Young Albany designer gets $100,000 grant

When Instagram first announced its inaugural #BlackDesignVisionaries grant program in June , Albany native Taofeek

When Instagram first announced its inaugural #BlackDesignVisionaries grant program in June , Albany native Taofeek Abijako, street-wear designer applied for it and then forgot that he did. To his surprise, he won. Abijako and his design brand, Head of State, have won the $100,000 Visionary Small Business Grant.

“It’s like one of those long waits that you eventually forget about,” said Abijako on Friday. “I feel really good about it. We’re definitely very privileged to be the recipient.”

Head of State was one of five recipients of a #BlackDesignVisionaries grant. This is a grant offered by @design, Instagram’s official account celebrating craft and creativity, in partnership with The Brooklyn Museum in New York City. The program is aimed at investing in up and coming Black designers and Black-led design businesses who according to the Brooklyn Museum, “offer experimental expressions of Black culture and have a powerful vision for the future.”

Abijako says he plans to use this grant to structure business side of his brand and to help it run more smoothly as an enterprise. He also hopes to use it to help further the initiatives that Head of State works with. These plans, however, are still rough and he is in the process of making detailed plans of action.

While based in New York City, Abijako still has an emotional connection to his home in Albany. A 2016 graduate of Albany High School, he started out painting pairs of Vans sneakers which he sold to his peers, eventually debuting his products in the New York Men’s Fashion Week. His designs are inspired by the communities he has grown up in: Albany and Lagos, Nigeria.

“I’ve spent half of my life in two different communities,” he said. “At least for me, it’s more of a personal understanding of who I am, my upbringing and also my assimilation to Western culture. And along with figuring out the balance between both sides, that’s what feeds into the overall inspiration of the brand.”

Abijako continues to be active in his community here in Albany’s South End, and tries to make a difference in both his homes.

“In the past, I’ve worked with Youth FX,” the arts creative founded and run in Albany by Bhawin Suchak, he said. “And especially during COVID-19 (I worked with) the South End Night Market. This happened the last Thursday of every month, during the summer. And a lot of people within the community are part of it.”

The South End Night Market helped businesses from Albany’s South End come together and help make up business that they had lost over the pandemic. It meant a lot to Abijako, as the owner of a Black-owned business himself, to be able to support other business owners.

He also worked with Youth Political Alliance, an organization that helped Capital Region youth register as first-time voters last year. Abijako hopes to use his platform to give back.

“The brand is really tied into my personal narrative,” he said. “Whatever it is, I’m pursuing, quote unquote, as an individual. It’s all tied into the brand’s aspiration when it comes to this.”