Last year, most of us were spending more time outdoors than ever before, finding new and safe ways to explore and reconnect with our environments. Parks, trails, and grassy nooks became safe havens outside of our homes—places where we could unwind and take deep sighs of maskless relief.
For Jade Akintola, being outside usually felt like “rejuvenation, calm, and joy,” she says. “There’s a lot of layers of pressure I put on myself, and when I do spend time outside, a lot of that just dissipates. It helps me check myself to understand that these problems are all manageable.”
But just a few months after pandemic lockdown began, the New York-based former marketing executive found herself feeling an uncomfortable level of disconnect on an outdoors-focused trip to San Diego. “We were staying near Solana Beach and it was an interesting time,” she recalls via Zoom, sitting in the foyer of her serene Brooklyn home. “It was after the passing of George Floyd, it was general COVID, and I was just more aware of certain things around being a Black woman. There was a heightened atmosphere, and it led me to think a little bit deeper about the outdoors and comfort levels and things like that.”
She noticed that in the outdoor leisure space, most brands were catering to the same white clientele. “I started looking for Black and Brown products, or just products that felt a little bit more relevant to me,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Oh, whoa, we’re pretty far from that.”
That realization marked the beginning of ITA, Akintola’s entirely self-funded outdoor leisure brand and community-driven platform (“ita” means “outside” in Yoruba: a tribute to her Nigerian roots). It began with a simple chair: one that could be used in a myriad of outdoor spaces, from the beach to the park—and look gorgeous while doing it.
“I was like, ‘Let’s make a more interesting beach chair that appeals to more modern sensibilities,’” she explains. She found a manufacturer and workshop in Mexico City that could make the chair and a matching table, and it all came together symbiotically.
The vibrant hand-woven Leisure Chair comes in three colors; each hue has a name with a significant meaning, like Oron-Yoruba for sky, described on the brand’s website as “inspired by the graduation of the vastness above us.” The chic table comes complete with rounded edges and a rigid surface in three colorways that match the chair.
It’s all part of Akintola’s plan to diversify and democratize how we interact with nature. “This industry really needs to be brought to the present,” she says, “and re-imagined for the future.” She is doing that through her products, as well as through ITA’s storytelling platform, Field Notes, where leisure-seekers share their experiences and knowledge about the outdoors.
She is also building an online marketplace where she’ll carry other outdoor brands. “By no means are we an authority in the space,” she says. “We want to make sure that there is a real community aspect throughout.” That includes a giveback program for artists and designers who need guidance as they create pieces and develop their brands.
Akintola says she hopes that people who use ITA’s products “feel comfortable first and foremost, and that they feel they have something that is timeless and chic.” She adds that she also hopes sitting in a Leisure Chair “feels more purposeful, like there is value in the way that it has been constructed and that it was made with the love of other cultures, and the intersection of design and the outdoors.” Good design and the outdoors: two things that should be for everyone.