The Journey of Clyopatra Couture
On Thursday, February 27, fashion designer Ifeoma C. Onyia held a presentation at New York’s Spring Studios for the debut of her ready-to-wear line CC By Clyopatra Couture @(clyopatra_couture). The event was part of DMV Fashion Week launching at New York Fashion Week and was powered by Lily Ravas Brand Management.
The event also served as the launch of the House of Clyopatra Foundation, a Non-Profit organization whose purpose is to train and support young fashion professionals to become entrepreneurs through their program The Junior Bosses of Fashion, a business workshop competition, and their Program House of Mary, which offers support and training to widows and single mothers on how restart or empower their careers
For Onyia, building her fashion brand and her non-profit organizations was an uphill battle. She is the last-born child out of eight kids, and she grew up watching her mother sew clothes for her brothers and sisters. Onyia would constantly ask questions about the African prints and textiles to learn about their history and origins, which she found herself constantly fascinated by.
When Onyia was in Middle School one of her sisters had a baby, and she had stitched a dress for the newborn. It became one of the baby’s go-to dresses, and this made Onyia interested in studying fashion. At first, her very traditional parents did not support the idea of Onyia studying fashion and expected her to become a lawyer.
Onyia left for college when she was 17 ½ to study at American College in London where she studied business administration, but she didn’t stay too far away from the fashion department. She used to model for some of the fashion design students projects and they would ask her for opinions on what to edit down and add to pieces.
When Onyia left college she went into the bridal industry and became a bridal boutique owner, making her business WIA Bridal the first black-owned bridal boutique in London’s history. During her career in bridal, she was invited by the British Parliament and received an award from Susan Taylor for keeper of heritage for incorporating her African heritage and prints into her designs.
After years of finding success in bridal, Onyia divorced her husband, which made it difficult for her to find the same passion for bridal she used to have. “When my marriage broke up, I couldn’t find joy in doing bridal anymore,” Onyia said. “I would look at the brides smiling and think their marriages wouldn’t last either. I was getting too negative, so I left the fashion industry entirely.”
Onyia’s next endeavor would be in healthcare and she would go on to launch a home health business, a medical supply, and a nursing school. She still dreamed of going back to fashion eventually and recalls moments when she’d be in meetings with the State of Maryland and be sketching dresses on her notepad instead of listening to what they are saying.
In 2012, Onyia’s late brother Obi called her and told her that she was stressing herself out too much. She had opened offices for her businesses in Washington, D.C, Maryland, and Virginia checking off all boxes for the DMV area, but the burden of working so hard was crushing her. Her brother told her to go enjoy her life, live more, and she doesn’t need to be as stressed at home anymore either with the kids getting older. At the time, Onyia said she would think about it, but then two months later her brother died, and it was a life changing moment for her.
“My brother’s death was a wakeup call for me,” Onyia said. “That was my best brother and closest brother. After that, one of my friends who owned a healthcare provider business came to see me and told me she was dying. She told me she had stage 4 cancer and to remember the conversation I had with my brother about not getting too stressed out because her cancer was stress related. She encouraged me to go back into fashion and have fun. My brother Emmanuel would pass away the following May, and after that I said okay, we are launching Clyopatra Couture.”
The brand name comes from Onyia’s middle name Clyopatra, so it is an eponymous label. While most of her business prior to her launch in New York last week was custom, now that she’s moving into the ready-to-wear market her labels say CC by Clyopatra Couture.
“The demand for my designs was growing and I needed to create more pieces that were affordable for people to buy and wear,” Onyia said. “My mission statement is “fashion without borders”. The fashion industry can be segregated, and I love my fashion without borders. Women should be able to wear men’s suits if they are in the mood to today. My entire line is about being yourself and expressing yourself. You can be white and wear a beautiful African print. I have a lot of men who buy my dresses, and they look fabulous in them. I’ve put female models in men’s suits for my photoshoots and they look fierce.”
Onyia’s first ready-to-wear collection featured a lot of African fabrics called asho-oke that she recreated on polyamide fabrics for dresses and suits. She also created faux fur pieces that were lined with African prints to create a very unique contrast.
Clyopatra Couture is produced globally with some production done in the U.S.A., some done in Nigeria, and some done in turkey. Onyia’s goal is to go more mass market and get in mainstream retail stores.
“To buy African prints you usually have to go to a specialty store,” Onyia said. “I don’t see why you can’t go into a Nordstrom and be able to buy an African print created by a Black designer. Black people spend billions of dollars on fashion a year, but so many retailers still don’t carry enough Black designers.”
Onyia’s other major fashion project aside from her clothing line is building DMV Fashion Week for the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia tri-state area. In 2018, Onyia helped launch a collection for NBA player Jeremi Grant, and people began asking her how they could work with her. This inspired her to launch DMV Fashion Week, and it’s become her second baby. Her goal is to use the platform to make more space for young designers, especially Black designers who may not get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
Onyia is also very focused on her charity work with House of Clyopatra Foundation, also founded by her, that works to education budding fashion industry professionals and help single mothers and disadvantaged women re-enter the workforce. This month, the organization will be donating 3000 items of clothing to less privileged people in the DMV area.
In 2021, the designer also plans on getting into the beauty space by launching lipsticks. Her aim is to turn House of Clyopatra into a triple threat offering fashion, beauty, and charity. Whether you want to save the world or style it, Clyopatra Couture is here for all your needs. ‘