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The W in Designer: Kristine Anigwe on KA Originals & the Future of Fashion in the W

To say Kristine Anigwe’s collegiate basketball career was dominant would be a massive understatement. The 2016 USBWA Freshman of the Year for the California Golden Bears averaged a mind-boggling 23.1 PPG 16.4 RPG in her senior season. While she repped the “Golden Bears” in college, her color palette when styling Skylar Diggins-Smith this past season has been more about infusing neutral colors and raw emotions to Skylar’s chic swagger.

Kristine Anigwe was drafted to the Connecticut Sun with the 9th pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, with the reputation for her tenacity on the glass as an elite rebounder on the court and her calm, sophisticated style off the court. Her daily approach to dressing includes:

  • Wide-leg trousers that are chic enough for upscale events.
  • Long coats that remind her of London.
  • Form-fitting tops that hold their shape against the test of time.

These pieces, as well as her favorite shade of green, are the focus of her first collection from KA Originals, which Anigwe launched in March. While players like Skylar Diggins-Smith, Arike Ogunbowale, Azurá Stevens, and Diamond DeShields have worn her brand in tunnel walks, Anigwe has solidified her style influence on the league through styling and creating custom outfits for All-Star Weekend. 

Anigwe’s fashion sense also applies to how she maneuvers the fashion industry as a young business owner and creates eye-catching outfits for Diggins-Smith. “I feel amazing when I wear a bomb trench coat,” says Anigwe, “so I just want everyone to feel like how I feel.” She’s more interested in making clothes than being seen in them, and fashion is her key to navigating the world. Earlier this season, Anigwe balanced her time between playing for the Phoenix Mercury, styling herself and her clients, and handling everything from apparel design to photoshoots for KA Originals. 

Although Anigwe was waived by the Mercury in June, her presence is felt in her clients’ looks and at All-Star Weekend when she dressed Ogunbowale and Diggins-Smith in custom KA Originals pieces. It’s an impressive feat to style two players for the Orange Carpet, but it aligns with the elevated looks Anigwe naturally wears. While athletes typically gravitate towards casual clothing, Anigwe says her tailored trousers are as easy to wear as sweats. “That’s not dressing up at all, but for other people, that’s a lot, and I’m learning that as I work,” explains the rising stylist. 

Styling is a way for Anigwe to stay connected to the WNBA and an opportunity for her to build a legacy full of chic athlete style. She’s unique for combining her player’s perspective with her creative work. This all-new stylist profile feature explores her ongoing connection to the league and the new audiences she hopes to reach with KA Originals. 

Kirsten Chen: Why did you decide to start styling? 

Kristine Anigwe: I honestly do it for fun. It’s kind of how I speak– I talk a lot more when it’s about fashion than about basketball. I don’t really talk that much. I use fashion as my voice outside of my job. I’m all about going against what the norm of society is. I always want people to feel liberated. 

KC: What’s a common misconception that people have about style in the WNBA? 

KA: I feel like we have to be in a box; we only can wear certain things. [Players] go outside of the box, and I feel like people are confused. But fashion is supposed to be confusing. You’re supposed to try new things, start trends and see if other people follow. They don’t give us enough room to grow with fashion. I’m not [trying to look] like anything for anybody but myself– I’m seeing what I like, what I don’t like, and then I’m moving on. It’s just an outfit. I’m not only dressing up for the game. I’m dressing up for myself. 

KC: What inspires your elevated approach to styling athletes?  

KA: In the NBA, everyone’s so streetwear. Why not make it more intimate? Why not make it more classy? Why not clean it up a bit? Let’s bring in freaking suits. Let’s bring in more. In the W, you don’t really see a lot of European style. It’s more streetwear. I’m a little streetwear, but a lot of Europe. I was born in London. I try to take from those high-quality structured pieces. I’m trying to move away from cotton and stuff that’s always resurfacing. I’m trying to get into more Lycra or stretchier fabrics, silk wear, and stuff like that. 

KC: Tell me about your process for styling a client. 

KA: I ask questions, like how they view themselves in the world and what’s fashion to them– I’ll have them explain it to me. Then, I get their skin tone, and I do all the color matching. Once I know the colors, I make three different PDF files for their body type. Then, they look at it. They’re like, ‘Kris, I don’t like that.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s just keep some stuff that’s risky, stuff that people don’t wear.’ I do risky stuff. I’ll see a movie, and I’m like, ‘That’s so cool. That needs to come into real life.’ 

I’ve been working with people, figuring out what they like, how they view themselves, how I view them, and then coming together, building something, showing them why I use colors that I use. Like, the meaning of the color, ‘How did they feel when they wore that? Did you have to change? Were you uncomfortable?’ We work off that. Whatever they’re comfortable in, I try to get more stuff with that. 

KC: You stand out with your styling work for Skylar Diggins-Smith. It’s so different from what people might expect from a player.

KA: When she came to me, I was like, ‘What? Me?’ and she was like, ‘Girl, yes. I love how you dress. I love how you represent yourself.’ When she got a lot of attention, we started working more closely. Now, we work together every day. With Skylar, she’s a good client, like she trusts my vision. She really respects me. And we’re doing something different. 

I usually work with people that understand how I style. Me and Sky have this rule where she has to give 15% to 20% of her input. I’ll do the rest. With Sky, we’ve been doing a lot of black, and she’s like, ‘Okay, some color, Kris.’ I’m like, ‘Green,’ because she has really pretty olive skin. That’s really good for her undertones. I match [colors] with people that have underlying stuff. For me, I have anxiety, so I work with only neutral colors. 

KC: I love the deeper meanings behind your neutral color palettes. 

KA: I was raised like this; color helped me throughout my life. This is actually how I see the world. That’s why I take my job off the court seriously because it helps me analyze life. I’ve been dealing with anxiety my whole life. [Fashion] was an outlet for me, like having a hobby that helped me calm down. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do it. I’m not gonna keep doubting myself.’ And having KA Originals has helped me have the confidence to do that. 

KC: When did you decide to start building your brand, KA Originals? 

KA: Last summer, when I got away from LA, I was like, ‘This is the time I’m going to start.’ I already had connections within the fashion industry because I was traveling in London before the COVID happened. I knew what kind of designer I wanted to be. It’s been a growing process. People didn’t know I was into fashion or that I made clothes. I started doing photo shoots with my teammates overseas in Turkey, and that went crazy when I launched. I did a photoshoot with my team here. Now, I’m going with the flow, taking every opportunity and having fun playing basketball with my friends and styling them. It’s really cool. 

KC: Do you think there are types of clothes or styles that help people feel confident? 

KA: Yeah. The green suit and the black suit. When I made the black suit, I wanted to feel super powerful. I wanted to feel bold. I want people to be like, ‘Oh my God, what is she wearing?’ But I also wanted to be comfortable. My mom wore suits when she was going to work, and I’m like, ‘I want to look like my mom when I wear a suit, like super cool, sleek, powerful.’ I made a suit that fits my body type and added the pocket in the front. It’s not a real pocket. It has a lot of different elements of how I grew up. That’s the most powerful piece in my capsule right now. 

KC: Do you have any personal mantras that remind you to be confident? 

KA: I’ve been so much taller than everybody my whole life. Whatever I was wearing, people would stare at me. If I wear anything, people are going to say something. So I’m like, ‘What’s the problem?’ I should wear whatever I want. If I want to wear a dress that’s down to my ankles in an oversized coat, I’m going to wear it. Everyone’s going to stare at you regardless. You might as well be a goddess and feel like you’re special, worthy, and powerful. And the days are too freaking short. Life is too short. 

KC: The season is short. There’s only so many looks! 

KA: There’s only so many looks, so many photo ops, even overseas. I just want to live my life fully every day. 

KC: You wear many different hats at KA Originals– overseeing concepts for shoots and creative direction, styling, and designing apparel. What’s your favorite part in the whole process? 

KA: Designing is my favorite part. I cannot wait to design; I love it. I have a concept for each collection, so it all plays into one lens. My mind is always going. Concepts flow naturally. I can’t do things that don’t mean something to me. That’s why I have to wear so many hats until I figure things out or tell someone everything in my head, which is never going to happen. I have to direct the photo shoots because people haven’t worked with [models] that are 6′ 4″ before, and I am 6′ 4″, so I know how to pose, style, all that stuff. 

KC: Can you tell us about your team behind KA originals? Is there anyone you want to shout out? 

KA: I’m not going to mention all the names that are involved, but my mom, she’s dope. She helps me with everything. She’s known me my whole life, so she knows how my brain works. Without my family, period, I wouldn’t have this. And my social media team, they’re so good. My assistant is great. My whole team is amazing. I can’t thank them enough for helping me get to like this point. Everyone that’s a part of my team has poured so much into this project. Now, we’re seeing the success of all of our hard work, and we’re so happy and excited. 

KC: Your brand is still in its early stages, but do you have any goals that you’d like to share?

KA: Yeah. I’m crossing my fingers. Right now, some of the works are going international. So I’m excited about that. That’s going to help my family too because my family is all around the world. I want them to be able to wear and buy the pieces. 

KC: Is there anything else you wanted to add to this interview or say? 

KA: Thanking my former teammates and everyone that I’ve ever worked with. Like DB, Tiffany, Jasmine Thomas, the people here that did my photo shoot, Sky, Diamond, Meg, Sam, and both organizations that allow me to express myself, be myself, and grow. 

WNBA reporter Kirsten Chen writes a lifestyle & fashion column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter through @hotgothwriter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.