Chuks Collins: I Grew Up in the Village, Did Farming, Traded in the Market

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Fashion entrepreneur, Chuks Collins is based in New York running a self-titled clothing line, Chuks Collins. His is an international brand that exhibits exceptional quality and modern styling through personalised service. His designs have appeared on the runways of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Atlanta International Fashion week and Nigeria Fashion Week. Talking to Tosin Clegg, he shares his journey into fashion, earlier challenges, moving to Newyork and his new project

Growing up was such an interesting time

I grew up partly in England and also in Nigeria, I always saw the world as a place that’s full of different opportunities and we all have a painting brush and the world is our canvas to paint on. I definitely wasn’t born with a silver spoon, I grew up in the village, did farming, went to the market to sell things but I am grateful for all the experiences and that moulded me to the man I am today.

As a child I wanted to be a pilot so badly, maybe because the first remarkable birthday gift I got was a toy airplane from my mom of blessed memory. I studied in Nigeria and partly abroad, actually went ahead and got myself a PPL license to enable me fly, though didn’t put that much into use as I needed more certifications and CPL to be able to fly commercially, but there was no funds to continue on that. Looking back, I don’t regret any of those actions but I will tell my younger self to trust himself and his guts. Life is a beautiful gift that should be lived intentionally and consciously. Treat and respect others how you would like to be treated, it makes the world a better place.

My Journey to Fashion started from a very young age

Art was a form of escape and expression for me, so I would always sketch and draw stuff that I hid from everyone as I didn’t want my mom or my grandmother to see it. This went on until about 15/16years when I officially left home and went to college. Then I had control of a lot of things, started saying no and rebelling. While in universities, in OAU first – was when I actually started showing peeps my sketches in cartons and the girls loved it as I would design clothes on the characters and that gave me some morals with the girls then fast forward to when I moved to Lagos to pursue acting and modelling lol.

I had to start drawing portraits of people on campus to get extra cash to help myself out. Then I met a girl from my church then RCCG in Ojo as I was going to LASU, she had a wedding and needed to make an asoebi, and did not like the designs in the magazine. I think it was City People or something I can’t recall, I offered to design something for her and she was so happy and impressed then showed all her friends, but the tailor who made it for her didn’t get the design. I was even more upset about what the tailor made than her, a part of me had always seen people on the street and wanted to redress or rearrange what they have on to help accentuate the body type.

Clothing is a means of identification

I always knew clothing is a means of identification and armour of shield which tells somewhat a lot about a person. You know in the African Culture they don’t really believe fashion designing should be a male discipline, so I had doubts even while doing it partly as it was paying the bill. During my NYSC year, I got an apartment on Ogunlana Drive where I lived and opened my first studio. Seeing the joy and happiness in people’s faces when they put on a garment I designed gave me so much joy and I felt empowered while empowering them to own all aspects of themselves and live their true lives. You feel really empowered and confident when you have the right looks on and it’s also a feel good thing for you, when you feel good you do good.

Challenges as a fashion designer

First part was self-doubt and was so much worried about what people will think, especially my supposed family. As I felt I was a disappointment to them for not being the Pilot or Dr. they wanted. The secondly challenge was depending solely on tailors to interpret my designs and that caused a lot of tasks, but within the first year of starting, I pushed myself to start sewing more, as I actually learnt how to sew from my grandmother. I also did a lot of self-training classes and then went to Ghana to get more training within the first year. So, knowing the in and out of a craft is always helpful. Finance was also a challenge as that always plays a role especially for start-ups. But what I can say is always start from somewhere and gradually grow. But honestly I am grateful for all the experiences and challenges as I call it the “process” and without the process there’s no me!

Growing my brand

I was first “Kholyns Couture”. I choose that as I was looking for a fun way to write my name, Collins. Then I changed to my real full name “Chuks Collins”as the brand name which is what it should have been from the onset, but that also has its own legal business implications. but living here going to school and having worked with some big brands like Ralph Lauren and a host of others has given me more exposure and wealth of experiences that you don’t really get in schools but in the field of work and streets.

The world is evolving constantly and change is inevitable, hence old paradigms are shifting and the new world is here. In everything we do, we should learn to evolve for the best, amplify with the times but don’t lose sight of self and who you are. Oh and before I forget, I have another brand which was birthed during the pandemic launched on February 1st, “The Athletic Side of Us”, through the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

As an artist and entrepreneur, being authentic with my story and experience is very important to me, and every artist is telling you a story about them through their work in one way or the other. I believe that part of being authentic is creating for the demographic and audience that appreciate my authenticity as an artist. And Amplifying their life experiences and Journey through my designs, and that’s what makes my brand exceptional.

My US journey was all a miracle

I had a visa to come for NYFW and got sick way earlier before the show, and had to come for a Kidney Transplant and then lots and lots of complications that made me stay back for better care. I am really really grateful to God and for People like Aunt Joan Okorododu, Linda Ikeji, Eno Essien, Juliet Morgan, Dominion city church, Sister Happiness, Pastor Olumide, and a lot of people whom I can’t recall and those I don’t even know who came to my aid. Without their good hearts, there probably won’t be me anymore. But the journey hasn’t been smooth and there are still a lot of challenges but staying true to the art and being hopeful is key for me. I approach everyday as another opportunity to try again and show up for myself, for the people who believe in me and for the things I believe in.

My core mission

My new initiative is for humanity and the Planet we live in but I love women and part of my core mission has always been women empowerment. Watching my Mom go through lots of domestic abuse from the man she called husband broke my heart constantly and may her soul keep resting in the bosom of the almighty. The brand and new initiate is the Athletic Side of Us (TASOU), a sustainable lifestyle brand that closes the gap between street wear and athletic wear, with the liberty of reconciling our Art self and Act Self while creating a fluid avenue to life. TASOU reconciles fashion with the dynamic fluidity of life, and with the evolving, athletic nature of human beings and their ever-changing humanity.

The Collection was inspired by the ancient Benin Kingdom and the streets of New York, featuring real people with real stories in diversity and Inclusivity. Above all, our mission is to empower humanity through our designs and also the planet we live in. Fashion contributes to the landfills that hurt our place of inhabitation; hence our pieces are sustainably sourced and mostly made from recycled materials and plastic bottles.

Helping people to live their dreams

I want to inspire and empower more people to be their authentic self and live their dreams, share my light and love to the world through everything I create and make human living experience better in any way I can.

Well, being authentic to yourself and staying true to your Art, get the knowledge you need to help you excel in your art. So, school is great if you can afford it, if not there’s a lot of materials online and internships are great as you learn a lot from serving, be humble but know your worth. Lastly, I will say ‘create a brand that people can relate to’ since your target are real people.