Atrait all great leaders must have in their arsenal. Côte is the army; Sheikh Tijan Jobe is the General. Alongside his trusted captains’, he has marched at a steady pace amassing a legion along the way that now has the momentum to breach the fortified walls of the establishment. Retreat is not an option.
Like all great men of valour, the 25-year-old fashion designer earned his stripes in the trenches before he rose to the summit of respect. To reach the level he is at today, he has fought long and hard. To reach the level he is at today, he has won numerous battles but experienced defeat. To reach the level he is at today, he always dared to utter one simple phrase: “Why not?” On June 26th, Côte Army will celebrate its fifth anniversary – a testament to the camp’s fortitude and diligence. Mirroring this inquisitive nature, I began the interview with one simple question: Why Fashion? His response: “I feel like it’s a necessity”. This necessity was the reason he enlisted in hand sowing classes at age 11 on the African west-coast in his native Gambia. Though the notions of the brand were far from concrete at this early age, it is this innate link to which the label acquired its name. Initially opting for ‘Coast’, upon research into the west’s colonial export history of ivory, gold and diamond, he settled upon what the populous knows today.
Though he attained his degree in Fashion Design from the University of Salford, it was the time spent at The Manchester College (Northenden Campus) which laid the foundations for the campaign to really begin. “When I first started, it was just me. I used to just sell clothes in Moss Side. T-shirts was a side hustle really”. Achieving relative success, he brought in Gibbs (his Norwegian-born captain/business partner), who by no coincidence studied the same course. Additionally, due to owning his own sowing machine, he specialised in creating custom appliques, a technique he continues today. Even in its infancy “there was a bigger dream than becoming a normal street-wear designer”. Even in the beginning, he was already planning how he would lay siege on the fashion world. “If I’m going to do fashion design, I needed to be credible” he insists. “From designing, printing cutting, I had to learn everything”.
I make sure whatever I’m doing, I’m in a space where I can create at the same time.
He has become so entrenched he regards fashion and his personal life as the “same thing”. Furthermore, the selective disposition he conveys regarding the company he keeps grants him flexibility and the creative space he encompasses. “I’ve only got the right people around me so I can make moves anytime”. When asked the identity of his biggest critics, his other captain, Isak (pictured) omitted a knowing laugh in the background. “We have different views”, he utters. “At the same time, he has a different direction which inspires him to bring a concept to the table, so I put myself in his shoes to see how he gets it”.
For Côte Army, a typical day consists of a self-sufficient team earnest in every endeavour with the ability to maximise on any opportunity that presents itself. “I feel like I’m a get up and go type person. I feel like right now, if someone got up and said let’s go London, I’d go”. And this would not be a purely recreational venture. He isn’t one to shy away from mobilising his troops to “do a shoot, meet someone, find a model on the street”. He isn’t one to miss a prospect. Furthering this ‘get up and go’ temperament, he confesses that ‘going out’ is his way to stay up to date. “I think that’s why I go out so much”. What the General regards as scouting, I see as shaking a leg. But don’t tell him I said that!
Though I jest, there is a semblance of truth to the above. He acknowledges his influences come from “art, music, artists, videos and sounds”. Expanding he states: “I feel like music inspires me to design. It’s weird. You can hear a lyric and think, rah, let me go do that”. From an art perspective, he pays homage in particular to the late Jean-Michel Basquiat affirming: “He’s one of my favourite artists. Definitely”. He is however adamant in his refusal to allow other designers impact his work. “If I was to look at another designer, that’s gonna influence me to design like them”. When asked what he considers himself to be, he answers: “I wouldn’t even call myself a designer. I’d call myself an artist or student – maybe”. This continual need to improve stems back to an earlier statement which still resonates: “Be a student always – don’t think that you know it all”.
You’ve always got to ask why.
The reason he loves fashion is simple: “making clothes – making people look good – feel good. If I make something, I’d rather someone else wear it than me”. Similar to No Sin’s Timmy Alafe, he regards seeing “the final product” as the best part. Though he feels happiest with “friends, praying or eating”, what excites him most is “shoots – definitely the shoots”. Why? “You have full creative control to do what you want”. Alongside his trusted captains’ “from the shooting, editing, posting – we do all dat”. This autonomy allows them “to get the content the right way you want it to be viewed”.
Presently, he is in an amazing position. “I’d say I’m in a great creative space mentally. It’s like I’m going through therapy – my mind keeps releasing”. With Gibbs, he is “working on a dual nationality” collection that will follow the current “+44 campaign” in a bid to “create an identity” to make the pieces “relatable”. “I feel like a collection is like a mix-tape – you have to listen to the full mix-tape to understand”. Isak added: “The next design has to come from the last”. There is a profound level of consciousness when creating. With each release, there is cohesion – a link to the previous. “I want you to wear the product and think why are you wearing it”. And I agree. Côte Army’s collections are suppose to open a dialogue.
The biggest challenge is staying consistent.
“Still going” is his biggest achievement thus far. “To be able to still be in conversation where people wanna talk about the brand” must be a proud feeling. From his solo venture selling T-shirts, to enlisting his captains’, to their first (and sold out) pop up event at Twenty Twenty Two (2015), to where they are today, this is an amazing feat. Yes, he has experienced triumph, but he has not yet vanquished the game. And he is in no rush. He is methodical. Patience has served him well. To him, success is immaterial – “it’s more of a feeling”.
In the next five years, he shall launch a charge on the fashion industry in a big way. In a flurry of imperatives, he lays out the battle plans for victory:
“We need to be having the biggest studio in Paris!”
“I want a whole design house!”
“We need to be doing runways!”
“Whatever Givenchy and Gucci have done – we need to be doing that!”
Incredible aspirations from an influential young man. The one that stuck with me the most:
“I wanna own a manufacturing company in Africa as well – hire workers and make sure the money is going there!”
And this is why he is in his current position. He inspires. Manchester may be his garrison, but with the barrage of pending releases, he shall wage war sacking whichever forts of fashion foolish enough to stand in his way. Côte is the army; Sheikh is the General. The coup de grace – global domination.