“I think it takes courage to stand out, whether it’s in your clothing or your ideas. I really want women to feel empowered.”
For Chekwube Emebo, part of that empowerment starts with the bold colors, classic silhouettes and African wax prints that make up her clothing line, Ada Kwube.
“I have always loved fashion, always wanted to start my own brand,” she said. “And it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do.”
The scientist and recent Rice University graduate found inspiration in her own heritage through the wax prints her mother used to wear as a member of a women’s club back in Nigeria. “Every month they would have this fabric that they’d all have to buy,” Emebo recalls. “She’d have this big trunk full of bundles and bundles of wax. She would open it, and you would just get this waft of the smell of the wax print. It was just something really special.”
And something that is still popular in her hometown of Lagos.
The distinct prints are often worn for social occasions such as weddings and funerals. They’re also used to make everyday items like baby carriers. But don’t dismiss the tribal prints as the same ones hanging on the racks at some of the trendy retailers in the mall. The prints Emebo uses date back to the 19th century, when they were originally made in Indonesia. European companies then started mass producing them for countries in Africa, where there was a bigger market.
Now Emebo hopes to expand that market into the United States but admits helping women in Western culture feel comfortable wearing it could be a challenge. “Wax print is still associated with a certain ethnic group,” she conceded. “There are so many people that look at it and go, ‘Oh, that’s cute,’ but they won’t wear it because traditional wax print is so colorful.
“That’s the gap that I’m trying to bridge. Even if it’s just hints of it where you don’t feel like you’re wearing this thing that is loud, but it’s exotic enough to be interesting.”
A look at the three dresses on the Ada Kwube website showcases Emebo’s desire to meet that goal.
Known as the brand’s signature dress, The Ada ($189) mixes the feminine elements of white polka dots and bows with multicolor wax prints on the collar and insets. Known as the brand’s signature dress, the Ada is designed to be dressed up or down, whether it’s with a cross body bag and sandals or a pair of bright-colored pumps and a clutch.
Emebo says the Aisha dress is for any woman looking to channel her inner Southern belle. Aisha ($179) blends a red, high waist, silk dupioni skirt with traditional wax print and polka dots on a navy blouse. But there’s also a hidden feature.
“The full skirt has pockets. If you don’t feel like carrying your purse, just throw your lipstick or whatever else you need in your pockets, and you’re good to go,” Emebo said. “The high waist is also really comfortable and makes you feel small because of where it sits.”
And like many designers, Emebo agrees that every woman needs a little black dress. Ada Kwube’s version comes in the form of the Femi ($189). The cocktail flounce dress boasts an hourglass silhouette, wax print multicolor panels, and red piping.
Emebo says the three looks were the closest to her heart, so making them the introductory pieces of her brand was an obvious choice. The move also proved to be pretty smart, since it captured the attention of fashion industry heavyweight Greg Fourticq.
“When she brought in her samples, I could see there would be an audience for them,” Fourticq said. “They were also very unique and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. That, combined with knowing what she was doing, peaked my interest.”
Fourticq knows the real deal when he sees it. He took over as the owner of Moo Boo’s Manufacturing five years ago when he moved back to Houston. But before that, he worked in New York for Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. Fourticq later launched his own business as a retail consultant for brands such as Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne and Nina Ricci.
With a sharpened eye for talent, Fourticq is now using what he learned to help emerging designers like Emebo manufacture their brand in Houston. In fact, Emebo says she has no plans of producing her dresses abroad and was blessed to find Fourticq after being turned down by another factory owner.
“She was like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t make your clothes. They’re too complicated,” Emebo said. “I just sat outside her store and almost cried. I thought, ‘Oh God, what am I going to do?’”
After researching for the last two years about manufacturing and pattern making, Emebo connected with Fourticq through an online forum. They began working together in August of last year, and as of about one month ago, Ada Kwube was born.
The wax prints used in Emebo’s line are imported from a small town in the Netherlands known for making high quality wax print. The base fabric is 100 percent cotton. Then a wax resin is used to make a double-sided print that doesn’t fade.
Now that Ada Kwube has officially arrived, Emebo says she’s one step closer to realizing her vision of seeing women of every color in her dresses. Creating the brand also serves another purpose: paying homage to her mother, Ada. Sound familiar? The first part of the brand name is for her mother who she says “has always been a pillar of support.”
Ada also has a few words to describe her daughter. “She calls me small, but mighty,” Emebo laughs. “She says, ‘Chekwube, you’re so small, but you’re doing all these things.’”
Look for more colors in the existing three dresses to arrive soon on her website, adakwube.com. Emebo plans to roll out new designs starting in summer 2015.