Friday, July 22, 2011

CHINEDU UKABAM: Exclusive Interview

By Eva Fydrych


Last Thursday I had a pleasure to meet a Toronto based Nigerian designer Chinedu Ukabam of the clothing label Chinedesign. His latest collection called Afrotropolis is inspired by the African continent and includes gorgeous silk dresses, colourful tops and funky men's shirts; unique patterns and high quality fabrics.

Chinedu is the founder of  SUPAFRIK - an experimental “pop-up” shop/exhibition that features African inspired fashion, music, literature and photography. SUPAFRIK is taking place in Hotshot Gallery (181 Augusta Ave, Kensington Market) from July 15 - 31, 2011. Future installments of the exhibition are currently in the works for London, UK and Paris, France.

In an exclusive interview for the Fashion Studio, Chinedu talks about fashion, style, travelling, and his plans for the future...

Shirt from Afrotropolis collection by Chinedesign


Occupation: Fashion Designer
City: Toronto, Canada

FASHION STUDIO: What inspired you to become a fashion designer? How did you start? 

CHINEDU: I will tell you HOW... I'm also into music. I used to produce Hip Hop & R'n'B and I used to rap under the name Eye+Eye. And I had an album called „Love. Life. Music.” I had designed some T-Shirts for me and my band to wear on stage. They were just promotional T-Shirts, cause I'm also a graphic designer. And after the show was over, people were asking us: “Where I could get the shirt?”. Even though we hadn't have the plan to sell them, I said: “Oh, email me, I will find the way to get you the shirts”. And that was just it. In less then six weeks we sold 300 T-shirts of those designs. 

Then people began to ask me when my next collection was coming out or when my fashion show was. And I just made up the dates... I had to quickly begin designing things, so I could have enough to do a fashion show. And that was my first collection. I just simply said: “Yes, it's happening 3 months from now”.

FASHION STUDIO: So it all actually began by accident...

CHINEDU: Yes, I mean I've always been into fashion, but I was more of a consumer, not a producer.

FASHION STUDIO: Do you still have those T-shirts?

CHINEDU: I have one, the very first one. In fact my friend - who was my DJ at my birthday a few months ago - he gave me my very first shirt that I ever made, so it's framed on my wall now.

FASHION STUDIO: So it's not for sale anymore?

CHINEDU: No, no... But I may reproduce it in two years, because in two years I'll be celebrating 10 years of fashion. The stuff that I'm doing now is sort of beyond the T-shirts only, but that is how I began.

FASHION STUDIO: You travel a lot: New York, London, Paris... How travelling influenced your designs?

CHINEDU: Oh, huge... Because when you go to a city, there is a version of the city that you see as a tourist. And then, there's a version of the city that you see through the eyes of the people who live in the city. I'm very intrigued in finding out that other layer; what's really happening beneath the surface... Things that unless you live somewhere, you wouldn't know about.

When travelling, I sometimes see people on the street and I stop them and ask where they've got something from, or: “Where are you going tonight?” That's the best way, even if sometimes language is the barrier... So that's a very big inspiration for this shop.

FASHION STUDIO: What could you say about the fashion markets in those cities? What are the main differences and the main similarities?

CHINEDU: London is very very stylish and by "stylish" I mean trendy and changing fast. They are really on top of it. For them style is a very big thing. I don't even know if they see themselves that way, but for somebody who is not from there, that's how it looks. Very stylish, very funky, not afraid of colours. Despite the fat that it's a very grey place... But they love colour.

Paris, on the other hand, is actually a much brighter place, you know, I'm talking about weather-like, but they love grey. They love grey and navy blue. And they are more into classic, elegant stuff. And even though there is a funky side of Paris that I discovered, I would say the funky side of London is mainstream. They are both quite multicultural cities...

FASHION STUDIO: What would you say about street style in Toronto? How do people dress here?

CHINEDU: Toronto is a bit of mix and match. I don't think Toronto has a specific style, but it definitely has different style tribes. Ossington Street with its vintage style: girls would buy a full on vintage dress and wear it with a big belt. That was in a sort of almost ironic style, get super super dressy, but without being overclothed. And that was really cool and kind of unique to Toronto. And then you also have the Ascetes who wear very simple, very high quality clothes. Even if it's casual, it's very high quality. Then obviously the urban, hip hop side of things and the snickers culture; people who's actual outfit is in the shoes and everything else is based around the shoes.

FASHION STUDIO: How would you describe your own personal style?

CHINEDU: It's a little tough, because I think I'm interested in trying out different things. I would say that my style varies... I really like classic “British gentleman style”, but I always like to add an extra something. I would wear a classic well-tailored blazer, but the tie I would wear with it, would be a graphic prints tie from one of my lines or African prints. I definitely like an element of surprise in something that I'm wearing.

FASHION STUDIO: What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

CHINEDU: Maybe because I'm always looking forward, I have the feeling that Supafrik is gonna be bigger then anything that I've ever done.

FASHION STUDIO: What is your main goal as a fashion designer? What would you like to achieve in the future?

CHINEDU: I'll tell you my dreams. I would love to have my own space. And the reason why I say “space” and not “shop” is that I want it to be something like this. Bigger and better, but same idea. I don't know where... maybe not Toronto. Maybe London, maybe New York, eventually Toronto... But I need a place that has a lot of people coming in. So that's one dream.

Another one is: I would love to manufacture in Africa. My line, but also for other people. So actually set up a sustainable clothing factory and manufacture in Africa. Like Vivian Westwood, she has the new collection, the Ethical Africa project. And it's fantastic. I would love to do something like that. But do it where I have the factory and I invite other people to come and use it. So those are probably two of my biggest fashion related dreams.

And of course I would love to - one day soon - do a couture show. So I can let my imagination run wild, cause Africa has some very wild things in it...

By Eva Fydrych


All photos by Eva Fydrych


Read more about the Supafrik project: URBAN CONTEMPORARY AFRICANA

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