Whitney Madueke is a Nigerian model, YouTuber and beauty influencer, based in New York City. As beloved for her smile as she is for her style, Whitney Madueke has worked with top make-up and beauty brands, randing from Clinique to Dior Makeup and Shea Moisture. In 2019 was one of just 24 influencers selected for Sephora’s inaugural #SephoraSquad.

Now, with numerous collaborations to her name and 80,000 loyal social media followers, Whitney is expanding her empire with the launch of her very own eponymous fashion label ‘Whitney Madueke’. With her years of experience, a keen eye for beauty, and unique sense of style, her new label, which incorporates influences from western as well as Nigerian fashion , is a much-welcome addition to the sartorial landscape. I recently caught up with the budding designer to discuss the launch of her new collection, life in lockdown and her plans for the future.

What inspired you to launch a clothing line and how long have you been working on it?

I’ve wanted to be a Fashion Designer for the longest time, since I was 11 years old. Even though I could not study Fashion Design for my Bachelor’s Degree, I still held this goal strongly in my heart and pursued it on the sidelines. I moved to NYC to study Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design, after studying Law in England and in Nigeria. Once that was over in 2019, I worked on finally launching my label. It’s been a work in progress for years now but it took a year to actually bring everything to life.

Do you think formal training in fashion is required to be a successful designer? Why or why not?

I think it can be really helpful to have some formal background or training in fashion, but I don’t think it is necessary. After my Bachelor’s Degree in Law I studied Fashion Design at Parsons so I would be a bit more knowledgeable about my new career path. It adds another layer of clarity in figuring out what you want for your brand and the designs you want. Although it takes actually starting a label to figure things out even more, it’s a nice stepping stone. I recommend Certificate programmes (thats what I did at Parsons), or even short summer courses online or at campus. There are numerous ways to learn about fashion design. You’re not limited just because you didn’t study it in school.

‘Who’ do you design for and how do you want them to feel when they wear your clothes?

Haha, I’m sure this answer will be slightly in a few months as I evolve beyond this first collection, but I’d say WHITNEY MADUEKE is for women who want to feel unique and loved while contributing to a better world. We are creating limited pieces, made to order, which allows for a more sustainable approach to fashion while supporting artisanal jobs and celebrating fashion Made In Africa.

How would you describe your personal style and how do you communicate this through your debut collection?

My personal style is a mix of traditional like the Akwete Blazer and western looks like the Sochi Dress. On some days, I might pair something like a buba blouse with a pair of jeans or trousers. I love textures, patterns and colours. Even in a simple piece, the details speak and I love that balance. A lot of my pieces are simple but still striking, bold and captivating. A friend of mine said that my collection was as gorgeous and vibrant as I am and I loved that!

You’re currently based in New York, but how do you incorporate influences from your Nigerian background and heritage into your designs?

I grew up in Nigeria and that heritage will always influence me and my brand. I incorporated Akwete, which is a uniquely woven textile, inspired, of course, by my Igbo roots. I wanted to celebrate Yoruba culture too, which you can see in styles like the Buba blouse. It’s important to elevate Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, through my brand and the stories we tell. I want people to feel something when they wear my clothes. I want them to feel like they’re at home. My collections will always have something to bring you a little closer to home.

With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, how have you spent the past few months in lockdown?

So much has happened and is yet to happen this year and it’s all been so crazy trying to stay afloat, especially with how draining it can be. I’ve done my best to key into myself and my hobbies, expanding my interest in Illustration and working on a few personal projects. For me this year is really about Purpose, and now that the world has slowed down to figure out more of what I want in life. For me 2020 is more of a redirection – a growth catalyst – and I’m thinking of new ways to expand my brand and my impact. I love sharing my journey via my podcast, ‘My Life So Far’, so you should definitely check that out if you’d like to know more and keep up with my journey.

The past few weeks and months have seen a growth in interest in digital/virtual modelling & designing. How do you feel about this and is it a positive or a negative thing in your opinion?

It’s an exciting time to be in, growth comes in many ways and it can be refreshing to see things differently. I love that people are thinking beyond themselves and creating new ways to make an impact. The digital realm will only keep growing and that makes things even more accessible to the public (which can be a good or bad thing depending on your line of argument). I like to focus on positive change and this is definitely one thing that takes us in that direction.

When it comes to fashion and style, who inspires you?

Haha, for me inspiration is more about ‘what’ than ‘who’. I’m inspired by so many things – South African House Music, travel in Africa, African stories and the beauty seen in our continent. I’m inspired by beautiful sunsets in Senegal, masquerades in Nigerias and taxi parks in Uganda. Africa is such a beautiful and diverse continent and since I launched my brand, I’ve fallen in love with Africa in a different way. I’m drawn to it and it gives me life and hope.

To see more stunning pieces from WHITNEY MADUEKE visit WhitneyMadueke.com