On Wednesday Oct. 26, students from Hofstra’s African Student Association (ASA) sat down with Nigerian designer Nikki Billie Jean to ask questions and discuss Jean finding her place in the fashion industry, designing for recording artist Jidenna and the launch of her new menswear line, “Les Sapeurs.”
The designer came dressed, as expected, in one of her own unique pieces — a vibrant purple Ankara print suit featuring a blazer and high-waisted wide-legged pants, paired with an azure Ankara print long sleeve button-up shirt. Jean models this look in the photograph from her company’s website, allthingsankara.com.
Starting in 2012 as a fashion shout-out account on Instagram, the 25-year-old decided to exchange her Bachelor of Science degree in public health for a chance to start a fresh movement in the fashion world.
“Instagram became my outlet. I started the All Things Ankara page because I realized there wasn’t a page dedicated to Ankara fashion, so I decided ‘Well, why don’t I just make one myself?’” Jean told students.
As a whole, African fashion lacks significant presence of both designers and models in the fashion industry. “The All Things Ankara brand is more than clothes; it promotes Ankara fashion and print while highlighting its importance and showcasing its relevance in global fashion,” Jean said. “I wanted to get more in touch with my Nigerian culture. In high school especially I felt a disconnect, which I’m sure most African-Americans do.”
At Pennsylvania State University, Jean was involved in the ASA. She eventually became the fashion show coordinator and began designing her own clothes for her startup line, Billie Jean Bowties and Designs.
Jean’s Ankara designs made their premiere on the fashion map last year when recording artist and Nigerian native, Jidenna, reached out to the designer. “He’s known for mixing Ankara prints into his everyday wear. He likes to take people on a journey with his overall look,” Jean said.
Jidenna’s eclectic style infuses classic menswear with African prints and patterns, making him the ideal candidate for a customized All Things Ankara design. Jidenna appeared in the “Nigerian Renaissance” campaign alongside Jessica Chibueze for the 2015 All Things Ankara ball, held in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
Jean shared details about the production of her designs and how she plans to keep her line authentic. “I want 100% of my Ready-to-Wear men’s line to be produced and ethically sourced in Nigeria in order to create jobs and give back to my culture,” Jean said. “The prints I use come straight from local businesses in Nigeria. My aunt literally goes down to the market herself to buy the fabric, then has it shipped to me in D.C. where I then design and construct the pieces.”
Jean also told students about her vision for the models she casts, “I want to always diversify my brand by offering a diversity of models. For my men’s line I want guys to have natural class and style to incorporate their own style with my work.”
Sophomore and ASA member Lily Chiagozie voiced her appreciation for Jean’s brand as a Nigerian native herself. “You’re seeing foreign styles in a new light. Our native clothes and materials are being presented in a different way that makes us fit into the global world, but still remain unique in identity.”
The designer told students that she found her roots in the ASA. “If I hadn’t been involved in ASA in college I wouldn’t have been able to create my brand and organize events and opportunities such as designing for Jidenna.”
She ended by reminding students, “If you don’t have a passion for something, your brand won’t flourish — you always want to love what you do.”