How it All Started
Hey there! I’m Gabriel, Gabbana, Young Pirlo, but mostly known as Gaby Okito. I’m a 26 year-old fashion designer living with my sister in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. I’m starting this blog because I get a lot of questions about how I started Okito Brand and many are curious to know my story. Well, here it goes…
I was born in the Ivory Coast but my family is from the D.R. Congo. I Lived in the City of Abidjan until April of 2001. The country was on brinks of a civil war, so my parents did probably what every parent would do for their kids and moved us to the USA to have better opportunities in life. I moved to the U.S. when I was ten years old. It was unreal for me, being in the U.S. was a dream come true and still is. My first step in this country was at the John F. Kennedy International Airport. I was so excited because I knew for sure I was going to meet me childhood hero Chuck Norris – the man that always walked away with cuts and bruises after every explosion. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still waiting for that day to come. I was unreal to see so many white people around me. I felt like I was in a movie, because that was the only place I had seen so many white people speaking English.
Coming from West Africa, French was the only language I knew. I only knew 5 words in English but I won’t write them here (let’s just say they were lyrics from a Sisqo song and he was talking about underwear, if you guys don’t know him just Google him and you’ll know what I’m talking about). My family settled in Logan, UT – a small town about 2 hours north of Salt Lake City and 45 minutes from the Idaho border. In 2001, the population was about 43,000. I went to middle school and high school there. In 2007, I graduated high school at 16 years old – which is earlier than most kids …no, it wasn’t a genius thing, I just started school a little earlier than most. After that, I went to school at a junior college called Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ and played soccer there and also got my associate’s degree.
Let’s fast forward to 2011. I was attending college at UC Santa Barbara on a soccer scholarship. It was my last year at the school. By that time, I didn’t want to play soccer anymore because it was no longer in my heart. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t the same stepping onto the field. The joy that I used to get on the
field was gone. I loved the game and still do, but, honestly, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice all I had to reach the professional level. I always wanted to get into the fashion world and create my own brand.
It’s crazy to think I come from a lineage of fashion designers. Starting with my great grandfather, then my late Grandmother, Kaku Angelique Tumba, and my mother Muadi Tumba, who followed in her footsteps as well. My mother “Mama Tim” had a workshop in the district of Yopougon in Abidjan, which is the economic capital in the Ivory Coast.
I still remember going to her workshop and hearing the noise of the sewing machine and the fresh smell of the fabrics being cut. I remember always being well-dressed as a kid, because my mother always made sure we were fresh from head to toe. “J’ai vous est toujour bien habite,” she always said to me and my siblings, which in French means, “I always dressed you guys very well.”
Speaking of siblings, I give my brother (Tim Okito) all the credit in the world for introducing me to the fashion world. You name it – from Gucci, Evisu, Bape, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Guy LaRoche, True Religion, Red Monkey Jeans – I remember he used to order these really expensive pieces from EBay that you couldn’t find in regular stores. And of course, like most annoying little brothers who admired everything his older brother did, I started to fall in love with brands as well. I started copying his style from head to toe. Everything he wore was so cool to me. He’s my fashion idol and forever will be.
While I was in college, my friend, Alex, and I always talked about doing something big with our life, something legendary, something we will be remembered by when we are no longer in this world. I graduated college in June of 2012 and two weeks later I was doing a sales job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By that time, I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. The plan was to make enough money that summer to start my brand, but didn’t know how to go about it. I mostly took the job because my best friend Fabrice told me to go with him and I hadn’t seen him in over two years since he was serving his LDS mission in Austin, Texas.
That summer was an experience that changed my life forever.
I hated the job. It was humid, we had to go to the really rough parts of North Philly and, to top it off, I got robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight. It was horrible, but it taught me a lot about the world of business. My dad was strongly against me being in Philadelphia. He thought grad school was the best option for me, but I knew I would be miserable going to more school.
My dad kept pressuring me to go to grad school but I was opposed to it. I couldn’t find a job to save my life and my “girlfriend” at the time dumped me a day before I was supposed to move back to California. So I was at an all-time low. I felt so sorry for myself. I couldn’t believe my life was turning into nothing. A good family friend I knew I was going through a tough time and gave me a suggestion: “Do what makes you happy and everything will fall into place for you.” I knew what made me happy and that was making clothing, looking fresh, matching my shoes with my outfits and that stuff that goes with looking good.
I didn’t know how to go about it. But I said f*ck it, and told myself I was going to start my brand. I didn’t know where to start – it was all new to me. I knew if someone else did it I could do it, too. My first Okito piece was a black 95% cotton and 5% spandex T-shirt that I got at the Deseret Industries (if you’re not familiar with that, it’s an all-donation thrift store owned by the Mormon Church all over Utah and neighboring states). I have seen the best pieces of my life there. Like my Dolce & Gabbana blazer that I got when I was 17 for $4 or the Christian Dior Blazer my cousin from Newcastle, UK got for $8.
The trend at the time was to have the zipper on the side of the t-shirt. So I went to Joann’s –a fabric and craft store – got myself some zippers and had my mom stitch them on for me. I felt like a million bucks. At the time, you couldn’t get it anywhere but a high fashion house which had a hefty price ($150-$300) just for a t-shirt with side zippers. Now you can get them at your local H&M or Cotton On for less than $10. At the time, I really didn’t have many friends in Logan. So I really put all my time and effort into developing my brand. It was a lonely time, but I made loneliness my best friend. If that was what it took to get my brand
started, I was willing to do anything. All these experiences I had in life have been preparing me to get into the fashion game, I just had no idea then.
So this blog will be a tell-all of my experiences I have had and will have in the future of starting a fashion brand and I won’t hold anything back. I’ll tell you my story how it is and not just highlight the positive but also the difficult things other entrepreneurs won’t tell you about. Starting up “From Thought to Finish.”