Fashion Talk: SUPAFRIK Creator & Fashion Designer Chinedu Ukabam
There is increasing attention on what the New York Times has dubbed “The Rebranding of Africa.” Designers worldwide, both native and mainstream, have taken notice. Chinedu Ukabam, creator of SUPAFRIK, an urban, contemporary, africana pop-up shop/gallery and fashion designer of of the clothing label Chinedesign, has taken opportunity to make his imprint on the movement. SUPAFRIK, an acclaimed traveling pop-up shop/gallery is making its U.S. debut in Washington, D.C. from October 18th – October 21st. Read on below to learn more in our All Things Fashion DC exclusive interview with Chinedu Ukabam!
At what age did you start designing and how did you become so interested in fashion?
I started design graphic tees when I was about 23 and initially it was just to promote my music under the stage name Eye Plus Eye. I have always been interested in fashion. Even when I didn’t have good taste, I cared very much about clothes. In that sense I don’t think I am that different from the average person other than the fact that I chose to become more hands on with it.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
The Chinedesign aesthetic is still evolving but I think the graphic element is always strong in my work because I have a background in graphic design. I also like remix and re-contextualise stagnant fashion staples.
Do you think your experiences and education overseas will help your business succeed in the US?
Going to business school in Paris just added some polish and context to a path I was already navigating with intuition. My school graduates some of the top leaders in fashion and luxury business and being able to tap into that network and have access to its resources was invaluable. The time I spent overseas also opened my mind to different ways of looking at retail and that is when I began to imagine it not just as commerce but as a communal experience. At the same time, the US market also has its idiosyncrasies so this will be a learning experience.
What was your original inspiration for you Afrotropolis line?
I took a two year hiatus from designing and kept a notebook of ideas on what a modern collection with African inspiration could look like. African and diasporan culture is so rich and the fashion world was barely scratching the surface. The Ndebele pattern silk dress was the first piece I designed. When I put the sketch up on my Facebook page, the tremendous response I got let me know that I was onto something special.
On your website where you show your collection there’s a picture on the top of the page saying “Future Vintage”. What does that mean to you?
It is an aspirational motivator. I want to create clothes today that will become tomorrow’s cherished vintage. Something that is passed on to the next generation and not just a throwaway fast fashion trend.
How did you come up with the concept for SUPAFRIK being both a pop-up design shop and art gallery?
Concept shops have been around for some time like Colette in Paris or Dover Street Market in London, I just zoomed in on a niche. The concept for SUPAFRIK was to have a shop that encapsulated the “Afropolitan” lifestyle and I wanted to use the pop-up to test demand and also prime the market. Fashion and artwork are the main components but we’ve also had music, books, homeware and even food. The way it is set up almost everything in the space is for sale. Hopefully, the gallery format encourages people to look at everything with an artful eye and the shopping angle is there to remind them that the art is not only for looking at…hahaha
Why did you decide to open SUPAFRIK in Washington DC?
The producer for this edition (Addis) was very familiar with and fond of DC and she pitched the idea of doing it there. She introduced me to Allison of Lunchbox Theory who was also interested in the idea and we started ironing out the details. DC has a great art scene, a cluster of colleges and a vibrant African community. Really its a no-brainer and the great response so far undersigns that. I am excited to be having our US debut here and impressed by the featured visual artists who were drawn mostly from the DMV area. We’re talking about another DC stop already!
Do you hope to expand in the DC area?
Definitely. The pop-up shop always makes a big splash but the long term goal is to introduce these international yet niche brands to a new market through being picked up by local boutiques or increasing their online sales.
Where do you see your business and designs in five years from now?
The SUPAFRIK traveling pop-up will keep on traveling and popping up! New York, London, Paris, Tokyo. Outer-space. Mars, maybe? The Chinedesign label will keep on churning out Future Vintage.