Chellie Clarkson-Brown: Designing for women of color and overcoming the #icebergsyndrome

Chellie Clarkson-Brown wants to make African-inspired apparel an everyday staple in Western Europe Click To Tweet

No one ever tells you about the amount of work that goes on underneath the surface of the water- #icebergsyndrome… but keep keeping on and eventually the tip of your iceberg will emerge.

Enter entrepreneur Chellie Clarkson-Brown the Founder and Creative Director of Afro Couture Designs LDN, a fashion brand focusing on sizes and designs for women of colour. With SLA contributor Neo Cheda, Chellie shares her entrepreneurship journey and what has pushed to her to success.


Tell us about you and how Afro Couture Designs come about?

I studied Pattern Cutting and Tailoring at London College of Fashion but left this to work within the retail industry. Well, it wasn’t for me so I returned to university at University College of the Arts. My time there was traumatic, to say the least. I was often denied the opportunity to express myself based on what I felt represented me. Everything I designed in reflection of my African heritage and life experiences, was, in my opinion, belittled and rubbished.

I lost so much confidence in my abilities and myself, that I became depressed. To add insult to injury, I wasn’t even able to get any real retail therapy without having to break the bank. Come on now, we all know that the only way to make a girl feel good about herself in circumstances like these, is a good old shopping trip. The only items I could get on the high street were ill fitting for my body shape. As almost any woman of colour will know, it may fit everywhere else, but it “sho’ ain’t gone fit” around your hips, rear and thighs. Or you would go up or down a size to alleviate the problem above and guess what, it would fit everywhere else, but not your waist #BlackGirlIssues.

So I did some extensive market research in order to collate a sizing criteria for women, particularly focusing on women of colour, as our primary target market. This has allowed us at Afro Couture Designs to create a more inclusive sizing range which is a better reflection of the modern day woman. Most importantly, it incorporates the proportions of women of colour too. As part of our initiative, we are committed to being environmentally friendly by being as sustainable as we are practical.


Tell us about your vision for Western European Demographics.

At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we design and create on trend contemporary African-inspired apparel and products and our intention is to make these products an everyday design staple within the Western European demographic. Our products are not intended to exclude or to be divisive, rather our products are primarily intended to celebrate and embrace all things African and showcase the beauty within the continent and how it can compliment European fashion trends.

We use high end design techniques, pattern cutting, and production techniques and source the highest quality fabrics. At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we fuse and mix together an eclectic range of fabrics from the both the Western European and African Hemispheres to bring you our AfroEurocentric collections.

The collections within these ranges are African inspired with a contemporary twist and are intended for those who not only think outside of the box but actually go one step further and throw it away altogether. Afro Couture Designs LDN, provides a multi-faceted design and production service from fashion, products, and interior design to delivering fashion workshops and property development.

Afro Couture Designs LDN’s business objective, is to be the one-stop shop or boutique for all your design requirements. Akin to the likes of the Selfridges of London or Macy’s of New York- for all things Afrocentric.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Getting it all together again from being homeless after my home was repossessed and I lost my job. The struggle was harder as I was a single mother at the time.

But all things are possible through God. “Everything is possible for one who believes” Mark 9:23. #Ifyoucanconceiveit- #youcanachiveit

What challenges have you faced that are unique to your business?

Trying to blend Afrocentric influences harmoniously with the Eurocentric to create the AfroEurocentric brand.

Additionally, trying to secure financial support for such a new concept with the intention of making the brand available to the mass market.

Afro Couture Designs aims to give exposure to established & emerging African artisans Click To Tweet

Which 3 African women that inspire you and why?

My Grandmother, the late great Madam Margaret Ntiamoah

For her determination, her tenacity and most importantly how resourceful she was. I remember growing up in Ghana during the coup d’état of 1979. Food was rationed and money was tight. There were so many of us living in one room and my Nana, would create gourmet dishes for all of us from one tin of baked beans, or even crack 2 eggs in a spinach stew and manage to make that stretch around 6-8 of us, with some left over for the next day.

On the days we had money for coal, in the morning before school, Nana would set the coals in the coal pot (which I’d fan) to make the morning porridge, the smouldering coals would then be put into a cast iron, hence the name, to iron our uniforms.  After that, the hot cast iron would then be dipped into the cold bucket of water to warm it up for our morning baths. Talk about resourceful!

She got up at the crack of dawn every morning well into her later years to go set up her market stall at Mokola market without fail. Her work ethic has stuck with me till this day. God rest her beautiful soul.

Ghanaian designer, Christie Brown

For being self-taught and still managing to make it into the mainstream fashion world. I’m inspired by her style and the fact that she has slowly over the years managed to place herself firmly within the Western fashion demographic, paving the way for emerging African designers.

Whilst I know I’m supposed to select 3 African women, I do have to say that I am truly inspired by Edward Enninful, currently the new Ghanaian Editor in chief for British Vogue. He has inspired me even more with what’s described as his intention to end the “white-out that dominates the catwalks and magazines”- what a statement.

Lupita Nyong’o

For setting the tone and also breaking the mould. I love the fact that she embraces her beautiful dark chocolate skin tone and short Afro hair, with ease and pride.

Lupita elevates her beauty just as she is, despite the misconceptions of “light is right”, making it all the more beautiful and easier for other young black women to embrace the beauty within themselves along with the mainstream media too.


What advice would you give to start-up entrepreneurs?

• Think of every encounter as a potential opportunity.
• Never stop when you’re tired, only when the task is done.
Never lose sight of your vision, as that will be your instruction manual with which to guide you when you lose heart, and most importantly always pray, about everything.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Alima Bello: My fashion company was becoming an expensive hobby

Alima Bello

She Leads Africa connected with Alima Bello, a fashion entrepreneur from Accra, Ghana to learn more about how she’s turned her passion into a full-fledged business. This is part of our series, From Startup To Grownup, which shares how young women entrepreneurs have moved beyond the startup phase and transitioned their businesses into sustainable enterprises. 

How did you start Bello|Edu and what did you know about business before getting started?

This might sound cliché, but Bello|Edu started off as a personal need. It was hard looking for clothing or fashion pieces of my own aesthetic so I started designing my own stuff to have them made for me. This developed into designing for family friends and then later on I took a pattern drafting course to further develop my passion.

I majored in business administration both in secondary and undergrad so I had theoretical knowledge in business. I was also fortunate enough to work in a family-owned company so I had a bit of experience in business management before I ventured into Bello|Edu.

Bello Edu

How long did it take for you to view your company as a serious business and start to professionalize it? Did something happen to get you to that point?

I always viewed my passion as a business. But I guess what you’re trying to ask is at what stage I started treating it as business. There came a point where I had to be firm with myself and admit that it was becoming an expensive hobby and I needed to put certain things in place in order to realise my dreams.

I tell myself that until I am able to lock down 300 – 500 orders per collection or season, this will remain a hobby.

Bello Edu logo

What bad business habits did you need to give up in order to help your business grow?

Just because I like it doesn’t mean it has to make the cut. That’s a grown-up decision. This is where the business side of me has to override my creative side. I know most creatives go through this process where we tend to create or design something that speaks to us or reflects our mood at any point in time.

In business however, that design piece might not be feasible and so you have to do the bold thing and drop it. And oh, I have this impulse to buy any fabric that speaks to me. Now, that’s not a smart business choice.

What business investment was hard for you to make that you are now so grateful for?

With my theoretical and practical knowledge I don’t think any decision was hard to make. It was just a matter of prioritising and timing.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs interested in building a sustainable fashion business?

There’s never the right time to start a business. The time is always now.

Data is also very vital for your business. Keeping the number trends will let you know which smart and not so smart business choices to keep or to drop.