At home with… Irene Agbontaen

Jessica Gianelli

Irene Agbontaen is a woman used to getting things done. As the founder of her brand, TTYA, and a notable cultural innovator, she hasn’t let COVID-19 thwart her; from industry talks from her comfort of her abode, to a 100k running challenge. She is, however, also embracing the slowness of unforeseen circumstance, making time for introspection and closer attention to mental wellness. While recognising the difficulties that come along with this cataclysmic period in time – for areas of community justice, and the rights and visibility of black people in society – she too offers perspective for the illuminating nature of the moment, highlighting the necessity for a reset, and the opportunity apparent in change that perhaps we can all benefit from.

JG: Where are you spending your quarantine?
IA: I live in Brixton, south London. I’m lucky enough to have a few large parks close by as exercise has helped me so much during these quarantine times.
JG:  It’s a bit difficult distinguishing through weekdays and weekends when all days are spent at home! How does a “normal”day in lockdown look for you?
IA: I’ve found routine has helped with navigating through quarantine. My day starts with exercise. Instagram live has been so great for this. My friend Ciara (bodybyciara) runs a daily workout which often has over 2500 women everyday working out together. Its great motivation and gives me the power up i need. Post workout i make a juice or smoothie – I ended posting these on my Instagram account as hundreds of people would DM me asking for the recipes. The great thing about this time is i think its really been a time for self reflection. Health is wealth and i think one positive of COVID 19 is that has forced us to master rest and really look after ourselves. Most of my meetings take place over zoom now so i schedule my work day around this. I try to have my last zoom by 5 and log off from being online. I’ve spent a lot time going for walks and running. Its really helped with my mental health. Being home I have to say my cooking skills have improved lol. I spend my evenings mostly catching up with friends over FaceTime.
JG: What does downtime consist of?
IA: At the moment the weather has been really great in London. I have a massive green outside my home so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting outside. Making it fun by taking my lunch outside and my favourite book. I’m currently reading Natives by Akala. 
JG: Your brand TTYA puts forth a lovely ethos of inclusion and visibility. In this especially sensitive time for black people across the world, how are you finding peace? And how do you envision progress, especially in your areas of influence?
IA: The last few week have been extremely traumatic. I think for us to really grasp the extent of the frustration i think we need to address the domino effect that has taken place. First of all we have Corona Virus. We are seeing black people are disproportionally effected. The virus was exposing community injustice. Then the Amy Cooper story breaks and goes viral. We see a white woman use racism in a systematic and very structured way. She literally weaponised her white privilege whilst fully in the wrong. Then we had the case of Ahmaud Arbery – an unarmed black man fatally shot dead whilst jogging.  Then we had the tragic death of George Floyd. The straw that broke the camels back. Soo many emotions. You feel helpless, angry, frustrated all at the same time whilst simultaneously triggered injustices you have experienced in your own life. It was upsetting so see so many brands coming out standing with injustice and anti-racism when there internal business structures do not reflect the same. I’ve tried my best to use my platform to speak out about this and also encourage brands to use this time to really look at internal change in their current business structures. Is it reflecting the same messaging you are posting on social media? For me progress looks like real diversity in the workplace, from exec level down. Closing the 3.2 billion pay gap between white and black, Asian and minority workers in the UK.
JG: What is your approach to keeping healthy and balanced at home?
IA: Having a healthy balance with social media has definitely played a big role in my mental health. Running has also helped me a lot. I started a 100 kilometre running challenge which ended up having over 250 + runners for the month of May. So i would strongly recommend exercise.
JG: As a designer, and cultural innovator, both fashion and presence must be part of your day to day. How are you approaching getting dressed, and making yourself up?
IA: If i’m honest i’ve really been enjoying the minimalistic quarantine lifestyle. Me and my friends have really invested in self care Sundays. Face masks, deep conditioning hair treatments. I even invested in a UV light so i can do my nails myself.
JG: Your talk series, TTYA Talks seems to have taken advantage of an otherwise bad situation, and seems like a really lovely way to continue engagement from within isolation. How do you think the podcast as well as Instagram Live Q&A’s have helped you to keep your message alive?
IA: I recorded the first episode pre lock down with Leomie Anderson and Neelam Gill. I had planned on recording the remaining in the studio then we went in to lock down! The great thing about lockdown is that everyone was at home and it almost made it easier to lock all my guests down. Each episode invites guests from the worlds of fashion, business, entrepreneurship, and culture onto the show, to discuss their work, lives, businesses and ambitions, alongside topical themes. The Instagram lives makes the podcast more interactive as listeners can directly ask the guests any questions they had from the episode.
JG: Working out, looking fresh, and casting a positive shadow on your origins are just some of the things you’ve been up to over the last year. Are there any new habits or hobbies you’ve been gravitating towards?
IA: Lockdown has really made me think about legacy. Without getting too deep I’ve really had time to think about, what long lasting impact am I going to be able to have within my community? I have to represent the change i would want my kids to see
JG: What is your go to riddim for the perfect home vibes?
IA: Snow Aalegra – Whoa
JG: The world is looking pretty grim at the moment, but hope is what we all need to will the light back into our days. Is there any tidbit of positivity you can share that’s helping you feel even just a little bit lighter? IA: I don’t think the world is looking grim at all – I think its all down to perception. My perception has been theres a reason why this is all happening. I’m using this as a master reset especially as my life was previously so fast paced. I’ve seen my god son learn how to ride a bike and build his confidence, had more time to really get to know myself and the freedom to set my own work hours. If anything I’ve learnt quarantine really is what you make it.