CHINAKWE is a contemporary, Afro Lux, art and lifestyle brand. Founded by artist, stylist and designer, Caroline Chinakwe. The brand is rooted in the artist’s African heritage and European upbringing which shows her creative use of prints styling and bold colours and beauty to depict her passion for her cultural influences. Her artwork brings the vibrancy and history of Black culture to life and showcases this through lifestyle products for the modern consumer that is ready to embrace the Afro Lux Culture. Caroline found time in her busy schedule to tell Afrowoman Online about how she created her business to be a leading Afro Lux brand representing our culture:
Tell us about how you got started – were you always destined for a career in the arts or did you make a career change?
I started as a fashion designer studying fashion design at the London College of Fashion. I worked in the industry for nearly 25 years before transitioning into art.
Art was never a thought in my head. I knew nothing about the industry. My knowledge of art started and ended with everything I learnt as a secondary school student and the museums I reluctantly dragged myself to.
Now, to call myself a full time artist and be so passionate about Art, is just beyond anything I would have planned for my future even 3 years back.
Copyright: CHINAKWE – Caroline wearing ‘Chimono Coat’
Did you study art or develop your creative skills on independent projects?
At school I was always creative and anything I tried creative wise, I was not bad at – some would even say ‘good’. My first passion was drama and music. I really wanted to be a singer or actress and tried hard to follow a path in that career. When that didn’t work out, I fell into fashion. When I left school, I never went back into art, apart from drawing fashion sketches which I didn’t enjoy doing. I wanted to go straight into making clothes – not sketching them. That’s why everything I’m doing with my art now really comes from within myself and my natural skills. Now that I’m in the industry working as an artist, there IS a part of me that does wish I’d realised my love and talent for art and studied it initially, but that’s just a tiny, small part.
Do you feel like you were supported by your family in taking this career path?
My dad passed away when I was 12 and I grew up with my mum who actually wasn’t your traditional ‘Nigerian mother’ who wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. She always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. Her only ask was that I be good at it.
For so many of us, we have been unrepresented for most of our lives. We have had to buy into products and a lifestyle that does not speak to us and have been made to think that we are not a luxury too.
What type of products does CHINAKWE offer?
CHINAKWE is a lifestyle brand and in that, I created products that touches our everyday lives and feeds our senses. This starts with the Art and then filters into the Fashion and Homeware. I want my customer and anyone looking for the CHINAKWE lifestyle to know that there’s a brand out there that fulfils and satisfies all their cultural, design and aesthetic needs.
Where does your artistic inspiration come from?
As an artist, it’s so important for me to not be too distracted by what others are doing. You have to stay true to your voice, your creativity and your personal style. I do this by not over-researching things, not overthinking ideas or comparing my work to others. My inspirations come from past thoughts, past archives of things I’d seen somewhere or experienced. I have moments of clarity that pull out an archive of something I’ve seen which is then translated into something new: My work.
CHINAKWE is a lifestyle brand and in that, I created products that touches our everyday lives and feeds our senses. This starts with the Art and then filters into the Fashion and Homeware.
Who is your ideal customer?
My ideal customer is genderless, a man or a woman, Black or white. Ultimately a person that appreciates and wants to embrace the Black culture in their everyday lives. Someone that loves and appreciates beautiful and well made things and someone who understands and wants to support my push for equality.
How would you describe Afro Lux?
For me , Afro Lux is a term that describes products or experiences that truly reflects Africa in its best and luxurious light. Never without a true representation of its people and culture that many industries of the world – especially the media, tend to miss out.
How does your brand CHINAKWE give us Afro Lux products?
My brand is the true definition of Afro Lux – from the images of beautiful black men and women, to the attention and quality standard we put into our products.
Coming into CHINAKWE, you get that feeling that you’re now entering something that is unique yet resonates with you.
Copyright: CHINAKWE – Success Cushion Small
Why do you think Afro Lux is growing and emerging as an industry? Or has it always existed?
It’s always been there of course, because there have always been brands that encapsulate the idea of Afro Lux. However, they were hard to find and now with the help of the internet, we are now seeing more and more Afro Lux brands being able to show themselves freely.
Did you find it easy to get into this industry or were there barriers based on your race and gender?
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I knew it was going to be hard as a Black woman entering a new world and for me, it was relatively smooth sailing. As a digital artist, I did my thing, put myself online and let people discover me, which they did. Nevertheless, things become harder when you try and join the rest of the artist community; in galleries for example. That’s when you realise that making your mark is a much bigger challenge than anticipated.
It (Afro Lux) has always been there of course, because there have always been brands that encapsulate the idea of Afro Lux.
Have you seen a shift in how Black people and the world see the Afro Lux industry?
It’s also a new world to me so I can’t speak on a shift as of yet, but I do see that Black people especially want this industry to expand and desperately be a part of it. For so many of us, we have been unrepresented for most of our lives. We have had to buy into products and a lifestyle that does not speak to us and have been made to think that we are not a luxury too. However, things are changing and again, social media has had a huge impact on the Afro Lux industry being recognised and growing.
I often think there’s a misconception that Black people don’t understand art or the beauty of creativity; what are your thoughts on this?
Yes, that is the narrative we are fed and made to believe about ourselves – that we don’t understand or wouldn’t appreciate good art. That is because we are conditioned to like the Western World’s idea of art, good art and beauty. In turn, we’re force fed Picasso and Van Gogh and are told that they are the only types of artists and art we need to know and appreciate. Had we been told about black artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Basquiat, Laura Warring and Toyin Odutola, then we may have had a better shot at indulging in the culture of art and been more inspired to be a part of it too.
What can we expect to see from CHINAKWE in the future?
There are so many things happening and upcoming right now for CHINAKWE the brand and for myself as an artist. From residencies and taking part in group exhibitions, to an upcoming PopUp store in November. I have so much still to do with the brand to represent us and our culture in the way we can all be proud of – so please follow CHINAKWE and play a part in our growth and in turn, your own.
Learn more about CHINAKWE at:
CHINAKWE Instagram – @chinakwe_
Caroline Chinakwe Personal Instagram – @carolinechinakwe
CHINAKWE on Facebook – @ByChinakwe