Photos by Wing Ta
The vice president of merchandising for CircleRock, a local men’s apparel company that just merged with Faribault Woolen Mill Co., likes to stay sharp. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ini Iyamba moved to the United States in 1983 at the age of 10, first to Salt Lake City and then to Minneapolis a year later so his mother could attend graduate school. “Nigerians are all about education. If you come across one of us, we’ll probably brag about our credentials,” he says.
Case in point, when Iyamba was 15 and enrolled in the local public school, he saw a brochure for Saint Thomas Academy and, drawn to its military aesthetic and college prep curriculum, asked his parents if he could apply. From there, he went on to the University of Wisconsin—Madison, where he studied business before switching to a major in African American studies. “I took a few classes and learned about great African American artists such as Archibald Motley, Jacob Lawrence, and Langston Hughes, and I fell in love with it,” he says.
Art, fashion, and social issues have played a significant role in Iyamba’s life and work. The home he shares with wife Heidi Waller and their 13-year-old daughter Embriah—a 1956 midcentury modern in the Browndale neighborhood of St. Louis Park—is no exception.
The house is filled with a collection of pieces from local artists and a mix of modern and vintage furnishings. A striking black-and-white photograph of a naked man washing his clothes on a busy Ghanaian street sits next to an antique chest from Waller’s grandmother. The photo was from former Minnesotan, artist, and fellow Nigerian, Wale Agboola, and Iyamba says, “It reminds me every time I leave the house to be grateful for all that I have, for family and the people around me.”
Sprinkled throughout the house is evidence of his passion projects. A gallery wall in the living room features a photograph, also by Agboola, of a motorcycle helmet painted by Valerie Carpender for MN4MN, an organization Iyamba started to support local designers. Other pieces include a colorful print by Jennifer Davis, the artist who designed the T-shirt for his Right Justified line that benefits the World Wildlife Fund, and Iyamba’s favorite thing in the house: a self-portrait Embriah made when she was five. A Douglas fir end grain wall and a petrified wood and steel display table are from Ivy, his clothing store that closed in 2010.
Iyamba describes his style as “classic with an edge.” The edge not only refers to his fearless accessorizing (think necklaces, bracelets, lapel pins, and hats) but also the precise clip of his beard and crisp tailoring of his clothing. “Fit is everything,” he says. “A good tailor is your best friend.”
Influencer | Ini Iyamba
Does your Nigerian heritage manifest itself in your style?
There are Nigerian influences in every aspect of my style because culturally, we’re taught at an early age to walk in and own the room with confidence.
Any favorite local shops?
June is my favorite resale shop, and I like The Golden Pearl for vintage, though I still miss Tatters. For new, there’s Martin Patrick, but I really love the old-school feel at Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul—it’s like walking into a different world.
Are there any specific vintage items you wish you owned?
My dad’s original record collection, any sport coat by Yves Saint Laurent, or the iconic red leather jacket with zippers worn by Michael Jackson in the “Beat It” video.
Style pet peeves?
I wish people here wouldn’t play it so safe. And make more of an effort! Leggings and logoed puffer jackets aren’t original.
Any changes in store now that CircleRock and Faribault have merged?
Faribault is a great Minnesota company. We’re looking forward to building on their 155 years of heritage to grow the brand. Look for new colors and patterns in the iconic wool blankets and a few new apparel items.