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My fashion life - Irene Agbontaen

The London-based designer is using her industry experience to cater for taller women.

Irene Agbontaen

Irene Agbontaen

After years struggling to find clothes for her 5ft 11in frame, Irene Agbontaen founded Taller Than Your Average (TTYA). Having grown to include stockists like Asos.com, the brand now has celebrity ambassadors including models Jourdan Dunn and singer Jessie J. Irene has also recently launched a capsule collection with retailer Long Tall Sally. Wholesale prices for TTYA range from £8 for a T-shirt to £18 for a dress.

What inspired you to set up TTYA in 2012, aside from your own experience?
I had taken some time out from work to travel around Asia for eight months. I was constantly on the move and needed staples that fit me, which I could just throw on, so when I got back to London I started the brand. There was only so much men’s clothing I could wear, so the trip inspired me to create a staple collection: the foundation to any tall woman’s wardrobe.

How does your autumn 14 collection compare with previous seasons?
TTYA works on continuity pieces that are available all year round and fit in your existing wardrobe. I’ve worked hard on sticking to these ideals but also listened to what my customers want. Based on this, I’ve introduced denim to the range, with a 36-inch inside leg in a stretch skinny as well as a boyfriend jean.

Are there any other products you would like to introduce?
I’m working on outerwear for autumn 15. That’s a major struggle for us tall girls, so I’m taking classic cuts and silhouettes and adapting them to fit.

You’re celebrating taller women, which is a great thing. Do any other body types deserve more attention?
It’s time tall women got their time to shine, to be honest. Plus-size clothing has been around for some time and is one of the fastest-growing market shares in fashion. All women should have the opportunity to feel style-conscious, with lines available that fit.

What’s the best thing about being tall?
Always being able to see at a concert or festival.

Is there anything else about you that is above average?
I also host the Basement [nightclub] at The London Edition hotel in Fitzrovia.

What is your typical day like?
I’m usually up at about eight in the morning and head either to yoga or the gym. I’ll make a green juice to have on the way. My studio is in Dalston, east London, so I’ll head there to get started on the day. I’ll usually leave the studio around six and go to the hotel, depending on what event we have on. We’ve had some crazy parties and we hosted events during London Fashion Week.

Sounds busy. How do you switch off?
I run to clear my head.

Tell us about your background before TTYA.
I fell into fashion by taking up part-time work as a student. I started on the shop floor at Selfridges in London in 2002, then I began visual merchandising in store. Selfridges taught me about providing a service and listening to what customers want while expanding my knowledge about international brands. I then met the fashion editor of Complex magazine at a trade show in Barcelona in 2007 while there for Selfridges and she interviewed me on the spot. I moved to New York to intern for her, then I moved back to London in 2008 and was offered a job as womenswear stylist at Asos. I stayed until 2010, learning about ecommerce and how to sell online.

What were some of the difficulties when you first started?
The brand grew very quickly [stockists include Asos and Selfridges in the UK] and I was doing so much on my own. It was difficult maintaining a work/life balance, but it’s been worth it.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
Everything is negotiable.

What has been your most surprising career experience?
Securing Barneys New York department store [as a stockist] 10 months after we launched.

What’s been the best feedback you’ve had?
I get amazing emails all the time from women who shared my struggle and are just so happy they can get a knitted sweater with long sleeves.

Where would you like to see the brand stocked in the future?
I’m looking at Holland and the Scandinavian markets, as people in those areas are known for being tall.

Do you have any plans to open your own store?
One day. I would love to open a creative hub in London, somewhere to screen films and hold workshops, as well as sell product. The ethos of TTYA is about pushing boundaries and empowering women to feel style-conscious, not self-conscious, and clothes are just a start. The mind and self are also areas to be explored.

Do you have a bucket list? What’s at the top?
I’m seeing all Seven Wonders of the World in the next year. I love to travel and have already ticked off the Great Wall of China, so only six to go.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I’m a firm believer in living for now. I just take each day as it comes and believe that if you work hard everything will fall into place.

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