but it’s just not home. How long can you possibly stay in a hotel?

K: Right, exactly!

O: It’s amazing-everything works, so fancy, you’re having a great time, you’re eating really nice food… but when you’re in a hotel for like a month it’s like ‘Yah, ok. Time to go!’

K: I love that analogy-a hotel. So so so true.

K: On the flip side of moving back, what have you been proud of yourself for? What wins have there been? All by God’s grace, of course.

O: By God’s grace o! (smiles) Wins… I think I’m prouder of who I am. I’m prouder of where I’m from…of my story.

I’m just prouder of who I am-full stop.

I think was an element of me that liked to package before-be it accent or whatever. Just package and not necessarily be as open as letting people know who you were and what you were about… what your flaws were. I feel completely settled in who I am and where I’m at. I feel like if anyone were to call me out on something I can be like ‘yeah ok, ok, that’s me’. So definitely more confident about who I am.

I’m proud of having worked at the law firm for three years. I learnt so much in terms of law, how the society works, in terms of business. I learnt a lot about myself, overcoming adversity and the ability to work with people that I didn’t necessarily get on with. I mean, at the law firm I worked at there were so many amazing people; I had so many friends-family, even. But there were definitely people that were difficult to work with, you know?

In life, before you start working you’re just around the people you choose. You’re around the people that are similar to you; similar experiences, schools and backgrounds. When you work it’s a different dynamic-different people with different backgrounds. So it teaches you a lot about yourself and how you relate; even at your lowest.

There was a time at work that I was finding things really difficult and my ex-boss was being really tough on me and it was just really low. I’m proud of myself for coming out of that because it really felt like a big pit at the time. It felt like ‘I’ve been good at academics my whole life-what is this?’. It felt like I doubted my abilities-I doubted everything. So I’m proud of myself for getting out of it and now my ex-boss and I are on great terms-like, we’re actually guys! (smiles)

I used to look at those memes about inner strength with you know, Idris Elba or Denzel in the background and they’ll now write something on top of it about never giving up (laughs). It was always either Idris or Denzel! I used to think ‘that’s crap’ but now I fully understand those things (laughs) having gone through that!

K: (laughs) Like yep, got it!

O: I’m proud of this new phase in my life; just starting my own thing. I’m proud of having the confidence to say with my mouth that I’m a graphic designer (smiles)… it still feels very weird saying it. Not telling people that I’m a lawyer is the weirdest thing, honestly! So yeah, I think I’m proud of those things. Those are wins!

K: Big wins!

K: Final question! So you know how you told me that your name means honey dropped in wealth?

O: Yes, honey.

K: How do you feel that has translated in your story; in your life?

O: Mmm interesting… I mean, I’m just so sweet!

(both laugh)

O: (smiles) Hmm honey dropped into wealth. So that name tends to be given to girls that are in the midst of guys-they have loads of brothers or something.

K: Oh, interesting!

O: Yeah so if you look at maybe your Oyinda, Oyinkan, Koyinsola friends they may have brothers as opposed to sisters. Or maybe they had brothers before them and then a girl. So that tends to be the case.

For me, it’s translated because growing up I kind of felt like one of the guys. I had never really felt different from them, you know? I think I’m learning to be more accepting of the sweet. I’m more accepting of the vulnerable, more accepting of the soft, more accepting of all that stuff (smiles) which I was never comfortable with. You know, my friends will tell you that when we start talking about feelings I’m just like (sarcastic tone) ‘Uh-huhn! Right, sure!’ (laughs) ‘I don’t want to delve into all this stuff with you’… but I’m definitely coming to a place where I’m just more accepting of being emotional, being vulnerable, being… sweet!

K: I love it (smiles). Yaay interview done!

O: *happy dance* Well done dahlin'! Good interview-good questions!

Oyinkan's fabulous design agency is on Instagram creating magic as @MadeByAseda, boasting clients such as Asa's Live in Lagos: Encore, Cafe Jade, Hairitage Hub and FOMO Lagos.