• ila b

Spotlight on emerging brands: How CHIMU is empowering local artisans in Africa.

Originating in Cleveland, OH, Chimu fashion is a brand working to support artisans in African countries, and promote the accessibility of African wares in the United States.

Recently, I was lucky enough to interview Chioma herself, the mind behind the brand, to hear how just Chimu came to be, and discuss the future plans for the business.

1. What inspired the creation of your brand CHIMU?

Back home in Houston I go to a very Nigerian church. So many people wear Nigerian clothing. Everyone except my mom. One day someone in the church asked why my mom wouldn't wear Nigerian clothing given the fact she was born and raised there. She simply said, the amount of money she could use to buy one Nigerian outfit she can use to but two outfits at a local mall. The cost of course was beyond the price. Shipping and improper fittings were very costly. That was what inspired Chimu, I wanted a way to make the clothing more accessible to people living in the US. Where they could easily try stuff on, and see how things fit. Also to have people avoid long wait times for shipping.

2. How has the brand evolved since you began?

When I first started Chimu, I wanted everything to be Made in America. After I talked to some factories I realized it was not feasible to work with them at their price point since I only wanted 10-15 items made at a time, rather than 100s. So then, I started making the clothes myself. However with school, I became too busy to make the clothes, so I put out a 'Help Wanted' ad on Instagram asking for a seamstresses close to the Cleveland area (or willing to relocate to the Cleveland area). No one answered the ad for about 3 months.

One day this lady from Nigeria DM'd me asking if I still needed a seamstress.... Eventually I decided to give her a shot and we started working together. As I told more people about my idea, someone gave me the idea to partner up with other African seamstresses. I thought that was a good idea and started DM'ing many African brands that I liked. Now Chimu is a platform that strives to not only make African clothing more accessible, but to give these African seamstresses the respect, extra income, and exposure they deserve.

3. How do you work to promote the African artisans you work with?

So I tell the artisans to put their name/brand on whatever they make. So when a customer gets something from me, they know what artisan they are supporting. I also mention them on my instagram page whenever I post an item of their clothing. I also spread the world at festivals, fashion shows, vending events, really anywhere I can. Just so I can get their name out there.

4. Which products have the longest production time?

As of now the Sandrina skirts, named after my first model, takes the longest to produce due to shipping.

Shipping times vary from country to country. And right now the skirts come all the way from Zambia, so the shipping is a bit slower. In Zambia the faster shipping carriers are often very costly. So then they turn to more local options. However some carriers will sometimes not give a pricing quote unless the person is ready to ship in the fear of having their customers go elsewhere. This actually happened with the Sandrina skirts. So not only is shipping slower, but finding a carrier that works within our budget can be challenging and takes up extra time. The Sandrina skirts are made by a lovely lady named Betty Bulongo!

5. What impact do you hope to have on the world?

I want the world to stop seeing Africa as a place that can not produce quality things, especially in the realm of apparel. I want seamstresses, not only in Africa, but all over the world to gain the respect they deserve. It is not easy work and people can be so mean to them. I also want my business to help people in African nations have a chance to showcase their craft to the world!

6. Is there anything else you’d like to share about CHIMU?

Yes! I know many startup stories always talk about successes. When they do talk about failures, it is usually how they have failed in the past. I believe the reason for that is, while we like to hear about underdogs and how they beat the "system", we glorify people who have made it! Especially in the age of social media where many people post highlight reels instead of behind-the-scenes.

I want to tell readers that I am still struggling. I do not have everything figured out, I am not rolling in money, etc. The reason why I am saying this is because many people think if you've done a fashion show, have been on tv, or if you are in a magazine, then you have made it and have all your stuff together. I want to let people know that's not always the case. You can still be struggling, but you deserve to be in magazines, tv, etc. and have your truth heard.

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