How would you start your own fashion brand?
For the two creative minds behind MCINO, Tope Akinwale and Niko Jasenko, it all started at the back of a lecture in UCD.
“We met studying computer science,” Tope explains, “Niko is a real techie but I’m somewhere in between so basically, I just wanted something I could do to take my mind off the course, like a project I could have and I said it to him.
“So we used to get two buses to UCD and on those journeys, we just used to just talk about different ideas and eventually we just said yeah, actually, let’s do this.”
The way Tope puts it; it just sounds incredibly simple and in theory it is, but when you’re so driven to create something people want to buy, attention to detail is key.
After a full day of lectures, the two men finally decided to make a fashion brand; that’s when MCINO – which stands for “money comes in not out” – was born, but it needed a logo.
“I remember the next day, we missed a couple of lectures and spent half of the time in uni just sitting there graphic designing the logos and at the start they were terrible,” Tope confesses with a laugh.
However, after taking one look at their website nowadays, it would be hard to believe that they could have started with something “terrible”, but every idea has to come from somewhere.
After a year of designing and redesigning their logo, Niko says they had way more questions than answers.
“Okay, you make a design, where do you print it? How do you get the T-shirts? Like, what do you do if you don’t know any of this?” he said.
“Tope has that sort of business mindset, I have the tech mindset and together we just said ‘we’ll figure it out’. We have that problem-solving instinct, if we don’t know how we’ll do it, we’ll still find a way.”
So, that’s exactly what they did and now they have manufacturers in Asia and Europe, while their T shirts are produced here in Ireland.
Yet with urban wear being such a saturated market, how does MCINO set itself apart from brands like Nike and Lululemon? For Tope, the answer is as simple as it is profound.
“The idea behind MCINO basically is an inclusive family where people can express themselves through fashion,” he said.
“So, different backgrounds, different skills, even if you look at me and Niko, he’s real techie, I’m more business but we’re working towards a common goal, we’re able to both express ourselves.”
Their message even managed to reach 50 Cent who was photographed in one of their t-shirts, something that still didn’t seem quite real to the two lads.
“We don’t necessarily actually sit back and appreciate what’s been done. When the 50 Cent thing happened. My mam made it her screensaver and her WhatsApp picture.
“It’s just amazing to see and it’s encouraging, like, these two lads can come up with something, and they can actually have somebody like 50 Cent – a legend – wearing, what they made,” Tope said, the wonder still in his voice.
“I think that’s the main thing we’d love to get across that, we’re from different backgrounds. I came from Nigeria and Niko from Lithuania, were able to come to Ireland get into the culture and actually make a difference.”
From here and after a lot of messages from women, MCINO decided to expand into women’s wear, something that Niko admits was intimidating at first.
“People were wearing it into clubs, events and the girls were seeing it. Tope was telling me, the girls are just, they’re asking for their own clothes.
“It got to the point where we had to make some of our men’s drop unisex so girls could get a chance to buy it as they started buying all of our men’s stuff like the Galaxy T-shirts, the Galaxy hoodies.
“They liked what we stood for, the designs, and we were just like, right, we need to organise a women’s line. And as two lads trying to organise a women’s line, it’s quite difficult as you can imagine, we’re two men we didn’t really understand the market but again we just said we’d figure it out,” Niko said.
Tope jumps in adding: “It’s funny because our women’s line currently is actually outperforming our men’s, which is hilarious.
“And I think now we have a much better idea of, you know, women’s clothing. We’re learning every day, like tall girl friendly and all these sorts of things. We’re trying to make sure that we’re on top of it the whole time.”
Though the lads admit they don’t have all the answers, they have drive and a desire to learn and grow. In their own words, they’ll figure it out.
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