BY TAMMY SCILEPPI
She turned “lemons” into one-of-a-kind designs.
Most young fashionistas can only dream of becoming future fashion influencers, but you can say that teen entrepreneur Egypt ‘Ify’ Ufele has been there and done that … even though this budding clothing designer has a long way to go as she hones her craft.
The magic happens from her home studio in Laurelton, where she conjures up unique, custom-made styles and sews up a storm – while juggling schoolwork and a tutoring gig.
Ufele, 14, says her designs went from her ‘backyard’ in Queens to New York Fashion Week. And it seemed to happen in a New York minute.
Her inspiring story went viral in 2016 when she launched her very own company called Chubiiline – which featured mostly African-inspired clothing for plus-size women – during Fashion Week. But it was Ify’s healing journey that touched the hearts of many New Yorkers, when the 10-year-old revealed that she first started sewing (on her grandma’s old Singer sewing machine), as a way of dealing with the emotional pain she felt after constantly being bullied in school for her size. But thanks to grandma’s help and her mom’s ongoing support, the youngster gradually regained her confidence and self-esteem.
QNS caught up with the young CEO, who’s back in the limelight with her new runway collection. And there’s more good news: Ufele has turned her anti-bullying campaign up a notch with a just-released music video and self-published book, titled “Egypt Ufele: Life by My Own Design” (Amazon).
“You look good, you feel good…” That’s Egypt’s daily mantra.
Currently, she makes 60 or so gowns per year and sells them for $250 to $1,000 each, along with “all-inclusive designs for everyone” – women, guys, and kids – in sizes 00 to 26.
In a recent interview, Ufele told QNS that she sells her pieces to celebs, as well. And Ufele’s mom, Dr. Reba Perry-Ufele, noted that a plus-size girl from Harlem who couldn’t get a prom gown that fit well was so happy when she finally found Chubiiline. In fact, she looked so great in the lovely dress custom-made just for her, that she was voted prom queen.
“Egypt has come a long way! As a mother, I always knew she has a special gift,” said Ify’s mother.
Ufele shared that she self-funded her runway show in Brooklyn last month during Fashion week.
“I wanted to show the diversity of my designs,” she said, pointing out that the lineup of younger and older models – who rocked her trendy, eye-catching creations – “came from everywhere, across the U.S.” The designer also gave out ‘Youth-preneur Awards’ to eight young people who started their own businesses and noted that she’ll be taking part in a bigger Fashion Week show in September.
“The only one stopping you is you!” according to the feisty fashionista.
Ufele recently collaborated on her new music video with artist Yung Musa and the two will be touring together, as well. In April, they’re traveling to a school in Nigeria then heading to the Essence Festival and a US Virgin Islands Fashionista event, in July.
Egypt’s book has been used as a learning tool during her visits to city and Long Island schools – accompanied by some of her former bullies – where they’ve been spreading their empowering anti-bullying message. She said many schools are buying her book in bulk.
The Queens creative has been profiled by many national publications, including The New York Times, Teen Vogue, People, and HuffPost, for her achievements and her charity, BullyChasers. In February, you may have seen Ufele and her designs featured in Spectrum News NY1’s “Trailblazers,” which celebrated Black History Month.
Despite all the hoopla, it turns out that this famous ninth grader – who has posed for the paparazzi with various celebs, like actress Rosie Perez, heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, The Ryders, and Miss New York – isn’t stuck up at all. “I’m still just me,” she says.
Surprisingly, Ufele insists she’s still trying to figure out what she wants to be one day. When asked about a career in fashion, she said, “I don’t want to do that the rest of my life; I want to be in the beauty industry or medical field…maybe a cardiothoracic surgeon.” Her fave subjects at Medgar Evers College Prep School in Brooklyn, are Global History and Chemistry.
So, what is Egypt’s advice to other youth-preneurs? “You need a business plan,” she explained. “It’s the foundation of being an entrepreneur.”
The young activist, who turned negative attention into positive attention, was honored last year with a mural depicting her face. It was painted by a Brooklyn artist, and you can see it at Daniel O’Connell Park in St. Albans.
“Most people give up before they hit the green light,” says Ufele.
But definitely not Ify!