Art curator and fashion guru Ini Iyamba has long been an advocate for the local creative community.
His apartment near Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis is an extension of that passion. The Twin Cities tastemaker has turned his home into a mini gallery of sorts, transforming unassuming rooms into art- and design-filled spaces that make a powerful impact.
Now that he's made the final decorating touches, the place he moved into a year ago finally feels like home, he said. "It wasn't until I put my art up that it was my place. It's a reflection of who I am."
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At home, items from Iyamba's art collection amassed over the years are prominently displayed in his airy, bright two-bedroom.
Playful, poppy pieces such as an Amy Winehouse print emulating Queen Elizabeth II by California artist Skyler Grey mingle with ones that evoke personal meaning.
He points to a favorite: an original chalk print by Francisco, a local artist from Germany, purchased circa 2016 at the former City Wide Artists gallery on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. While the face of the man in the piece is blurred, Iyamba feels a sense of recognition.
"There's a character named Bigger Thomas in 'Native Son,' a book about being an African in America," Iyamba said. "I've always had this image of who the black man was in this book. And that's what this image is to me when I see it — it's the story of the black man in America."
Pieces from local artists that Iyamba has collected from MN4MN shows, including a shoe sculpture by Ta-coumba T. Aiken, a helmet from Aaron Brand and a fashion image by William Clark, are near and dear to him. As is a commissioned portrait of his teenage daughter, Embriah taken by Shelly Mosman. Then there's the watercolor from his friend Arianne Zager that matches the poppy, playful nature of his daughter's room. Meanwhile, a woven piece from Kristen Thompson, another local artist, complements a Douglas fir accent board and zen-like statues that go with the vibe in Iyamba's room.
"I wanted to keep it natural and peaceful here," he said.
For Iyamba, the vice president of product design and development for Faribault Mill, art and design are often on his mind. He's the co-founder of MN4MN, which hosts events throughout the Twin Cities showcasing local artists, designers and businesses.
Iyamba said his appreciation for the arts formed at a young age.
"Being born and raised in Nigeria, I was surrounded by creatives" in a culture that emphasized an individual sense of style, he said.
Education also played an important role in Iyamba's upbringing: His mother's acceptance to grad school at the University of Minnesota prompted a move here. After graduating from high school at St. Thomas Academy, Iyamba headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied African American studies, literature and politics.
Returning to the Twin Cities in 1995, he set out to do his part in supporting the local creative community. In the early 2000s, he founded theSkini.com, which spotlighted the Twin Cities fashion, food and lifestyle scene during the online magazine's 10 year-run.
By then, fashion had already become a big part of Iyamba's life. He was a runway regular at fashion shows such as Dayton's Fash Bash, as well as a model for ad campaigns, including for Best Buy. Iyamba continued to branch out, eventually opening Ivy women's boutique followed by Ivy Men's, both gaining a fan base for a well-curated mix of exclusive, quality labels from around the globe.
"Classic with an edge," Iyamba said of his style philosophy.
This year, MN4MN, the art outfit Iyamba co-founded with Marcus Genzlinger, marks its 10-year anniversary. For Iyamba, throwing pop-up events featuring a curated mix of local artists has nurtured him in more ways than one.
"For me, supporting local artists is really important," he said. "And surrounding myself with creatives feeds my creativity."
Of course, the former boutique owner has a well-curated wardrobe that includes an overflowing, sizable collection of fedoras, caps and other hats that he often styles with trademark pins or lapels.
These days, Iyamba, 50, shows no signs of slowing down. He's active on Instagram (@initheskini), where he promotes the art, fashion and local business scene. As a trend consultant and former buyer for clothing retailers, Iyamba's design and development role at Faribault Mill is right up his alley. He's said it's an exciting time to be with the company as the Minnesota heritage brand looks toward its future while continuing to emphasize sustainable business practices.
"My team's goal is to elevate the brand, introduce new products and new categories so we can leave the brand for the next generation," he said.
When he finds the time, he continues to model on the side, most recently spotted in campaigns for Blu Dot, Target, Coolibar and Vasque.
Last summer, Iyamba and MN4MN co-founder Genzlinger launched a spinoff called SNT (pronounced saint), which sponsors pop-ups heavily focused on entertainment and the issues of our times.
"The entertainment mediums can change in terms of musicians, spoken word or installation art," he said.
Next up, SNT will host a March 23 event at the Watershed Spa in Minneapolis focusing on wellness with features such as meditation and yoga. "Addressing mental health is really important right now," Iyamba said.
As Iyamba sets out into the world every day to work on projects he believes in, he makes sure to take time out to acknowledge the meaning of a photograph he purposely located in the entryway. It's a scene captured by Nigerian photographer and friend Wale Agboola depicting extreme poverty.
"When I walk out the door and come back home every single day, I know I'm blessed to be doing what I'm doing," he said. "I am thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me."