Ella Otomewo recently joined us on our AW19 campaign shoot in the pretty valleys of Snowdonia. Not only does she look great in our garms, she rocks the spoken word world too. We caught up with Ella after the shoot and talked about her poetry and recent activist activity in Manchester...
Did you enjoy getting out into nature last week for the shoot?
It was just so beautiful! It was quite funny doing an Autumn/Winter shoot and the weather being so amazing and bright...not our usual UK weather! Typical haha. It was really fresh out there though, even though the sun was shining, it was still nice to wrap up warm and enjoy the big open spaces.
What do you think of the clothes? Be honest!
It's funny you ask that, I’m wearing WAWWA socks right now, they're great! I loved the plain Sand Pocket T-Shirt. It's really simple and neutral. A lot of the clothes I wear are brightly coloured vintage pieces that I get in charity shops. They can be quite garish prints and colours, so I like mixing in simple, good quality items that compliment a crazy jacket.
I've been thinking about minimalism and sustainability and a lot of the influences I see online are very neutral, everyone seems to wear more masculine or unisex patterns and silhouettes that are versatile and timeless. I like to be sustainable in this way also, but I also really like feminine items, so mixing together all sorts of bold styles really works for me. The clothes WAWWA offer are the kind of styles that fit into a lot of different wardrobes, which is great!
I also wear a lot of my parents clothes. Stuff they have had for years and has lasted. Both of them have really cool styles that I like to emulate. I get them from friends and family too.
So what brought you to Manchester?
I’m from Birmingham but I moved up here to study in Salford. I’ve been here for 5 years. I love living in the north and I live in a housing Co Op...it's nice being in a small community in a lovely old Victorian house.
So you perform poetry on a regular basis. How do you usually work when producing a poem? ...and is there a subject matter you find as a common thread in your work?
A lot of my friends are poets and often when they perform spoken word will write about different issues that affect them or people around them. This is an art form that makes issues a lot more acceptable as you are not hearing them from the likes of a politician that you don’t trust. I feel like poetry is a way of making a lot of issues more accessible, you can see them online, you can sit and watch them in the pub and theatre. It’s quite a good art form when sharing ideas.
I try not to gravitate too much towards certain topics. I don't want to be a poet who only writes about Manchester or relationships all of the time. I guess I’ve had different processes, I like to go to workshops as much as possible. There's one called Young Identity in the city which is amazing. I get to be surrounded by so many other inspiring and talented people. I try not to let it just be a solitary, lonely thing. Having a community around me is great, I’ll never be too good to attend a workshop. I’ll pop lines down in notes on my phone and come back to them another time. I’m trying to be more disciplined with it, I know poets that write at the same time every day which I commend!
So we saw some images of you in a protest to disrupt an arms fair recently! Want to go into this a little more for us?
So this was the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI), it happens every two years and it's the biggest arms fair in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. There’s been different groups that have made their way down to protest every day and the theme was “no faith in war”. I’m a quaker myself, and lots of us made our way down with people of all different faiths such as Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. We blocked the road entering the Excel centre in Manchester to disrupt the set up as much as possible. My group occupied the road for around 9 hours and then we held a worship at 3pm.
The police came around and told us if we didn't move they would start arresting people. Which I think it may have been illegal to interrupt and threaten or arrest people in worship but whatever, that happened! About 50 people got arrested that day. Some people did a lock in (this is where people interlock arms and lie down to unify in protest) and different groups did other things. It’s been a pretty constant effort from a host of different groups. CND and solidarity with Palestine are amongst the groups that made an appearance.
It's hard to think of a war happening when its not here in Manchester and it feels like something far away so we can ignore and distance ourselves from it. But it is connected to our lives and everyone around us. In terms of links between the environment and war, there is definitely an underlying current of profit to be made.
Police moved people by force?
Yeah people were being lifted away. On the day I was there, there was a lot of older people. I think the police were aware of this and think they may had been gentle compared to other days. They were still being carried away by police officers. They definitely treated different people differently.
Is there any influence from nature / environment on what you do?
It hasn't influenced my work much to be honest. It’s something I read about a lot and everyone is bombarded with the issues we're facing, which is a good thing. I just need to figure out where my own writing would fit and how I can actually help instead of adding to the panic that is rising.
All the information about the climate crisis is at our fingertips and people feel so helpless about it. It's kind of scary! Part of me knows that there's about 100 companies that are responsible for the vast vast majority of emotions and the way humankind has added to the crisis. At the same time though I am a consumer and there is stuff I can do. There is a balance of not holding the weight of the world on my shoulders but not being ignorant to it.