Thought Leadership

“Collaboration is a partnership”

In the latest episode of Behind the Face of Success Irene Agbontean lifts the lid on successful partnerships

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


“A collaboration is a partnership.” In the latest Behind the Face of Success podcast, Irene Agbontaen, Founder of TTYA,  explained the importance of collective success and pushing one another to do better. “I have always been surrounded by diverse communities and cultures,” she says, acknowledging the support and inspiration that has aided her on her journey to success.

Continuing the conversation which began at Advertising Week Europe, Visha Kudhail, Marketing Leader, Board Advisor and Podcast Host sat down with Irene Agbontaen, Founder of TTYA for a real and honest conversation about the truth behind Agbontaen’s success.

Inclusivity drives creativity

Agbontaen refers to her mother as a ‘liberal Nigerian’, giving her the space to be creative while maintaining the importance of education. She empowered Agbontaen to take fashion courses and explore her passion, yet maintained the importance of a good work ethic giving her which Agbontaen is grateful for.

Agbontaen’s first part-time job was at Selfridges, giving her exposure to the front lines of fashion. “Working at Selfridges allowed me experience in different departments,” says Agbontaen. Delving into areas like visual merchandising and display deepened Agbontaen’s relationship with fashion which began as a complicated one. Growing up tall she had found it difficult to find clothes that fit. “I always felt excluded. At Selfridges, there was a creative expression I was able to show through self-expression,” says Agbontaen.

“I didn’t start a fashion brand because I wanted to be the next Alexander Wang, I just wanted a long-sleeve top that would fit,” says Agbontaen, adding: “TTYA was born out of necessity.”

The intersection of fashion and music

Agbontaen’s experience working at the door of a nightclub saw her combine her passions for music and fashion. She shares that working at these parties enabled her to  see people freely expressing themselves. “Fashion was at that intersection, it was a freedom and a way to express yourself… There were real fashion statements made weekly,” she says.

Working on the door gave her leverage and power, and helped her to build her network and connections. “What I learnt from YoYo was the power of community,” says Agbontaen. In the era before social media, the party’s reputation was built by word of mouth and the power of connection and community. The experience taught Agbontaen the importance of connections and she maintains relationships made at YoYo to this day.

Finding the fire for success

Agbontaen attributes having a strong work ethic to being passionate about what she does and being flexible when priorities change. “I can’t reduce my height, all I can do is accept it. I built my brand on the foundation that there must be so many other girls like me,” she explains. Her passion for fashion and for helping other tall girls feel accepted fueled the fire of TTYA’s success.

Having worked at Selfridges and knowing its aim to be a one-stop-shop for everyone, Agbontaen was able to enter the retailer with her brand with a pitch that underlined where Selfridges was failing tall girls in its mission. “You’re excluding a whole infrastructure of people based on the fact you don’t make longer products.” Agbontaen recalls, “A lightbulb went off. That’s how I was able to get into Selfridges,” she adds. Being able to join the dots of industry knowledge, experience and passion, she was able to use her tenacity to grow.

Knowing your worth

Her road to success hasn’t always been smooth. At the start of TTYA’s growth, Agbontaen notes that some collaborations and partnerships didn’t serve her as they should. “If a brand wants to do a collab with you there’s a reason for that. Your brand can’t stay at 2 and theirs rise to 10,” says Agbontaen. The importance of knowing your worth and working with the right people who ensure everyone benefits enables better growth and is the sweet spot Agbontaen strives for today.

Beyond work, she champions making time for herself. “You only have one life to live,” she says. She also reminded listeners of the importance of doing what you can with what you have, seeing the world, exploring other cultures and striving for self-improvement.

Having good values, building up others and using passion as fuel has seen Agbontaen achieve success built on the solid foundations of good relationships. A powerful reminder for the wider marketing industry at a time when some organizations are in danger of placing process ahead of people.

Listen to the full conversation here.

This episode of Behind The Face of Sucess was recorded at Soho House. A huge thank you to the Soho House team for providing recording support and making space for inclusive conversations.