Designer Teni Adeola is an extraordinary student. A rising senior at The New School in New York City, Adeola—who is more popularly known as “Tia”—spends hours in the library, alternating between studying for her media studies courses and looking for inspiration for her growing fashion brand, Slashed by Tia. It’s this drive that has helped her build a company that, since its launch in 2016, has amassed a massive Instagram presence and caught the attention of superstars like SZA,, Lorde, and Gigi Hadid.
Did we mention she’s just 21?
Once you land on Slashed by Tia’s Instagram page, you’re met with dramatic, ruffled blouses and skirts in sheer pastels. These have become the brand’s signatures, making it a familiar name among the fashion community. Never mind that the designer behind them has no major design house gigs on her résumé—rather, is balancing a heavy academic schedule with a budding brand.
Tia began her career in fashion as an intern in Lagos, Nigeria. She was 12 when she was given an opportunity to work under designer Ituen Basi. Around that time, she began reading fashion history books, designer biographies, and old magazines; as well as taking more traditional, hands-on sewing classes and textile workshops. Basi would urge Tia to pursue this type of fashion scholarship and commit to research before designing and experimenting with complex silhouettes—a lesson that remains with her today.
For someone who has pretty much built her brand on Instagram, Tia’s process for finding inspiration is somewhat surprising. Reference books rather than social media? “I know it sounds kind of nerdy—like, you’re a designer, why are you reading?” says Tia. “If you want to do something that really stands out and if you want to do something that’s like, ‘Okay, that’s by her,’ just go to the library and read. Look through those archives, it’s really worth it.”
Ultimately, it was those books that lead her to ruffles, one of her brand’s most distinctive elements. During her senior year of high school, while studying at a boarding school in London, Tia wrote a dissertation on fashion and art from the 16th century Spanish Renaissance period. “I loved how the royals were painted, and the extravagant clothes they would wear,” she remembers. And that involved ruffled garments: “[They were] something that they always had, no matter how big or small… They just always looked so good painted by some of my favorite painters. They were always something that stuck with me.”
In Slashed by Tia’s world, though, ruffles are the uniform of a very different demographic: women who are unafraid to challenge societal norms and make daring fashion statements. “A lot of the time people wear see-through clothes and it’s often described as tacky or distasteful, but I feel like with my clothes, even though it may be see-through and you may be seeing boobs, there definitely is an artistic aspect to it,” Tia says. Many of her sheer-ruffle pieces expose nipples and are cut short, revealing quite a bit of arm, stomach, and leg. “With my clothes I definitely wanted to make them slightly more risque. It just goes against the whole idea of ruffles at the time and just how women were viewed at the time.”
Her brand message and design ethos has resonated with the fashion-obsessed, socially conscious Instagram generation: Some of the brand’s most high-profile clients, including Kali and SZA, got in touch with Tia via DM, the designer says. Kali wore a number of custom Slashed by Tia pieces while on tour; SZA wore a pink set for her Coachella 2018 performance. Lorde, Dua Lipa, and Abra have also donned Slashed by Tia, on-stage and off.
“I feel like when I make my clothes, I make them so the girl walks into the room and everyone’s like, ‘OMG, her outfit’,” Tia says. “I feel like you kind of need that with stage presence: Everyone needs to be like, ‘She looks amazing’… I do consider that when I’m making clothes. I’m like, Okay, what’s going to turn heads?”
Slashed by Tia’s celebrity clientele has attracted even more eyeballs to the brand. And the designer has capitalized on its ever-growing following to make a statement about diversity in fashion, sharing elaborate, conceptual lookbooks featuring primarily models of color surrounded by greenery and ornate interiors (inspired by Tia’s art history background).
Tia typically works with an all-woman production team to create video and photo editorials that play off Slashed by Tia’s soft, feminine embellishments: One of early photo shoot featured models adorned in her ruffle designs skateboarding around New York; a recent video lookbook featured a sword wielding model strutting through a Victorian-style home in a sheer ruffle two-piece set, surrounded by a striking crew of equally bad ass models.
Tia makes it a point to cast women of color—and black woman, in particular—in her campaigns because of their absence in the Renaissance paintings she studied, loved, and felt inspired by. “It’s so interesting because when I was doing my research in high school, I remember Googling ‘black people in renaissance paintings’,” she explains. “It was one, rare, and two, they were never really wearing ruffles. It was definitely something I wanted to incorporate into modern day dress and [make] accessible for the everyday girl to wear.” (The price point of the collection also supports this mission: Everything’s under $300.)
Slashed by Tia has participated in runway shows in Lagos, Paris, and New York, but will make her official New York Fashion Week debut in September, for the Spring 2018 season. Tia’s also finishing her degree, expecting to graduate next year.
Right now, her weekdays are spent in class, her evenings on the brand (she’s still a one-woman show, managing business operations, production planning, and marketing herself). But once Slashed by Tia’s her full-time occupation? Well, it’ll surely open her A-list client book up to even more people looking for edgy ruffle designs, meticulously slashed by Tia.