Chinasa Chukwu weaves an ethical narrative into her London-based womenswear label
A peek inside the wardrobe of Chinasa Chukwu would reveal a selection of white, black and blue button-down shirts and self-customised jeans, amidst an assortment of chunky gold jewellery and the occasional statement piece. The apparent simplicity yet appealing refinedness of her personal style reflects the aesthetic of her London-based brand, Weruzo. Featuring modern, tailored silhouettes with precise cuts and rich textures, Weruzo is the epitome of luxurious and intelligent womenswear. A conversation with Chukwu reveals that the road into fashion design doesn’t always have to follow a set path, nor does one need to adhere to old rules. Indeed, Chukwu shows us that you can march to the beat of your own drum, or in her case, sew with whichever threads your heart desires
A few months shy of completing her law degree at King’s College London, Chukwu secured an internship at MaxMara, which became her first foray into the fashion industry. “Growing up I had a real connection to the idea of construction. At first I wanted to be an architect and then I was convinced I was going to be a musician. I was always interested in the arts and the idea of production, so fashion design wasn’t out of left field for me,” Chukwu explains. Stints at Sarah Baadarani, Erdem and the London College of Fashion followed, before launching Weruzo in 2015. “My mum told me ‘It’s fine, just start in a tiny room, it’ll make a great story’,” and sure enough, it did. Chukwu is now three collections in and has developed a compelling label that exudes understated elegance. Or as she describes it, her clothes are “quietly distinctive” and made for women who are “complicated, considered, cosmopolitan”
“I wanted a fabric that was tactile and that had craftsmanship behind it, and by serendipity I came across akwete in my mum’s trunk”
A characteristic element of Chukwu’s designs is her use of akwete, a handwoven textile produced in the south eastern region of Nigeria, where her family hails from. “I wanted something that bridged the gap between my experiences when I went back to Nigeria and my experiences growing up in England. I wanted a fabric that was tactile and that had craftsmanship behind it, and by serendipity I came across akwete in my mum’s trunk.” The traditional fabric features in many of her garments and incorporates unique blends of silk, merino wool, alpaca and organic cotton. Yet her desire to develop the heritage method extends beyond its beautiful appearance and artisanal quality - for Chukwu choosing fabrics that are sustainable and ethically sourced is also important.
Indeed, Weruzo was in large part borne out of a desire to develop a brand “that didn’t have the shadow of sustainability over it.” She recoils as she recalls the time when eco fashion comprised almost exclusively of bamboo accessories and organic t-shirts. “That was all you could get, and it was like, what if someone wanted a really nice evening dress?” The answer lay in her many visits to Nigeria where she developed relationships with akwete creators. “I learnt their stories. I know for example, the daughter of the main weaver and how many hours she works on it.” By bringing demand for this labour intensive fabric to the region, Chukwu is providing a group of women with a fair income stream, and in making only a limited number of garments, she ensures that the waste of resources is kept to a minimum.
Chukwu is mindful of her position in the industry and the far-reaching consequences of her production methods. In discussing the reasoning behind the increasing spotlight on African designers - both on the continent and in the diaspora - she states: “I think it just couldn’t be ignored anymore. The democracy that the internet brought on forced the media to reassess what was important to their audience. It wasn’t some benevolent decision by the higher ups in various industries.” She also credits African designers and artists for taking ownership of what people typically recognise as African fabrics and continually innovating with them.
Chukwu’s journey so far has been peppered with successes, but there is one piece of advice she wishes she’d known when starting out: “You don’t have to make a collection every season. The dependence on fast fashion now means that if you’re an independent designer, it’s more important to really work on crafting a design signature and creating a community for your collection.” So what can we expect from her upcoming forth collection? She tells me to imagine an Igbo masquerade figure who has made his way across to England in the Victorian era. It’s hard to reconcile these three distinct threads, but no doubt she will weave them together well.
Published on 02/12/2017