Nigerian stylist Chi IIochi is the owner of Styling By Chi where she styles pretty much everyone from models to children with autism, the elderly, those with Down Syndrome.
“I go into Black communities that are not really funded (there is no money going there), I go into the high schools and middle schools,” Chi explains. “I go to the middle schools because they do not talk about fashion in Black communities because that is not something that they care about.”
“The thinking is that you are either going to get out of here on a sports scholarship, playing football or basketball or if you are a girl, maybe you will be a nurse, do nails or do lashes. All of that is fine but fashion has the power to heal and help and I think that it is important that they explore their options because we started all the trends.”
Chi started started all the acrylics, the big hoops, the head wraps…they originated all of that. She belives that it is important that the girls and the boys know that she can make it in the fashion industry, so she styles them.
Chi also styles those who are depressed or anxious so that they can learn different ways to express themselves through clothing. From her own personal experience with struggling with depression at various points in her life, she knows that fashion has helped her tremendously. Her goal is to get into celebrity styling because it is more than the glitz and the glam for her, if she is not able to influence and inspire somebody through clothes, then she feels like there is something missing.
I recently interviewed Chi where she chatted more on her mission in fashion. Check out the interview below:
The Empress Dee: I love the fact that you are using it to heal, I have not heard that before. Can you please tell me what inspired you to get into fashion to begin with?
Chi IIochi: Well, I am the youngest of 10 siblings and their careers are all over, I have a sister who is a nurse, one who is a lawyer, and another is a writer, and I was always the artist. Before I got into fashion, I wanted to be an illustrator, I was always sketching, coloring outfits with colored pencils…markers and I did not realize that the characters that I drew and created, that I could kind of become them. It was a way to escape but create as well and I saw the power seeing my mom when she would go into the grocery store, with her power suit on, grabbing the oranges…like she was all in it and I thought okay mom, there is something here, and there is an art to it because it is not easy to just put on an outfit.
I think that a lot of people think, when they see you out, they are like, that is a cute outfit, not knowing that it took you messing up your closet…messing up the room to look like that. When I saw the power of how great it made me feel and how I much I love to create and that there was a way to do that through fabric, clothing, thrifted clothing…anything from Macy’s to JCPenney, it just kind of stuck with me.
The Empress Dee: That is beautiful! Can you please tell me who are some of your inspirations?
Chi IIochi: I love SZA, Issa Rae, I am really, really inspired by her, watching ‘Insecure’ (Her HBO Comedy Hit Drama), the outfits, the cinematography, the music, and seeing her come from having a dream and a purpose and making it happen, I feel like that can apply to any area of anybody’s life. I love Erykah Badu, I love Jill Scott and those are my top ones right now, they have been for years.
The Empress Dee: So, one thing that I have noticed when I was looking at your Instagram page is that you have the “eye” especially when you go thrifting. I do not have the eye or the time. So, what advice would you give to people who do not have the eye, who want to thrift?
Chi IIochi: I think that something that can apply to fashion, thrifting and just life in general, is to do nothing without intention. Before you go into the Thrift store, decide what look it is that you are going for. Ask yourself, am I going on a date, trying to find some slacks, blazers to wear to work or do I just want to get some cute clothes?
When you can go into a situation knowing what you want, it is hard to for you to get distracted. So you may only go into this aisle because the blazers are there, I do not need belts and just find blazers, I think that it is important to have a plan. Sometimes when I thrift, personally, there is no plan and that is why I am just grabbing anything and when I know that I want to give a business casual look or I want to give a sexy chic, what blouse can I pick up, what top, pair of jeans or maybe even a heel depending on where you are located and the kind of thrift stores they have, determine the options that they have available.
I think that it is important to know what you are looking for. That alone will help to lessen the stress and anxiety.
The Empress Dee: I definitely agree. There was something else that I noticed as I was looking at your page which I thought was amazing, I love how versatile you are because you have the ability to make selections that are subtle and then there are those that are bold.
Do you ever think that there is a time and a place for certain fashion statements, or do you feel like it is all the same?
Chi IIochi: Absolutely, there is a time and a place for everything. There have been times that I have styled myself or I have virtually styled other people and I have been like…this is too much; we do not need to do all of that. sometimes I have to determine that you do not need all of that. There is a time to make a bold statement that says, hey I am here…it’s color, it is giving you face and there are other times when you might wear something to go out with some friends, so what do you wear when you do not want to do too much and you are going out to eat, I can wear these booties, I can wear these jeans, I wear a black crew neck tee and maybe put a cute jacket…denim jacket or blazer over it.
When you are not doing too much, usually that is the outfit that people like the most and I can tell that you tried. I do not ever want to be that person that is like, she is doing a lot, I want it to have balance, it is important to be balanced with style.
The Empress Dee: I agree and it is so funny that you say that because I am from a smaller town and I often see women that are dressed like they live in L.A., or in New York and I will be wondering where are you going (Chi laughs) I do not understand why you are this dressed up…I do not get it, but to each its own and I definitely agree with that.
When you take on a client, can you please tell us what that consultation process looks like?
Chi IIochi: Usually when someone reaches out for a consultation, I study their personal style. I will study their social media accounts so that I can see what they like, what they are comfortable with. I also want people to know if anybody is interested in being consulted by me, I would not dress you the same way that I dress myself. I think that people see my personal style and they think, I cannot pull that off, it is okay…this is just how I dress. In finding my personal style, I looked up to SZA, Issa (Rae) and Erykah (Badu) to see what they did with clothes.
An icebreaker that I provide for some of my clients is to inquire about the celebrities that they look up to…male or female, their personal style and why you like and if they think that they can duplicate it in their own way. Usually the response is, I do not have the body for it…the insecurities usually show and so they believe that they are not able to pull it off. So, I will ask them why they feel that they are not able to pull it off and they will respond by saying that I do not have the money for that…ok so what if you did have the money, would you do it? You begin to peel off the layers a little bit, sometimes they are not really comfortable with that and they just want you to give them something casual that they can wear or they will give full creative control, I trust you and your vision.
After that, I will study for about a week…the celebrities that they look up to, their personal style, the trends because some men and women want to be on trend, some of them would like to be timeless. So it is either studying trends or the 50’s or 60’s fashion, how were the pants and suits tailored, how were the men and women’s bodies, what fabrics were they wearing, how did they pose in some of the pictures, what was the attitude. I factor all those things in, and I usually create a google document considering that we are in the midst of a pandemic, I am virtually styling at the moment.
Breaking down the trends, understanding where this style came from because it is technically not on trend, somebody in the past just did it before and resold it to you. So breaking that down and looking at how you can wear it depending on your body type. Once I complete everything, I send the document back with about 20 potential outfits with links letting you know if this is sold out, you can get it here or you can get it there. The turnaround is about a week because I think that it is important when someone is giving their time and money that they have good quality anything. They will usually take it from there and that makes them feel like they are in control. So they see it more as guidance than that I am the one that is picking out the outfit.
The Empress Dee: Nice, that is awesome! So, you feel like confidence can turn a fashion no into a fashion yes?
Chi IIochi: Oh absolutely!
The Empress Dee: Can you recollect any moments where you have actually witnessed that?
Chi IIochi: There was a client that I recently styled, and she was giving me pointers on how she was insecure about her body and how she did not want her look to be too tight or too close and you have to build your client up, not pressure them but encourage them into believing that they can pull off the look. I kept reassuring her that she could do it and that it would look great on her body…you can make it happen.
So, we get on set and she was still doubting that she could pull off the look. The pictures came out and she looked amazing. In relationships, in business, it is important to make an effort to build somebody’s confidence because it is amazing the difference that it makes. You may have someone that will say please do not put me in a turtleneck…do not put me in a turtleneck but guess what, now they are wearing a turtleneck because they have the confidence to. It just goes to show that when you or someone else believes in you and your potential it can change everything.
The Empress Dee: I am glad that you said that because that brings me to my next question. What is the challenge when it comes down to styling people?
Chi IIochi: I can definitely say insecurity, that is something that I personally struggle with, I cannot speak for every stylist but it does not mean that they are being a difficult client, it’s just that some people are not comfortable showing their bodies in a certain way, wearing certain things, so it kind of makes it a little bit challenging to be creative in a way because of the restrictions. But it is also a challenge that I am open to, to see what can I do based off of what you are comfortable with.
Usually when they see the look afterwards, I want to test the water a little bit, okay I already did that look, I already did the casual, let me see what I can do when I have the confidence…when I want to show a little skin. It has been a challenge, but it has also been rewarding in a way to see who they transform into after a session. That has definitely been something for me.
The Empress Dee: I like that, I like that a lot. So, how do you stay true to your themes in your styling when in fashion there is a lot of assimilation going on currently?
Chi IIochi: I think that it is important for me to be open when I am styling myself or when I am styling a client. You do not want to get too set in your ways in anything. I usually think about what I haven’t done before, and I want the client to be comfortable with telling me something that they have not done before but that they would like to do. I do not want to be stagnant; the point is to grow and so if I am dressing every client the same, I’m wearing every bright, bold, chaotic look, then I am not growing…because I am comfortable, both of us are comfortable and comfort is cool when it is not limiting…when it does not prohibit you. I definitely want to test the waters in a lot of ways when I am styling anyone.
The Empress Dee: Can you recall a time where you stepped completely out of your comfort zone and it was uncomfortable for you?
Chi IIochi: Oh wow, I think that it has been a few times. Yes, there was a look that I did in January, the photographer’s name was Naibo Visuals on Instagram, she’s amazing, she has a brilliant eye and it was an honor to work with her and the outfit that I wore, it was not really right and it was not something that I would typically do and I was thinking that this was going to be terrible because I am not even feeling the outfit, so I know that viewers probably are not feeling it either but that look did great! I am not even saying that because I styled it, it was better than what I expected. There was a few times when I was like you know what, that was not a good look.
There have been times that I have styled myself and I was like… I cannot do this today and I’m trying to take the pictures for it, and I have felt like it was bad…we can just go, we can just leave and try again the next day.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely, I understand that completely and I also wanted to ask were there ever moments when you questioned yourself and how do you come back from that?
Chi IIochi: (She laughs) Oh yeah, there have definitely been times where I am like…umm, okay. I usually study but I try to be patient with myself, as Black women we can be really hard on ourselves because the world is hard on us, so I do not get a look right then I start questioning if I should even be a stylist, you get those negative thoughts, you sure that this is what you are supposed to be doing. If I had a client who was not comfortable wearing this outfit or felt like when they wore it, it was a hit or miss and it did not hit and they felt down about themselves would I tell them, see you should not even put it on, I don’t even know why you are trying to dress up. So, I have to talk to myself like I am one of my clients.
I usually tell myself that some days you have it and some days you don’t, it does not mean that there is no value, it does not mean that you cannot get better, it does not mean that you do not have a gift. I’m usually like, let me go and get something to eat…it’s ok.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely, just restart (they both laugh). Now if you could describe your style in 3 words, what would it be?
Chi IIochi: I would say bold, eclectic, and vibrant.
The Empress Dee: Now why would you pick those 3 words specifically?
Chi IIochi: I would say bold because it is bold, sometimes when I style different outfits I think, that’s a lot of color. Sometimes a look looks good in person when you see it but sometimes when you capture it, it does not look the same way you styled it. I would say eclectic but not too much though, it is still kind of chill, it is still kind of subtle in some ways. There are certain pieces that I have in my wardrobe that are stable pieces in fashion. I say vibrant because sometimes I style myself depending on my mood. When I am happy, you are going to know and you may be like oh okay, she had a good day. When I am not really feeling it, I could tell you that it is vibrant in sadness. Sometimes when I style myself, I am not having a good day.
I can see how bold the darkness is, I can see how bold the brown is or the black is and then I would say nostalgic because I study fashion from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, heavily because I think it was just amazing to see what Black men and women did with fashion in a time where oppression was heightened and it is just amazing to see that they did it so effortlessly. They would go to the grocery store or to parent-teacher conferences, however they did it…it was just amazing and I just want the way that I style myself and others to be timeless, I want it to be something that you remember. It is kind of like a signature when you look at someone else’s style and you are like, that reminds me of this person, I want it to have that kind of effect.
The Empress Dee: I really do like that, that is beautiful. Now, who would say is more challenging to style men, or women?
Chi IIochi: I would say women. Men are usually like okay you can put whatever on me, with women you know us, we’re like I don’t know if my boyfriend is going to like this, I don’t know if I like this…with women there is a lot more emotion. It has been my experience that men trust my vision and they want to see what I can do.
The Empress Dee: I definitely agree, men just are not picky about things like that.
Chi IIochi: Exactly, they are just like put the suit on and that’s it.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely, I agree with that. So what has been some of the best advice that you have been given and what is the best advice that you can give aspiring fashion stylists?
Chi IIochi: I would not say that it was advice it was more of a statement; you have it and it was from someone who is highly regarded in the industry. I think that it was advice alone because sometimes you doubt yourself and sometimes the advice can just be, you have potential. I do not feel that it is advising me…I believe that it is reaffirming me, and it lets you know that you can do it, you can make it happen.
What you are looking for or what you are dying to be inspired by is already inside of you, you just have not tapped into it yet. So, that was definitely something that I thought was simple, but it was so profound. For aspiring stylists, I can say that being a Black woman in the fashion industry is challenging, I am not going to lie to you guys, it is a little bit difficult but I definitely want them to know that if God placed it in your heart and in your spirit, it is not there just because.
Just because your Instagram does not look a certain way or your marketing approach is not the same as this person or because you like to style clients this way and not that way, it does not mean that I am above you or that you are beneath me, we are just in different lanes, different paces, we have different gifts but we need your gift. Someone may not like the way that I style them, but they love the way that you style them. I do not want anyone to feel wherever you are in the journey that you are behind, that it is not for you, that somebody can do it better, if somebody could do it better they would have but they did not and that is where you come into the picture. Bet on yourself every time because you do not really take a loss when you bet on yourself, if you disappoint yourself, you can make up for it. No one can do what you do better than you. Take it as it comes, take it as a lesson, you may fall, you may stumble but you will never fail because failing is just giving up and if you want it bad enough then you are going to make it happen.
The Empress Dee: I definitely agree. I love your mentality because it comes from a collective perspective because you know in the fashion industry it is so common to think that only one person can be in the spotlight, so to look at it like it is okay if this person does not like what I am doing but they might like what you do, not a lot of people have that mentality going into the fashion industry and so I really do love that you think that way.
Chi IIochi: Thank you. It can definitely be a competition. I think for us just being Black in America you feel like I have to fight, and it is not even intentional, and I want to put my brother or my sister down, it is just like, well they are only choosing one of us so I got to keep on, I am not trying to step on your toes or anything like that but listen, I got to eat. Just imagine what we could do in any field if we had the mentality, if they are only choosing one of us then I am not taking it because it is either me AND you or nobody.
If we had that mentality where I am going to create the opportunity for us so that we do not have to be in that position again, who knows where we would be.
The Empress Dee: I definitely feel that wow you are such an inspiration. Thank you so much for your words.
Chi IIochi: I appreciate you (she says with a smile).
The Empress Dee: Can you please tell us where we can find you?
Chi IIochi: You can find me on Instagram @igbohippie_ I know that it is a long name, you can book me at www.stylingbychi.com and schedule a consultation, if you have questions if you are an aspiring stylists, entrepreneur whatever, you can shoot me a DM, it may take me a minute to respond but I will not ignore you. I think that if I have the privilege or opportunity to help somebody based off of what I know that can’t hurt at all. Thank you for this opportunity, for getting the look and everything, I really appreciate it.
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much for being able to do this interview with us because it has really been a pleasure speaking with you. For our viewers, if you want to learn more about health and wellness, please go and visit our Awakened Lounge, the link is in our bio. Thank you so much Chi, I really do appreciate you and hopefully we will be able to catch up sometime soon and do another interview to see where you are at in the next 6 months or so.
Chi IIochi: Most definitely…I am down, we have to stay in contact, I love your energy.
The Empress Dee: Likewise! Thank you and you have a beautiful night.
Chi IIochi: You too. Thank you to everyone that tuned in and who has been commenting, I appreciate it.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely, we will talk with you soon.