Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford OBE (24 May 1956 – 3 January 2019) was a British fashion designer. Beginning in the mid-1980s he established an international reputation as one of the UK’s most respected and consistently relevant designers of men’s and womenswear clothing.
“At the Royal College of Art, when we had a brief introduction to the history of fashion, Black designers’ contributions to history were never really mentioned,” remembers Saul Nash, the Hackney-born designer and dancer, and current Fashion East recipient. One name that may not have made it onto RCA’s fashion history reading list, but has played a definitive role in establishing London as a major fashion capital is Joe Casely-Hayford.
Born in Kent in 1956 into a line of influential Ghanaian creative polymaths, Joe was one of the first Black British fashion designers to attain mainstream success. After graduating from Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1979, he started his career in the early 80s by upcycling surplus military tents into garments, before teaming up with his wife Maria to launch a namesake brand which originally specialised in shirting. His work in both menswear and womenswear earned him multiple nominations at the British Fashion Awards, as well as a broad fanbase that included everyone from Princess Diana to Lou Reed. “A lot of people had the issue that they couldn’t pigeon-hole him, everyone was always quite quick to make assumptions because of the colour of his skin. But his breadth of talent, which extended in so many different ways, made it impossible to define him as just one thing,” explains Charlie Casely-Hayford, Joe’s son who took over their joint business upon his father’s passing in 2019.”