Darlene & Lizzy Okpo, Designers

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replies

Darlene : In 2010, we started the line William Okpo. Originally, we wanted to start out with a boutique, but when we were coming up with the name, we decided to go ahead and do a ready-to-wear label. Our dad is called William and we always loved his style when we were growing up so we were just like, “Why don’t we just name it after him!” There are all these pictures of him in the '70s, when he’d just arrived in the US, and it’s unbelievable—he looks incredible! You know, you always get that stereotype of when immigrants come to New York, especially being Nigerian, where it’s like you’re just gonna be wearing African Kente cloth. But he was really styled, head to toe, with his fro and everything. So, he inspired us then—and he still does now. He irons every single day! And he picks out his clothes for work a week in advance, down to his tie and cologne.

Lizzy : So, we started out with simple tailoring and then, as we got deeper into the season, we started to find our niche—we’re just New York City girls and felt that something in the market was missing. We live in this big, bright city and I don’t want to wear black all the time. I want to wear a big print walking down 34th Street or Broadway. So it started gearing towards, “What would we wear!”

HAIR

Darlene : It’s the hairstyle that makes the whole outfit. People don’t realize that hair is everything—it dictates what I want to wear. Lately, it’s like we’ve been setting our own vision…I won’t look at a magazine or a TV for hair inspiration.

Lizzy : It’s straight from the dome.

Darlene : When you love hair, I think it just comes to you. One day I’m like, ‘Alright. I want to do straight hair,’ or, ‘There’s a hairstyle that I want to try next but I’ve just got to work up to it.’ Braids are all types of craziness so I have to gear up for them.

Lizzy : We never go to hair stylists. Our older sister always told us before we went away for school, ‘You’d better not have people touching your hair.’ I guess that idea stuck—like, you just were not allowed to have other people in your hair. It’s something that all young girls in our community went to school understanding—let nobody touch your hair, it was just bad luck to do it. So with that in mind, we just always did our own hair. My older sister would do it sometimes but no one from outside of our family would be able to touch it. We used to do our own braids and everything…me and Darlene would spend 10, 12 hours braiding. Our sister taught us how and then we kind of surpassed it. Darlene just started doing this new thing, crocheting hair. It’s amazing.

Darlene : And Lizzy’s been wearing hats, aka wigs. She’ll be all, “I need a new hat!” and people will be like, “What!” I like the word hat better than wig.

Lizzy : I don’t see it as hair. I mean, I don’t see wigs as anything weird or taboo or anything. It’s just a fun thing to do to play with your hair.

Darlene : Yeah. And we do test trials on each other—Lizzy will test a new hairstyle and I’ll look and be like, “Oh I’m gonna do that' and then I’ll test something and she’ll be ask, “Oh! Can you do that to my hair!”

Lizzy : We’re each other’s sample models!

SKIN & BODY

Lizzy : Growing up, we ran track. So we would always come home sore and I’d say, “Dad, my knee hurts!” So he would tell me to go lay down and then go and get this “African cream!” It was raw and had hair strings and grass in it and it smelled like cow doo-doo. But he would be all, “It’s African medicine. It’s going to heal you!” You have a headache? He goes “Put African cream on it!” And then, about five years ago we’re walking down 125th Street and somebody was using it and I’m like, “Oh you know about African medicine!”

Darlene : And they said, “No…It’s shea butter!” But he’d always called it “African cream, African medicine!” Shea butter!

Lizzy : We thought it was this magic potion that our dad got straight from the motherlands. [Laughs]

Darlene : They’re selling it right on 125th Street and we’re sitting there going, “This man fooled us. We’re thinking that we had some magical cream!” But his skin is beautiful because he uses it so much. Lizzy has got me into using more natural stuff like coconut oil, castor oil. Everyone asks, “What do you put on your face!” Literally, this is my beauty regime—I use soap from Whole Foods, then I put “African cream' on my face and I’ll mix it in with a little cocoa butter. Then, I just put on my eyeliner and some blush. I don’t use any foundation at all. I don’t like it. I hate when girls cake makeup on their face because I feel like if you use all those products then it takes away from your skin and people forget what you look like.

Lizzy : Yeah, we just buy a bunch of different soaps at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, whether it’s rosemary or lavender or tea tree, and put them in a little bag. I love anything rosemary and lavender. Growing up, I used to use a lot of black soap, but I stopped a few years ago.

Darlene : Black soap is really good because it’s an anti-bacterial—my dad used it all the time. So if I ever break out, I’ll go to the beauty supply store and get it.

Lizzy : My thing is just strictly shea butter and coconut oil. Whatever I can put on my hair, I like to also be able to put on my feet. And if it can go on my hair and feet, then I just use it all over my body.

Darlene : She has my dad’s habit. She mixes different stuff together and says, “Try this!” and I’m like, “No. I don’t want to try it. I’m not going to go to the hospital because you decided to mix things. You’re not a chemist, OK!”

Lizzy : I do that instead of makeup. The only thing I'll do occasionally is eyeliner. I just bought my first thing of mascara like last summer. It's not that I don't like makeup but when other people do it, they make me look like a drag queen. And when your neck and your face don’t match, that’s very insulting and you see it so often.

FRAGRANCE

Lizzy : Last year I tried something new. I don’t really like deodorant, so I just stopped using it from February to July, and would use oils instead. Then it got to 95 degrees and I was like, “No girl, back to deodorant!” But, for the most part, I don’t really put it on that often...but essential oils are great.

Darlene : You’ve got to go to specific locations to find the good oils. There’s this Indian shop on 2nd Avenue and 125th that has every type. You’ve got to watch that movie Perfume— I keep telling everyone to watch it. It’s about this guy who was obsessed with scent and drove everyone crazy with this one that he made. When I saw it, I was like “Oh, my oils!” Because when I’m wearing them, people go crazy, they’re always asking, “What do you have on!”

NAILS

Lizzy : I’m not really a nail polish girl either. I took Darlene to this place to get her nails done on her birthday and she picked out this color and I was like “Oh my gosh. It looks so beautiful on her complexion!” So she went to go buy it but, well, I’m not the best at painting. I think the summer before last I would only paint my left hand… now I just use Darlene.

Darlene : I like designs. I go to this one place on Kingston and Pacific and get a manicure and a pedicure for $17.99. She does a design for me for $5 extra and they are so sick. I don’t use a specific brand, I just gravitate towards color…lately, I’ve been obsessed with blue. And then, I never had yellow before but Lizzy just said it popped out so well when we were at the salon so I got it.

SHOPPING

Darlene : You know what’s so funny? People think that you have to go a crazy expensive store to get your beauty products when really, you just have to find one spot that sells everything. One of my friends goes on Amazon for her beauty products, she’s always trying to find the perfect whatever to do her hair. And I’m just like, “You have a beauty supply store right up the block from you!” But she refused to go there even though it has everything…she’s spending her money on products and shipping when she could just get coconut cooking oil! I guess it all depends...For African-American girls it’s different, because of our hair texture—half the time they’re just putting water in your product and it’s not doing anything for your hair, it just ends up being dry. And that’s why people have their faces breaking out, because they’re using stuff that they’re not supposed to be using.

Lizzy : It’s craziness. This Dr. Bronner's soap is a great example. You can use this for washing your dishes, cleaning your tub, for your hair, for your skin… And I’ve had it for months! I’m so cheap with it that I never run out.

Darlene : People find that idea weird but I’m telling you—put it on your skin. Put it in your hair.

Lizzy : If you can’t use it for everything then I think you should question it.

Darlene : Yup. I’m about to go get some oils right now.

—as told to ITG

Darlene and Lizzy Okpo photographed by Brayden Olson.

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