Skip to main content

Designer to Watch: Dolapo Otunla of Oysby

Dolapo Otunla was born in Nigeria, currently resides in the U.K. and travels across the world for her luxury footwear line, Oysby, but she designs in the universal language of “cool-ture.” It’s a concept she’s created for women to express their most eccentric style dreams.

“When I think of the Oysby woman, I think of simplicity with character. I think of women that want to tip the scale, light a fire, break boundaries, run the world and [stay] true to themselves while doing all these things,” she described.

Otunla shook up her own world in 2010 when she made the leap from being an engineer in the oil and gas industry to becoming a fashion student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in California.

She set out to study apparel industry manufacturing, but was quickly bitten by the footwear bug. “Learning design and illustration as part of my course in FIDM created the foundation I needed to be able to express my design ideas. It was my desire to create outstanding and unique accessory designs for myself that led me to fashion and naturally went for the women’s designer shoe category,” she explained.

In 2014, Otunla launched Oysby, a range of women’s footwear rooted in her personal style: classic with a contemporary twist. “I love to take fashion silhouettes that have staying power and give them a totally modernist element,” she said.

Standout styles in the Spring ’16 collection ($350-$700 retail) include a beach-themed line comprised of low heel slingbacks with a wave design and wedges embellished with sun and surf motifs; a bold group of black and white gladiator sandals and laser cut booties; and an espadrille with a multi-color heel to complement a range of tropical-themed heels.

Related Stories

Oysby made its first market appearance in August at FN Platform in Las Vegas and had instant success catching the eye of editors, even landing a spot in Marie Claire soon after. “The response at the launch was incredible and it was hard to believe that was my first time showing my brand at any trade show,” Otunla said.

Vamp caught up with Otunla about new heel heights, the addition of sneakers and the one essential component every new brand must have to gain customer confidence.

Vamp: What was your inspiration for the Spring ’16 collection?
Otunla: The whole idea was fun, feminine and fierce. My inspiration is always women and designs that help them feel those elements while wearing my footwear.


Vamp: What makes the line stand out to buyers that have seen it all?
Otunla: There are so many choices out there, but I keep seeing the same thing over and over again. I strive to give them something new and unique in upper design, heels and in uses of materials and colors.

Vamp: What’s one of the biggest roadblocks to launching a line in the U.S.?
Otunla: I would say finance is the biggest roadblock. Americans love validation and want to see that a brand has stood the test of time before they actually venture into it. This makes it difficult, or even impossible to sustain a brand that has neither adequate finance nor celebrity hype. The big luxury houses also have significant budgets for marketing and PR whilst a new brand may struggle in this area and get overlooked as a result.


Vamp: How important has your website been for both sales and exposure?
Otunla: Having an online business has certainly been very useful in providing a platform where customers can directly purchase our products and retailers can view existing collections. At the inception of my business, one of the most frustrating things was having such beautiful designs that many people loved and wanted to wear, but not being able to satisfy the customer needs since I didn’t have any stock lists at the time. In this day and age, where websites are popping up everywhere and one can launch a website with as little as $100, having a stock list is still very key in gaining customer confidence.

Vamp: What is your favorite part of your job?
Otunla: I’m most excited when my samples get delivered to me every season. It’s the most rewarding thing to see my designs actually come to life and eventually see my shoes on the runway.

Vamp: Name one woman you would love to see wearing your designs.
Otunla: I would say Rihanna, or perhaps, Emma Stone. I think these two women embody the brand message. They are fun, fearless and feminine. I also love their personal styles and even though they are two very different people, it goes to show that the Oysby woman really can’t be put in a box.


Vamp: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Otunla: I love what I do so it’s hard to say there’s a real difficult part. However, one thing that has certainly been challenging is combining the business with my new role as mother. Luckily, I’m surrounded by an incredibly supportive team and I’m quickly settling into this.

Vamp: Are there any other categories of footwear that you would like to design one day?
Otunla: Oh, I’m sure I will. As a matter of fact, we are adding sneakers to our Fall ’16 line. I will always look to see where lifestyle changes influence design and work into it.

Vamp: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received since starting your business?
Otunla: The best piece of advice I’ve ever received in business is to never make assumptions. No one can read the other person’s mind and it will be a huge mistake on anyone’s part to think that the next person knows what you mean if you don’t expressly state it.