William Okpo, the Black Women-Owned Line You Need to Know
After seven years, the sisters behind the NY-based label continue to thrive.
After just a few minutes of talking with Darlene and Lizzy Okpo — co-founders of the New York-based womenswear line William Okpo — it becomes abundantly clear that failure isn’t, and has never been, an option. That’s why seven years after starting their label, the sisters are still turning out fresh ideas that feel prescient and thriving creatively in an industry that’s not known to be friendly to upstarts — nor overtly welcoming to women of color.
Founded in 2010 when Darlene and Lizzy were just 23 and 19 years old, respectively, the brand takes its name from the girls’ father, William Okpo, who immigrated from Nigeria to New York in 1976. The sisters embraced his strong, unwavering work ethic and unique style — ideas that ultimately inspired them to launch a label despite limited resources, limited experience, and youth all working against them.
The two had interned and worked all over retail — most notably at Opening Ceremony, where the line was picked up early on — but neither, funny enough, knew how to actuallysew a garment when they decided to start a clothing label. “I just researched how to start a line, and I Googled pattern and garment makers,” says Darlene of their very DIY start.
The aesthetic of the brand has matured consistently since its launch, but the sharp tailoring, rich colors, and mixed fabrications and hardware — combining materials like neoprene and silk chiffon in one garment — have stayed at the core of William Okpo’s look. It’s with this approach that the brand pushes the boundaries and expectations of designers of the African diaspora — if you’re looking for traditional African prints pumped out for mass consumption, you won’t find them here.
“Just because we're coming from a Nigerian background, that's not what we're about. We were born here also, so we wanted to break that stigma of black designers and African print,” says Darlene. “This is why the brand is named after my dad, William Okpo. When he came here, he didn't fit into that stereotype. He came here, in our opinion, influencing people with style. There are pictures of him in three-piece suits, bell bottoms, and ‘fro, with a Members Only jacket, all white. My dad is the most stylish man you'll ever meet.”