“What’s my purpose?” is arguably life’s biggest question. And discovering one’s path can be one of life’s greatest challenges. But when you do discover how you were meant to contribute to the world it can be one of life’s most immense joys. Doing what you love creates profound satisfaction and connects us to our divine purpose. Carbon caught up with fashion designer, Eji Benson. He told us not only about his work and foray into fashion, but how doing what he loves is therapeutic and brings him peace.
Benson’s infatuation with fashion design has been life long, leading him to fashion school and to ultimately founding Ennui New York, Inc., a fashion services and licensing company.
Benson’s portfolio of work includes Bill Blass, Kate Spade, Sally Lapoint, ThreeasFour, Opening Ceremony, Rodarte, Vera Wang, Bibhu Mohapatra and for stores like Harrods (London), Saks, Neimans, Nordstroms, and Colette among others. His work has appeared in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Bazaar and on runways in New York, London and Paris.
Benson is also the founder and creative director at Ennui Home, a bespoke hand-woven rug and home soft accessories company. He also has a love and passion for Africa and is a founding partner of Fashion Lab Africa a radio and TV platform solely focused on showcasing the business of fashion in Africa.
How did you get started designing?
I grew up as a tailor. My family was very active in tailoring. My uncle owned a big tailoring shop and my Mom was a seamstress and made a lot of dresses for the villagers. When I was very young, my Mom would make us paper clothes for me and my sister and we would play in them in the rain till they washed off. It was a thrill. And coming back from school sometimes for punishment I will iron and hem pants at my Uncle’s shop. So by about 8 or 9 I was already very savvy around the sewing machine, the needle and the charcoal iron. By about 12 I was actively sketching clothes while listening to Babyface and dreaming those impossible fashion dreams. Then I subscribed to Vogue, which never arrived in the village of course, but I was hooked. Many years later, after marketing school, after many failed attempts to study fashion at different schools all over the world, I finally got the opportunity in the United States by the grace of God and his appointed angels who appeared at all the different junctures I needed them. Belief, determination and prayer are one heck of a winning combo. I am grateful to God and his angels.
What kind of pieces do you design and make?
Design is very internal and intimate process for me. I am inspired by movement, space and structure. I love fabrics that willow in the wind, I love structures that are solid and unpretentious. I love open spaces that allow you to breathe. I love designing shoes and coats. I love the energy of dresses and skirts, their power to steal your breath.
What drew your interest to fashion design? How did you know this was your path?
I was very musical as a kid and the radio probably played the biggest part in my design story, growing up in the village in Africa. I interpreted music in shapes, shapes of beauty which I saw mostly through clothes. Whenever I would listen to a song, like “Whip Appeal” by Babyface, mostly I saw beautiful girls in beautiful dresses, which I would then try to capture in sketches, if you would even call them that. Fashion was how I interpreted music. Maybe because mostly I listened to love songs.
You mentioned that your job is great for stress relief. Please explain why?
As I grew up, it magnified, and became very easy for me to see and feel that designing was my home turf. Sitting at a sewing machine or just ironing or hemming pants, there was this inner peace that always came over me during these activities and today, it remains my one trusted therapy. Just imagine that; my work is my therapy. It’s been an incredible blessing. Inexplicably, I can sew and cut all night through any physical or emotional storms.
How do you feel when you are designing? What or who inspires you?
I feel at peace when I am designing. My thoughts are beautiful and my search is for beauty and functionality and statement through shape, color, fabric and my illusions of motion. How would this look in flow, the energy, the sensuality. My inspirations are more organic and historical – old 20th century black and white images of happy women.
What would you say to someone who is trying to find their path in work?
Find your peace. That is where your career lies. In other words, find what you really love to do, then do everything in the world to do that, however long it may take you, because it is the one thing you would never want to stop doing, the one thing no circumstance can frustrate you out of or away from. It is your home turf, your peace.