celebrating africa’s influence in fashion with afropunk brooklyn vendor chinero nnamani

August 17, 2018
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Ahead of AFROPUNK Brooklyn 2018 next weekend we spoke to fashion designer and store owner Chinero Nnamani of Chinero Nnamani, a contemporary Pan-African label based in New York City. Raised in Florida and Nigeria, Chinero’s designs pay homage to her diasporic experience as well as her culture and heritage.

Coming to BK Fest? Stop by the Spin Thrift Market to say hi and shop Chinero Nnamani’s designs.

1. Tell us more about your company and it’s vision.

During my travels, my vision for my brand, Chinero Nnamani, started with a dawning realization of how vast Africa’s influence was in the customs and traditions of cultures all around the world. As a Nigerian-American, this inspired me and amazed me. From the folklore and religion of the Caribbeans, to the Pygmies of South Asia, to the cuisine and music of Latin America, and to the clothing and languages of African American culture; my vision is to showcase the blend of these enduring influences in my prints and clothing designs. Africa’s reach in multidimensional cultures have withstood the test of time, growing stronger, not only in African countries, but notable in its profound implantation into the history of other countries, allowing its influence to become ever more global. I want my brand to tell the same stories that cultural traditions all around the world tell. That Africa’s influence is strong, multicultural and beautiful.

2. What does AFROPUNK mean to you?

To me, Afropunk exemplifies freedom of expression, a freedom borne from a rejection of boundaries and boxes.

3. What is it like to be a black-owned business?

Being a black-owned business can feel a lot like playing catch up. There are plenty of obstacles that hinder success, and you have to always be in motion, jumping over hurdles, in a sometimes un-choreographed, but ever obstinate manner. I think for a lot of black-owned businesses, there aren’t many blue prints or mentors you can use to guide your way. You have to learn a lot along the journey, and learn from your mistakes and constantly strive forward. Being a black-owned business is to be ever growing, but to always find profound meaning in that growth.

4. What inspired you to start your business? What continues to inspire you?

I was inspired by color, nature, history, mathematics, and the cultural traditions of communities from the African Diaspora. I continue to be inspired by human emotions, most especially joy. I want my brand to elicit feelings of joy and pride from every wearer and onlooker. I love receiving the oohs and aahs from women and men who set sight on my products. I love how their eyes sparkle and they hold their heads higher, when they wear my brand. I love the spin of pride they do when the people around them compliment their outfits, and/or marvel at the colors.

5. What does the Black dollar mean to you personally and the success of your business?

The black dollar to me means freedom of expression and a path towards authentic representation. There are draining limitations that catering to the white gaze, and the white dollar can place on black individuals and black businesses. You see this in the hesitation some companies show in not elevating white representation or using diverse models. The Black dollar, to me, means freedom from white validation and control. The Black dollar also means freedom from the fear of being systematically punished for celebrating the beauty of black culture, black pride and the magnitude of black influence.

6. What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is the affirmation that African culture, and that Black culture in general, is beautiful and highly valuable. And this affirmation comes from joyful smiles, from compliments, and most certainly, it comes from patronage.

7. How does AFROPUNK influence the work that you do?

Afropunk encourages me to think outside the box, and to proudly challenge the traditional stereotypes and caricatures placed upon those from the African Diaspora. More importantly, Afropunk influences me to be honest and authentic. So much of Black identity can be distorted, and for those in power, it’s easy for Black narratives to be manipulated. The casualty of whitewashed history, and the discrediting of everything African, can wreak havoc on the collective psyche of African identity, thought and advancement. However, there are underlying similarities between all people from the African Diaspora, especially, within multi-cultural practices passed down from generation to generation…even within traditions that colonization and slavery tried to wipe out or distort…you can see the truth. You can see hints of authenticity peaking through; you can see hints of Africa. Everyday, Afropunk’s influence can be seen in my work as I strive to show the relevance of Black cultures and values to contemporary societies, in order to give credence to authentic, and intersectional, Black identity and expression.