Chi Ume Interview

Multi-Hyphenate Artist Chi Ume Exists In A Lane Of Her Own

It’s not too often that you come across a multi-talented creative such as Chi Ume. The Nigerian American Boston-born artist and designer was introduced to fashion at an early age and seeing the impact it had on her culture made it the perfect pathway for self-expression.

Shining light on Black women in streetwear and magnifying their image is a major focus for the designer and now musician. There are a lot of women killing the fashion industry who unfortunately don’t get the attention they deserve, but the Nigerian designer is looking to close that gap. Ultimately, Bluehill is a fashion label where you can find anything fashion forward.

We spoke with Chi Ume to discuss the story behind her beloved brand, upcoming music, discovering more about herself in the process of creation, and more! Read our conversation below.

You established Bluehill in 2020, and since then, so much has changed regarding the creative direction and aesthetic of the brand. How would you describe this new chapter in both your career and the fashion label?

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years already. 2020 was such a pivotal year for me in terms of discovering more of my purpose. Actually, I believe that it was a very pivotal year for a lot of us. Going into it, I had no idea that it would be the year I launched Bluehill and it’s been so amazing to see my progress over the years, even when it felt super gradual. I started Bluehill with only trucker hats and primarily just designing for women, so I believe because of that, aesthetically, Bluehill was seen as a streetwear brand specifically for women.

I definitely keep a lot of streetwear elements in mind when I design because that’s just my personal style; Bluehill is a fashion label for everyone though, it just comes from a woman’s point of view.  I’m dropping a menswear collection in the near future that I’m excited about. Now as I transition more into high fashion, I would consider Bluehill an emerging fashion label that is dedicated to design, quality sourced fabric, eloquent technique, practical sustainability, and of course, culture, and community.

Aesthetically, Bluehill will always express my level of taste, but I’m excited to discover more art styles and design more fashion-forward clothing. Clothes that are unique, practical yet artistic in design, and most importantly sustainable in high value. 

Tell us about the genesis of the brand-what kickstarted the idea to launch Bluehill and what does it encompass?

It really just came to a point where the things I would want, I couldn’t afford yet, and the things I could afford, I didn’t like. So I just started designing my own clothes. I’ve always been passionate and interested in fashion, statement pieces, different styles, and designers. I knew it was an industry I wanted to partake in naturally.

For me, entrepreneurship is the only way I can get to where I’m going, and how I want to go. I’ve always been the kind of person to create my own opportunities. Bluehill is just the start of that vision. What a lot of people don’t know is that Bluehill is actually the name of an avenue in Boston, Massachusetts where I was born and spent a lot of my childhood. The name just reminds me to always remember where I started and how far God is taking me. 

For those who are unfamiliar with you as a designer, Who exactly is Chi Ume beyond fashion and social influence, and what impact do you want to make?

Beyond stretching and breaking the limits in fashion and living in my full freedom of expression, I see more of myself living a lifestyle of sustainability and wellness despite what the appearance may look like. My dream is to eventually spend my life helping others find peace and financial freedom through working with their God-given talent.

Perhaps an A&R. Music is another world I’m stepping into more faithfully. I’ve been in a space where I’m creating the best music I ever have. Hopefully, I’ll have something to share soon. Other than that, I’ll be launching my non-profit, which I will be sure to announce when the time is right.

My mission is to help aid in the expansion and advancement of women’s wellness across the globe through areas relating to art, education, proper resources, financial literacy, health, and welfare. That’s probably what I’m most excited about. 

How, if at all, do your Nigerian roots play a role in the way you approach to fashion or being a role model for young women?

I wouldn’t consider myself a role model at all. I’m just figuring this out like everyone else. I do see myself as a part of this new evolution and rebellion happening against things being done in a conventional overly traditional way. This is not to say that I don’t honor and respect my Nigerian heritage either.

I’m so proud to be Nigerian, there’s no culture like ours; but being that I come from a Nigerian background that’s subject to their own customs and culture, way of thinking, and belief systems, some of these social ideologies are outdated and in some ways toxic, especially to the new generation. I just hope to be an inspiration for the African youth to always believe in their dreams and follow their own path that is destined for them, not the ones that are put there before them. 

As a young woman in business, can you talk about some of the challenges that you’ve had to face in such a competitive space?

The space is only competitive when you’re playing by the rules other people are playing by, which quite frankly, are designed to keep you restricted. The space is also competitive when you’ve put yourself on a pedestal to try and be better than others. Both are very delusional, in my opinion.

I’ve been fortunate enough to carve my own lane, create my own world, and do what works for me at my own pace. Of course, this comes with challenges, but the biggest obstacle I’ve faced is having to follow through with my vision even when everyone, everything, my environment or circumstances continually project their limiting beliefs on me. It becomes outside noise that you eventually learn to tune out. I’m still learning this. I’m happy to have come to a place where I truly don’t care about anyone’s opinion of me, my life, my decisions, or my art.

If you’re a business owner, you’re a leader by default and there’s certain skills and levels of understanding that you’ll have to learn to overcome each and every challenge that comes your way. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. The other thing I would say is to prepare yourself for success. There have been so many times where I didn’t properly prepare for the fact that things will actually work out better than I expect, so it resulted in more mistakes during the process and ultimately still leaving me with the feeling like I’ve failed.

As I began to prepare and visualize the execution of an idea, project, or how I was going to construct a garment, or write out a marketing plan, the outcome was much more successful because I planned for success. It’s cliché but it’s true when they say proper preparation prevents poor performance. 

When it comes to community, what type of culture are you looking to cultivate around your brand with this next step forward? 

Honestly so far the community I’ve cultivated around my brand has been amazing. Most of the support comes from women, which I absolutely love. Recently I’ve been on TikTok and most of my support has been coming from young aspiring designers, entrepreneurs, and artists which have been cool to see and dope to connect with them. I’m looking forward to curating 

more social events surrounding my brand, activations, and showcases so that people can come through and get more of an immersive experience with my brand, hopefully with some cool partnerships and sponsorships in the near future. I want anyone who admires my work to always remember that the people you’re inspired by are just a reflection of the things you’re capable of doing and sometimes to an even greater extent if you just allow yourself to just BE yourself. 

Regarding some of the pieces in your upcoming collection, what are longtime fans of the label to expect? 

I have a couple of collections and pieces I’m working on that I plan to showcase throughout this year, God willing. These past couple of years I’ve been focused more on balancing all areas of my life. My latest collection, The Steel Series Collection is a very special collection to me. It’s the first collection I made coming out of a relationship.

I called it a series because I knew that finishing this collection would be at a very gradual pace, especially in the beginning while going through what I was going through. So as I evolved more as a person, in my healing, in discovering more of my identity as a designer, as a person, the collection started growing as well. This collection is way more feminine in style and designed for the silhouette of a woman who is a lot more daring and risqué.

It’s debuting on my web store. Anyone who is a fan of the brand can expect a lot more quality and sustainable fabric, clothing that is not only unique in design but has the components to be a vintage staple piece, creative content and campaigns, and my favorites part; a brand that strives to give back to the culture. 

How will this collection display your growth and evolution over time, both personally and for the brand? 

Because this Collection is a series, I’ll be able to continually add to the story of the collection as I evolve within myself introspectively and as a fashion designer. I’m a super intentional person and if you pay close attention, you’ll be able to understand and see the growth over time.

Right now, I see the collection as me coming more into my womanhood and embracing it. I hope other women are able to feel that when they wear this collection. It’s about having true confidence in knowing you’re the one, not the two. We’ll see where this collection takes me through time though. 

Earlier, you shared a little bit about your other interests and passions, such as creating music and launching a non profit. Can you talk a bit more about what those look like? 

I can’t say too much about the music, other than the fact that it’s coming soon and I have a lot to get off my chest. Music is something I do for me, not to become famous, rich, or well-known, but to simply make music that I genuinely love and to inspire. 2023 will be the year I share more of that side of me with the world.

As far as my nonprofit, I’m excited to use that as a means for outreach to help bring about positive change globally but starting first in Nigeria, my native home. There’s so much to preserve in Nigeria and there are so many gifted youth who deserve more opportunities and freedom. I believe in a better future for Nigeria and I want to help create that. 

What mental health-related messages do you feel need to be focused on to address the younger generations in our digital space? 

The amount of value a peace of mind gives you will never be like anything on this earth. I’m so happy conversations about mental health have become a lot more normalized throughout the years. Therapy is something I think everyone should at least try. As far as the digital social media spaces that we connect and communicate on, I think it’s important at times that we put down the phone and live more in real life, in real-time, with the real people who are in our faces.

Using social media for what it’s intended for is the key some people tend to miss. I don’t get so caught up in the harmful projection of perfection that social media and society tries so hard to push. Use social media for what you need to use it for and spend time living your life more authentically without needing an audience. 

How do you incorporate things such as spirituality and well-being through your brand as a designer? 

My faith is all I have and all I ever need. It’s what got me this far and what will continue to take me farther. I’ve learned to put God in everything I do so that everything I do is always beneficial in some way. Creating is not only something I’m passionate about but it’s learning to love the process of how I can take an idea and make something out of nothing. Having spiritual practices and building that relationship with God makes me everything I am. That is the brand. I encourage everyone to have their own relationship with God.

Who are some artists and creatives on your Raydar? 

Wow so many creatives that I’ve been inspired by lately, so many of us deserve our flowers. I’ll name as much as I can remember right now. In fashion, I love seeing the work T. Dionne does with Futura, and witnessing her evolution as a designer, stylist, and creative director is beautiful. Fani, a personal friend of mine, I feel is a legend in Atlanta at this point in terms of what he’s doing in the fashion space in Atlanta. 

I love brands that are independently owned and give great quality and design like Ciriaco, TPP, LIMASS, Tordrobes, Ryan Knew, Aseye Studio, Sublime Havoc, WhoDecidesWar, Denim The Label, Des Pierrot, WhenSmokeClears, The Glamour Blueprint, GodBody, Mowalola, Tulie Yaito, Against Medical Advice, and WNTD Apparel.

In music, I just discovered this artist named Bikôkô. I can’t even describe her music, it’s so ethereal and honest. I’ve been listening to her a lot recently. Right now, Feyi, Ayra Star, one of my good friends—Henri B. Styles, Highway, Joony, Qendresa, Erika De Casier, Lady London, Ojerime, Rema, Jean Deaux, Amaarae, BIA, Bktherula, Men I Trust, and my bro Sonny Digital are in my rotation. Oh, and I love Doechii. She’s iconic. Tierra Whack. Iconic. SuperSmashBroz and Vanburen are my favorite creatives coming out of Boston that I really appreciate as well. 

In the film space, my homie Mike Ash, who owns a film company called Good Guys, is like a modern-day Spike Lee to me. So talented and has an incredible eye. It’s not many people I trust when it comes to film because you either got it or you don’t. I’m excited to see more from him. I’ve worked with Joshua Crawley numerous times and he’s amazing at what he does.

Prime is actually the one who shot this cover spread and I’m still blown away. The experience of being captured by him was like no other. He really will make you feel like a superstar. Such a genius level of creativity. My friend Juan Wood II is an amazing actor and I’m excited to see more from him. Lastly, Monique Jones is an incredible director. She does her editing, capturing, directing, and acting in her films solely by herself. I think that’s crazy and genius. 

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