For Brooklyn-based designer Kingsley Gbadegesin, a tank is more than just a top. The 27 year old, who is Black, queer, and femme, launched his label, K.ngsley, this summer during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. “It was like a light switch went off—to make the tanks and use the money to sustain and build a community,” Gbadegesin says. Two months in, and it has now quickly taken off as a buzzy fashion brand with a conscious; he releases drops then donates proceeds from them to non-profits that benefit Black, queer, and trans people.
Why tanks? “It sprouted from going out and nightlife culture,” Gbadegesin tells Vogue. He got the idea to rework the tank when he was heading to a party called “Fist” at Basement in Brooklyn. “I had 10 minutes to get there, and the tank I wanted to wear was dirty, so I just took another one of my tanks and made it a crop top,” he says. “But then I was like, ‘this isn’t gay enough.’” After a quick “snip-snip,” he then spontaneously made a more skin-revealing, cut-out tank that he called “very Regina George from Mean Girls.” When he got to the venue, he knew he had created a hit. “When I took off my coat at the door check, people were like, ‘Oh my god, where'd you get that?”
And so the tanks became K.ngsley, now a genderless brand that reworks tops with open backs, asymmetrical straps, and curved hemlines. It’s an ongoing exploration of his obsession with the basic pieces,and he wanted to create pieces that are universally flattering for all bodies. “I wear a lot of tanks, and I usually get them from the women's section,” he says. “But they would only fit right 50 percent of the time.” Gbadegesin’s latest release, which is out today, is his second drop since launching. It features a restock of the label’s best-selling styles, such as the Ian backless tank and the asymmetrical Fist tank.
For the new drop, the designer says he will also be donating 50 percent of proceeds of it towards non-profits that are providing aid to people currently protesting SARS (the Special Anti-Robber Squad) in Nigeria, the group that has been accused of profiling, extorting, and even torturing Nigerian citizens. “I am Nigerian, and to hear what my family is seeing back home is really scary,” says Gbadegesin. “I’m trying to help get them meals, water, PPE.” For the latest release, Gbadegesin also continued his mission statement of collaborating with creatives that fit his brand ethos by shooting the new pieces on model Jalen Steward. “He’s the embodiment of what I want my brand to be,” says Gbadegesin. “He wears long, acrylic nails and he’ll wear a skirt with an oversized hoodie. He doesn’t give a fuck.”
Activism will remain an important aspect of Gbadegesin’s brand going forward. Outside the label, Gbadegesin is still part of On the Ground, a group for Black and Queer people which has been a prominent presence at Black Lives Matter marches, protests, and vigils. He sees an opportunity to continue using fashion as a means to highlight all of these types of causes—as well as change the narrative around gender norms in general. “This collection is a celebration of living in your most authentic self, whether that be within your femme or however you choose to present yourself,” he says. “I feel most good when I’m powered from my femmeness. Femininity knows no bounds. Even though I may look like a Cis Black man, trust me, the moment I opened up my mouth, you're like, ‘Oh, she's one of us.’”