LONDON – Foday Dumbuya, founder and creative director of fashion label Labrum London, has been named the latest recipient of Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.
King Charles III presented the award to Dumbuya during a ceremony, which showcased all the talent support initiatives of the BFC Foundation, at 180 Studios on Thursday afternoon.
The event was accompanied by a performance curated by Dumbuya, featuring two drummers, a guitarist, a Cora pkayer, and a musician whose powerful vocal was “trying to lift the root,” according to Dumbuya.
In an exclusive interview with WWD, Dumbuya said the award is “a testament to the hard work and dedication of myself and the countless individuals who supported me get where we are today. And also the tremendous amount of work that my team has put together.”
The designer, who wore a traditional English suit in the vibrant shade of green to meet the monarch, added that he would dedicate the honor to his fellow Sierra Leoneans in London.
“When you look at it from a Sierra Leon perspective, these guys face such unimaginable difficulties and try to develop something from a very poor background as there’s no infrastructure. So seeing someone looking like them doing it on a bigger scale, I think that’s going to change the way they look at it,” he said.
Meaning “having an edge” in Latin, Labrum London was founded in 2014 by Dumbuya with the goal to make practical, honest clothing that combines West African and British heritage. The brand has been showing on London Fashion Week’s official calendar since February 2021.
“I want to leave a legacy for people in West Africa where in 50 years or so they will look at Labrum as a reference point. When it comes to the garments themselves, I want to make designs that stand the test of time. Not necessarily in a ‘timeless’ style sense but more in terms of the longevity of the garment. Fundamentally, Labrum tells stories that have an impact on people’s lives,” Dumbuya told WWD in a prior interview.
The designer holds a menswear design certificate from the London College of Fashion, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Information System & Design: African Caribbean Society from Nottingham Trent University. Between 2013 and 2016, he worked as a bespoke design specialist at Nike.
Following the recognition, Dumbuya said he will carry on with the story he has been telling, and expand the Labrum London atheistic to mediums beyond fashion design.
He is one of the few London-based designers of his generation to have opened a physical store. Located at Princes Arcade, St James’s, the store is expecting a significant uplift in foot traffic in the coming days, according to Dumbuya.
Similar to the energetic performance Kings Charles III witnessed Thursday, every Labrum London show so far has been a tribute to his multicultural heritage.
For the fall 2023 season, Dumbuya invited the audience to South London’s Brixton Village, where he grew up, for an immersive performance that involved poetry reading, dancing, live music, beer and grocery stands with African cooking essentials like cassava and plantains.
The designer said he had to drag everyone down south for the most authentic experience. “You’ve got to come here to understand. You can’t tell the story in central London because you get lost,” he added.
A celebration of his journey from Sierra Leone to London via Cyprus, the collection, titled “From Greener Pasture,” offered a wide range of tailored pieces, outerwear in vibrant prints, two-tone denim, and a coat and a jacket printed with passport stamps.
“It’s all about travel. When you come from Africa, you go abroad for a better life. But when you live it, you realize it’s not what it is. You have to work twice as hard and pay bills regularly. But that’s the journey, and people move with their culture. That’s the thing I want to put out there,” said Dumbuya.
Dumbuya is the sixth recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Previous winners were Richard Quinn, Bethany Williams, Rosh Mahtani of Alighieri, Priya Ahluwalia, and Saul Nash.
Since 2018, a designer is selected by the BFC, in collaboration with the Royal Household, each year for the award. The trophy is inspired by the Queen Elizabeth rose and hand-produced by Lucy Price at Bauhinia Studios and in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
The British Fashion Council said Dumbuya was chosen for his ability to “bridge the story of his West African heritage with his life in London and the history of British tailoring.”
Caroline Rush, chief executive officer at the British Fashion Council, said: “His works speak to what is so unique and compelling about the U.K. as a leader in creative and fashion talent. At the BFC, we recognize our responsibility to support these incredible British emerging designers as they develop into self-sustaining businesses and are honored and proud to continue to do so, particularly in the current economic climate as funding for the arts diminishes.”
Today is not the first time for Dumbuya to meet the reigning British monarch. Last November, the two met at the Victoria and Albert Museum, while King Charles III was visiting the Africa Fashion exhibition with Queen Camilla.
“He said to me: ‘What are you thinking about next fashion show? And I said: ‘I am still telling my story, I suppose it’s going to be in Brixton. So would you come?’ He said ‘Would you invite me?’ I said ‘yes,’ and he turned around to his team and said ‘He said I am invited. Are you guys seeing this? I am waiting for the invite.’ It was funny, the kind of conversation we had,” recalled Dumbuya.
Unlike his mother Queen Elizabeth II, who hadn’t been to a fashion show till 2018, King Charles III has long been involved with the British fashion industry. He launched London’s inaugural menswear fashion week in June 2012 at St James’ Palace. He is also a champion of sustainable fashion with advocacy for the Campaign for Wool and the introduction of Terra Carta, placing sustainability at the heart of the private sector.
The Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design ceremony is a key part of the annual BFC Foundation Impact Announcement Day. BFC Foundation, the charity arm of BFC, has remitted 1.2 million pounds in funds to designers to designers and scholars in the financial year 2022/2023.
It’s been revealed that this year’s recipients for BFC Fashion Trust include Chopova Lowena, Fruity Booty, Molly Goddard, Neous, Piferi, and Richard Malone. While 16Arlington has been named the winner of the 2023 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund.