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In this episode of the Stitch Please podcast, Lisa interviews Grace Christopher, the creative genius behind African Zesty Couture. Grace shares her journey into sewing, which began as a way to keep her mind active after moving to the United States (US) with her one-year-old child. Growing up in Nigeria, Grace had been exposed to her mother’s sewing, but it wasn’t until later that she truly delved into the craft.
Grace’s sewing journey began with an old treadle machine but when she moved to the US, she acquired an electric sewing machine, making her sewing experience more accessible. Her early projects were primarily for herself and her son, driven by a desire to connect with her Nigerian heritage.
As Grace’s sewing skills grew, so did her interest in different types of fabrics. She now offers a wide range of fabrics on her website, including Knit Ankara, Silk Adire, and Kampala. Grace provides insights into the cultural significance and unique characteristics of each fabric type, shedding light on their origins and traditional uses.
Grace’s approach to designing garments is influenced by her desire to celebrate the diversity of African fashion. She emphasizes the importance of allowing the fabric to speak for itself and encourages people to experiment with different styles and fabric combinations. Grace actively builds a sense of community among her customers through sew-alongs and challenges. These events provide opportunities for individuals to explore their creativity and gain confidence in working with African fabrics.
The podcast episode concludes with Grace expressing her aspiration to flood the streets with African prints and her dedication to empowering others to embrace and incorporate these fabrics into their own creations. The conversation exemplifies the rich cultural tapestry that sewing can encompass, and the potential for creativity to connect people across continents.
Grace Christopher’s journey is an extraordinary fusion of law and creative passion. Initially drawn to law, she devoted years to her legal career. However, her early exposure to her mother’s sewing ignited a lasting passion. From her mother’s vintage machine to crafting her own garments as a teenager, Grace’s creativity found its roots. A move to the US and motherhood rekindled her love for sewing, inspiring her to blend her Nigerian heritage with her creative passion for sewing. Grace’s designs breathe life into African fabrics, infusing them with modern flair. Through approachable teaching and challenges, she cultivates a community of creatives, aiming to saturate the streets with African fashion. As a mother, business owner, and designer, Grace exemplifies the transformative power of self-expression and celebrates the beauty of diversity.
Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, Black identity, trauma theory, and American slavery. She is the founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers on Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she actively resisted the white supremacist marches in her community, Charlottesville, Virginia. The city became a symbol of lethal resurging white supremacist violence. She remains active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the Community Engaged Scholars program. She believes in the power of creative liberation.
Insights from this episode:
- How Grace’s experience with sewing was both a way to stay busy and to feel connected
- Grace’s transition from practicing law to pursuing a career in sewing, driven by a desire to keep her mind active and find joy in creativity
- African Zesty Couture, specializes in offering various types of fabrics that have cultural and regional significance, and she aims to provide a wide range of options to cater to different tastes and preferences
- The silk adire fabric, traditionally associated with the Yoruba people, is known for its tie-dye patterns and is now also produced in silk, giving it a unique texture.
- How Grace approaches design: sometimes starting with a specific fabric that inspires a creation, while other times she envisions a style and looks for a fabric to match
- TikTok as a strategy to connect with others through sew-alongs and challenges, encouraging others to explore their creativity with African fabrics
- Grace hosts live TikTok session primarily on Fridays at [12:30] PM Central Time
- Initiatives that aim to break down the perception that African prints are exclusive or difficult to work with
- The ultimate goal of Grace’s business is to “flood the streets with Ankara,” emphasizing the accessibility and versatility of African fabrics in everyday wear
- Grace’s journey from practicing law to becoming a successful entrepreneur in the sewing industry reflects her passion for creativity, her cultural connection, and her dedication to empowering others to explore their own creative potential
Quotes from the show:
- “The growth of your son and the growth of your sewing skills seem to kind of come up at the same time, like they’re rising together.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “I always encourage people do not see African fabrics as something difficult to work with or exclusive.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “It just depends on how I’m feeling at the moment. I think as creatives, we tend to go back and forth based on how we are feeling and that’s part of the beautiful thing about being a creative.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “You also spend time building community among your customers and not just your customers but everybody, by having different sew-alongs, having different challenges… I think that’s really encouraging because it shows that you really want to build a relationship between yourself and your clients and you want anyone who is consuming your fabric to feel confident that they can use it for something that would make them happy.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “The fundamental reason why I do that is I feel like I cannot spread this thing fast enough on my own because one of the goals of my business is I say it like a little catch phrase to to flood the streets with an Ankara.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “Your challenge is really more like an invitation for people to investigate their own creativity.” – Lisa Woolfork, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “I think sometimes we stumble into great things when we don’t even plan on them.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “Be kind to yourself… embrace the journey and learn as you go.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
- “Color your life with these beautiful prints.” – Grace Christopher, Stitch Please, Episode #207
Produced and Edited by the Fermata Audio Collective:
EP – Krystal Hill
Producer – Mike Bryant