Stylist Chi Ilochi: “Systemic racism in the fashion industry is not talked about enough”

Fashion can have the ability to bring out the best in people. The way in which they express themselves, tell their stories and exhibit their creativity can be shown through the clothes they wear and how they style it – and for fashion stylist Chi Ilochi, fashion became an outlet which allowed her to build her confidence.

“Growing up I was the introvert and I had a hard time expressing myself,” she says. “As a result, I taught myself how to amplify my voice through clothing.”

Born to Nigerian parents and the youngest of 10 siblings, Chi often found herself battling with confidence and finding her place in a world which left her feeling like she “wasn’t worthy to be loved.”

“I didn’t fit in and I didn’t know how to, and I must say society has a way of making Black women feel like they don’t deserve to be loved if they don’t fit a certain mould.”

DETERMINED: Chi launched her styling consultancy business in 2017 while still at high school

“I was ashamed of my Nigerian culture for years also. My heart would tremble every time it was time to take attendance and pronounce my unique Nigerian name. It was a rough period of my life that came with so much loneliness.”

This struggle is something many can relate to and Chi learnt to process these emotions and move past them in a productive and healthy way.

“I had to learn to show myself the same grace I would show a friend if they were lacking confidence. I knew that change wasn’t an easy process but I knew I was capable of doing so, so just like learning how to ride a bike I took it one step at a time,” she recalls.

“I’d wake up in the morning and tell myself “I’m beautiful” while looking in the mirror and would recite affirmations to myself for years. Confidence isn’t something that happens overnight – with any new challenge you have to build on those skills.”

This growth allowed Chi to develop other passions and exhibit them boldly, with fashion being a particular focal point as she looked to women like Erykah Badu as a source of inspiration.

“Erykah’s freedom of expression was and is like none I’ve ever seen before,” says the 21-year-old.

LAUNCH

Chi’s eclectic style was noticed by a friend who said she should consider being a fashion stylist – a career path Chi had never previously thought about.

“After she suggested that, I researched it and realised it was everything I’ve been doing since I was 14 years old,” claims the Pittsburgh native. “From that point on, I gave styling everything I had and never looked back.”

In 2017, while still a student at Perry High School, Chi launched StylingByChi, a fashion and style consultancy business.

Chi’s style often blends American simplicity with bold prints and colours reminiscent of her Nigerian heritage – something which is a major source of inspiration for her. 

“My creative influence is inspired so much by Nigerian culture. The language I speak (Igbo), the food I eat (Fu-fu, Jollof Rice, Plantains, Moi Moi), the infrastructure, the movies, the accents, the people, the talent – I love it all,” she shares.

Model Gabrielle Johnson poses in front of a pink background
WORK: Model: Gabrielle Johnson Stylists: Chi Ilochi, Gabrielle Johnson Photographer: Dymond Jewell

“It’s all very free-spirited and authentic, and I love that and hope that I can maintain that in all I am and all I do.”

Since launching the business Chi has made some major moves from working with brands like Reebok and ‘The Get Down’ star TJ Brown and been listed as an ‘Essence Best Dressed Creative’. 

These achievements are all the more impressive considering her young age and the struggles she faced from others when starting her venture.

“The biggest struggle I faced was being taken seriously. Many mistake fashion styling for a hobby, and not a career,” says the stylist. “I had to work twice as hard to get the same amount of recognition as some of my counterparts.”

GROWTH

In a time where we are seeing more Black fashion stylists change the game, from Ade Samuel to Jason Bolden – who have collectivey worked with a bevy of Hollywood’s hottest talent from Michael B Jordan to Yara Shahidi – Chi is hopeful for the future of celebrity styling and its burgeoning diversity.

“Systemic racism in the fashion industry is not talked about enough but we are seeing some change,” she says.

“Every time I turn my head I’m seeing a new face that looks like mine, styling a celebrity. It’s such a great feeling and I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”

To find out more, visit www.stylingbychi.com and follow her on Instagram @igbo_hippie

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