As soon as I saw his designs, I labeled him, ‘the LaQuan Smith of Nigeria.’ No matter how lame the comparison sounds, because, oh yes, he hasn’t dressed Rihanna or any top celebrity; Chukwuka Hillary Okeke’s designs are becoming staple for Nigerian students on Nigerian university campuses. Born in Enugu, bred in Lagos, but originally from Anambra, he speaks Yoruba (like mostIgbo kids do) and is currently a third year student of Computer Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where most view his dress sense as Bohemian and at once, eccentric and intricately weird.
He realized he wanted to become a designer in November of 2008. “The whole idea originated from the fact that I am very conscious about the things I wear,” he admits. “I dressed differently from my friends. They didn’t believe [the clothes] I wore were hand-made in Nigeria.” So, he braced up and decided to make his designs, to actually look more different. “I also felt I could make money from having my own line of clothing.”
It is not a fairy tale. Like other designers in Nigeria, he has challenges, but it is surprising to know that his major challenge is acquiring quality fabrics. “Asides that, I personally design the clothing, so getting the tailors to understand my designs can be extremely hectic,” he says. “And I’m a student.” Of course, this is very stressful.
However, he has a strong belief that his designs, which are targeted mainly at male students of universities in the country, will soon be available in showrooms in major cities across the country. “Definitely, this will be after my education,” he adds, very optimistic that he will be able to target people of the corporate world by then.
He is a big fan of classic shirt makers. He loves St. Michael’s, Cedarwood, T. M Lewin and George Essentials. “There are also some very good young Nigerian designers that I like,” he says. “ VinceAnthony and C&1 are a few out of many of my favourite Nigerian designers, but my best has always been Marks and Spencer.”
He is also a ‘faithful worshipper’ of hip hop and rap. “I’m in love with 50 Cent,” he laughs. “A bit of afrobeat, techno, pop and electronic can engage me too.” Still, these guys top his list: Ice Cube, Nas, Eminem, Mos Def and Tu-Face Idibia.
His debut collection is called, “90 Degrees” and they are in his words, “normal classic button up shirts mixed with a little bit of urban flavor.” So, he believes the future is bright for “90 Degrees”, as most of his customers are excited that the label is Nigerian and is being run by a young Nigerian. Nevertheless, even as it is currently a collection of shirts and jackets, he hopes to start making bespoke suits before the first quarter of next year.
“90 Degrees” shirts can be ordered by calling: 08032168038