Published Online

On CultureMap January 5, 2015

See the original story here.

 Scientist-turned-fashion designer aims for global appeal with unique made-in-Houston dresses

“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 The prints Emebo uses date back to the 19th century, when they were originally made in Indonesia.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.”

Three dresses

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.

Captures attention

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, Emebo plans to roll out new designs starting in summer 2015.

Below is an article that I wrote in July 2013 as an intern with Comcast SportsNet Houston.

You can also find it here:

UH students bike cross-country for disability awareness
By Brittaney Wilmore

It takes about five hours to fly non-stop from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. It takes over 42 hours to drive and 1,632 hours to get there on a bike. University of Houston students Matthew Docimo and Michael Brooks, both 22, are going for option C.

“The bike ride across the country is what everyone sees,” Docimo, a supply chain management major, said. “What we really want people to understand is that the cycling trip is a large metaphor.”

The UH senior said the ride represents the hardships that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

“We can’t just opt out of the bike because they can’t just opt out of disability, so it would be selfish of us to really get off the bike,” he said.

Docimo and Brooks are participating in the Journey of Hope: a 4,000-mile, 68-day bike ride organized by the nonprofit Push America, which seeks to support and serve people with disabilities. The Journey of Hope is also a fundraiser and so far, over $600,000 has been raised.

Individually, Docimo has raised $9,700 and Brooks hit his goal of $6,000. Cyclists must exceed the fundraising minimum of $5,500.

Brooks said every dollar that’s donated goes directly to Push America, the philanthropy founded by the fraternity that he and Docimo belong to, Pi Kappa Phi.

According to the organization’s website, Pi Kappa Phi is the only fraternity to establish its own philanthropy. Only current members and alumni can participate in the rides, which take place every summer on three different routes: San Francisco (North), Los Angeles (South) and Seattle (Transamerica).

This year, it’s Brooks’ and Docimo’s turn to see the United States as part of a 26-member team of cyclists. They took off from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on June 9 and will end on the Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. on August 10.

“The first day we had a 74-mile day into Napa, California from San Francisco, and I cramped up in both legs twice,” Brooks, a construction management major, said. “You can’t really train for a cross-country bike ride unless you really know what you’re getting yourself into.”

The two best friends, who call themselves Mike ‘N’ Ike, are now over the halfway mark and have gotten themselves into quite a bit. Along the North Route, they’ve weaved through the wine country of California to Highway 50 in Nevada (known as the loneliest road in America), and then hit the Rocky Mountains. In Denver, they made a pit stop at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where the Denver Broncos play, before crossing cornfields on the way to Nebraska.

“Michael is a huge Denver Broncos fan, and a bunch of guys on the route were giving me a hard time because I wore my Dallas Cowboys socks,” Docimo said, laughing. Both say the scenery definitely has lent itself to photo opportunities.

“At Loveland Pass (the Rockies), we climbed up to an elevation of 11,990 feet, and the team just stopped,” Brooks said. “We took a break from the ride for 30 minutes so everyone could get the pictures in and picked it back up. It’s really crazy when you look down, being up that high, and you’re trying to gasp for air. But it’s well worth it.”

Seeing the sights is just one aspect of Docimo’s and Brooks’ daily grind. At night, they sleep in gyms, cafeterias and churches. Mornings for them can start as early as 4:30.Their days begin with a sponsored
breakfast prepared by one of the crew chiefs (whom they call ‘mom’), then getting ready, sometimes with 26 men sharing one sink. By 5:30 a.m., they’re on the road to ride anywhere between 42-115 miles.

Playlists with music from Justin Bieber to AC/DC keep the group going when facing high winds and temperatures over 100 degrees.

“’Why do you build me up? Buttercup, baby, just to let me down,’” Docimo sang. “That one, that one’s stuck in my head all the time, and we have someone echoing and another guy trying to do the beat with
his mouth.”

Operating as a traveling chorus isn’t the only way the cyclists try to stay enthusiastic in the heat.

“We do everything from tell life stories to each other on the bike to play I-spy. It was really tough to find a tree in the desert,” Docimo said, jokingly. “Normally, what people find shocking is that after a day of  seven, eight, nine hours on the bike, we take the energy that we have left and do what we call Friendship Visits.”

Here’s where Brooks and Docimo get their second wind. Friendship Visits allow them to interact with people with everything from physical to developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Individuals at the visit range from children to adults who have participated for the past 60 years.

During a basketball game, one of Brooks’ clients, who had autism, made the buzzer beater for a game-winning shot.

“When you do a Friendship Visit you learn about their abilities, and that’s what keeps you going,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s in a wheelchair, but he can play basketball like no other.’ Well, then I can do a 110-mile day.”

For Docimo, his favorite experience on the visit came on Day 26 in Empire, Colo. where he went on a hike up to Rocky Mountain Village with campers who had developmental disabilities. The 22-year-old helped a young adult in a wheelchair named Kenny. “Part of the hill gets really steep and there’s no longer a wheelchair ramp,” Docimo said. “I and three other brothers from the Journey of Hope looked at Kenny and asked him if he wanted to go up the hill and without even hesitating he said yes.

“It was about 3/4 mile climb so we put Kenny in the sling and carrying him up the hill, all he kept saying was how he was going to tell his mom. You go into this trip thinking that you’re going to change the lives of the people that you interact with, and in turn it’s the complete opposite.”

Although experiences like these are what give them inspiration, Docimo and Brooks admit the most difficult part of the ride can be hitting physical, mental and emotional barriers. That’s when they think of their fraternity brother who was paralyzed for eight months.

“The doctors, at one point, told him that he would never walk again. Now, he’s walking around. He’s an active brother that does anything anyone else does,” Docimo said. “Whenever we went up Loveland Pass, we’d been on the bike for 10 hours, and we were pushing for him. This is the reason why we’re doing this.”

The fraternity brothers are the only two from UH this summer on the North Route with four students from the school having ridden before them. Their first time cycling for the Journey of Hope, Docimo and Brooks are continuing a tradition that started nearly 30 years ago.

“It’s something you can’t experience in a car or a plane because you’re going too fast,” Brooks said. “On a bike you just experience everything.”

With little less than a month left to complete the course, the next leg of the trip will entail going through the Midwest including Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana before reaching Pennsylvania, Ohio and finally, Washington D.C.

“I look down at my bike, and I see my two wheels, three different gear cranks and look at my handle bars. I look at my two engines, my legs, and I just can’t believe this is what I’m riding across the country on,” Docimo said.

Still, after seeing so much, he’s looking forward to something else when he arrives in the Capitol. “I just want to see my little brother, my mother, my dad, grandparents, everyone’s going to be there,” he said before pausing. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like.”


Former CNN Correspondent Lectures on “one-man band” reporting 

Working alone in Iraq, Alphonso Van Marsh broke the news of Saddam Hussein’s capture

The video clip he wanted to show the class didn’t work but, as a veteran journalist, Alphonso Van Marsh came prepared.

He moved right into his topic for the night: how he became the future of media.

Marsh, a former CNN correspondent, guest lectured for Professor Carolyn Canville’s Advanced Electronic News Class on February 28. He’s best known for breaking the story of Saddam Hussein’s capture while staying on a compound with the United States military in Tikrit, Iraq in 2003.
“Alphonso’s years as a foreign correspondent have taught him the right way to pack – and he packed plenty of entertaining and insightful stories into two short hours!” Professor Carolyn Canville said. “And he seasoned it all with a healthy dose of humor – another essential for anyone working in TV news.”

Marsh opened with how his journey began at CNN as an intern chasing down network executives and begging them for a shot on-air. His tenacity landed him a position as a video correspondent – but not right away.

After his internship ended, Marsh said he sent postcards to CNN executives about the many stories he covered while overseas to show them what they were missing out on by not having him on staff.

He didn’t stop until they hired him.

His knowledge of digital newsgathering coupled with his non-mainstream approach to storytelling, helped Marsh score his dream job. He shared that he urged producers to send him where most journalists aren’t willing to go: the Middle East and Africa.

By covering those parts of the world, Marsh invited audiences to learn about the art of “spinning” in South Africa and showed that “Y2K” was just the Year 2000 on some calendars and just another moment in time for some communities in Africa – and not the beginning of a global meltdown.

Students easily identified with his experience and his tenacity.

“Alphonso is a very inspiring man,” said Vanessa Salgado, a broadcast journalism major. “He showed me that in this industry persistence pays off and that we should never give up on our goals.”

Marsh stressed that he did freelance work and developed his skills as a multi-media journalist while waiting for his big break. Multi-media journalists, nicknamed in the industry as “one-man bands,” produce, shoot, edit, write and even upload their own stories – without help from a traditional news crew.

In Marsh’s case, by having a G4 computer, small digital camera, satellite phone and videophone, he could go live for CNN in seconds from anywhere in the world. He advised students preparing for careers in the broadcast industry to keep in mind that more newsrooms are moving toward one-man band journalism and that having skills in many areas will help them stay competitive.

Students also got a taste of what a one-man band reporter packs for protection while covering the front lines of wars and riots. Marsh brought equipment including a 40-pound bulletproof vest and helmet.

“The most memorable thing was definitely the gear he passed around the classroom, so we could try it out ourselves,” said senior Stephanie Hernandez. “Who knows when I would’ve had the opportunity to witness something like that without his visit?”

2013 HCC Graduate Profiles

Alexandra Reyes (Associate of Science)– When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Being in the right place at the right time couldn’t seem truer for Alexandra Reyes. One rainy day, she helped a professor with an umbrella in the parking lot at the Houston Community College Katy Campus.

Little did she know, this simple act of kindness would change her life. The professor introduced Reyes to Dr. Bart Sheinberg, the interim director of the grants office at HCC. Reyes credits Sheinberg for not only telling her about the National Science Foundation (NSF) but also informing her on how to apply for scholarships from the agency. Reyes calls Sheinberg her “caretaker in the academic world” and apparently, that may not be too far from the truth. Whether Sheinberg’s guidance was coincidental, Reyes received full tuition scholarships from the NSF, making it financially possible for her to afford a higher education.

Just as Reyes’ academic dreams began to take flight, she found out she was diagnosed with a grade II Astrocytoma brain tumor in February 2012. She underwent surgery and treatment for the tumor, and by fall of that year, she was able to continue her studies at HCC.

Now as a 2013 HCC graduate, she looks forward to enrolling at Texas Tech University in August to study petroleum engineering. She also holds a Veterinary Technology degree from HCC.

Reyes says she lives by this motto: “If I can survive a brain tumor, I can become a petroleum engineer.”

James Bonner (Culinary Arts) – Cooking His Way to a Healthy Life

“Grate Kakes” is Chef James Bonner’s middle name. It’s also the name of his dessert company. But before he was whipping up delicious dishes in the kitchen, he went to Houston Community College where he completed the pastry program in 2008. Yet, that achievement didn’t satisfy his sweet tooth, so he decided to return to the college in 2011 to earn his degree in Culinary Arts.

As Bonner began his journey through the program, he faced a sickness that wasn’t part of the recipe. Bonner developed a blood clot in his leg, which traveled to his lungs. The Nashville native had to make a choice. “I had to decide if I wanted to live or die,” Bonner said. That’s when he opted to add a dash of culinary skills.

Through cooking healthier food, Bonner lost 80 pounds. The cuisine that Bonner brought to his culinary courses quickly became envied by his classmates and professors. “When I went to class, and we were cooking different foods, I was bringing my own food that was healthy. And everyone wanted to eat my food,” Bonner said. “I got a lot of support from everybody, so I was very grateful for that.”

That support also came from Bonner’s mother, who serves as a source of inspiration for him because she graduated from Tennessee State University at 61 years old.  It looks like when it comes to success – like mother, like son.

And although Bonner knows his way around the kitchen, he’s still not done studying. He’s pursuing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston’s Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Heather Williams (Associate of Science) – Certified to Have a Bright Future

Friends and family are the glue that holds Heather Williams together. Although she was already a certified surgical technician, the inability to find work in that field led her to return to school in pursuit of a nursing career.

However, her path to becoming a nurse hasn’t started off purely scientific. Along the way, Williams has earned an Associate’s degree in Art from Houston Community College. Getting creative wasn’t the problem – finding the strength to continue her studies was.  That’s when photography professor Bennie Ansell stepped in. Williams says Ansell wouldn’t let her fall away from school. “She (Ansell) told me not to let anything get in my way. That I was very smart,” Williams said. “And she would just tell me that I could do anything I wanted to do if I would put my mind to it.”

The classroom wasn’t the only place Williams found encouragement. Her husband, Gerald, also played a role in motivating her; he often tutored her and provided emotional and financial support. “He hasn’t let me quit,” Williams said. Although there were times when Williams doubted her achievements, she realizes now that she’s accomplished something that not everyone has done: receive an Associate’s degree.

Williams’ hopes to attend Texas Woman’s University next semester to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing and become a nurse practitioner within the next five years.

U.S. Secretary of Labor talks with students at HCC Southeast

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis visited Houston Community College Thursday, Oct. 25 at the Southeast campus for a conversation on economy, workforce, education and training.

Houston Community College was one of the stops on Solis’ tour to colleges and universities across the nation to discuss education and workforce issues.

Solis spoke about the need for more students to study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers.

“They absolutely are essential careers, and we need to have more young people and people who are currently looking for work to get enrolled in programs like here at the community colleges to obtain those certificates and credentials in STEM areas,” Solis said.

The Secretary of Labor also called for continued integration between junior high and high school students and community colleges and training programs.

“What an exciting time to have the junior highs involved with the community colleges and industry and every part of the educational institutions linking up and creating a chain of opportunity to talk about investments of education in STEM,” Solis said.

The audience asked questions about job creation, funding for international opportunities to prepare students as global citizens, and what role small businesses owners and entrepreneurship plays in the economy.

Baldomero Garza, LULAC National Vice-President for the Southwest noted that the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) worked to bring Solis to Houston Community College because of the educational opportunities HCC brings to the community and citywide.

Guests included HCC Chancellor Dr. Mary S. Spangler, HCC Board Chair Mary Ann Perez, and HCC Board of Trustees Bruce Austin, Carroll Robinson and Eva Laredo and HCC Southeast President Dr. Irene Porcarello.

High school students were also in attendance from the East Early College High School located on HCC Southeast’s Felix Fraga Campus.

“It was thoughtful and inspiring for me. I’m looking forward to all the programs that she mentioned. I see her as a role model, and I want to be there one day,” said Liani Salmeida, an 11th grade student at the East Early College High School hoping to study in the medical field.

Solis is the first Hispanic woman to serve as a regular U.S. cabinet secretary and the first Hispanic Secretary of Labor.  She was confirmed on February 24, 2009.






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