"Learning Fashion Design as a Deaf Person was far more Complicated than I thought” – Nigerian Designer
Chibuzor, a Nigerian fashion designer born deaf, opens up on how growing up and chasing his dreams in a residential surburb in Eastern Nigeria has been a difficult challenge he never prepared for.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?My name is Chibuzor Okoye and I’m from Njikoka Local Government Area in Anambra State, Nigeria, but I live in Trans-Ekulu in Enugu State. I was born deaf and I am fluent in sign language. I grew up and schooled in Enugu my whole life. I attended primary & secondary school at Abakpa Nike. My hobby is playing football.
What led you into fashion designing and how long ago did you start sewing?
While I was seeking admission, I was led into fashion design by an old classmate of mine, Aloysious. Rather than wasting time doing nothing, I decided to do something that may help me. My aunt paid fashion fees for me. I started learning it in June 2019 and completed my training in March 2021.
What were your challenges or worries about going into the fashion industry and accessibility?
I really have faced a lot of challenges while I was learning fashion. I thought learning fashion design as a deaf person would be easy, but it was more complicated than I thought.
For instance, my former boss and I had communication problem. We did not understand each other. There was not much he taught me and there was not much I learnt. My English is not good a little bit, so he had some trouble understanding my message. He did not give me adequate attention. I believe the situation would have been different if I were a hearing person.
To make matters worse, the place where I trained was not fully equipped. So, I had to just find a way to learn without the necessary machines in place.
Chibuzor at work
How have you been able to overcome the barriers or stereotypes that go with being deaf and working as a fashion designer?
I taught myself how to sew a lot. I learnt through watching online materials on YouTube. I browsed and researched. I often asked Aloysious to teach me. Sometimes, I crept into his home without my aunt’s knowledge because she would not like it if she knew. She expected me to learn from my boss. She did not understand what I went through.
How have you been able to communicate with your clients?
Mostly through writing. I would have to write down my thoughts and they would reply same way. I also do a lot of texting or messaging through Whatsapp and Facebook. In my line of work, social media is very important. It’s the way I keep touch with my clients.
In 5 to 10 years time, where do you see yourself in the fashion industry?
To be sincere, schooling is uppermost on my mind, so I cannot answer that question now. I want to go to school while focusing on fashion design alongside.
Chibuzor modeling one of his designs
Do you think the government of your country is doing well to support the deaf community? What advice do you have for them?
What I know for a fact is that many deaf people are struggling day-to-day to meet ends. The government has not done enough for the deaf community. My advice for them is to organise a progam with the aim of helping the deaf. There're a lot of deaf people who have the capacity and talent to run various businesses, but do not have the capital and necessary equipment. So, I call on the Nigerian government to pay more attention to the needs of deaf people.
What advice do you have for other young persons like you who want to go into fashion design?
My advice for them is that they should be dedicated or committed to fashion. Fashion is an art. To become good at what you intend to do, you need total determination and perseverance. Use your brain.
What is your favourite life lesson quote?
Never be ashamed of your hustle; nobody will feed you if you are broke and hungry. You have to get up and hustle. Never stop making money.
Any final words?
I need more clients. Either hearing or deaf clients. I wish them to keep coming. I will keep sewing for them. Lastly, I want to say thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed and tell the world my story.