Since opening her first online shop in 2012, Jacque Amadi’s relationship with clothes has gone from casual to that of a business woman, with all the fun of a fashionista still incorporated. What began as a way to sell vintage clothes and make a few extra dollars grew into a full blown business with the creation of Adorned by Chi just over a year ago. With inspirational roots in chic ’90s anime fashion; the funky looks of the ’70s; a soft, pastel aesthetic; and a humorous dash of relatability, Adorned by Chi is challenging the mainstream norm of what encompasses black female interests. Jacque, who lives and works in Wichita, KS, spoke with The Co Report about being a black nerd, making sure her multifaceted interests are reflected in her clothing line and positive representation for young black girls.
How did the idea for Adorned by Chi come about?
Well, in college, I had an online shop. I sold vintage clothes, number one, because I needed money, and number two, because I have a shopping addiction. I had bunch of different clothes, some of which didn’t even fit me or match my style, so I thought, “I need to sell these.” It was a lot of fun growing and building and learning new things [about running my store], but then that had to end, and I started blogging about my experience building an online shop. Because of that, I got bit by the online shop bug again, and I decide that I wanted to do it again in 2015. That’s pretty much the catalyst. Adorned by Chi, as a brand? I definitely wanted something that uplifted and shined a light on black women and showcased black women in a way different than how we’re usually portrayed. That’s why it’s so cutesy and all about nerd culture and alternative black girl magic.
Black women being seen in a different light can extend a lot of different areas. How did you settle on the overall theme of anime specifically?
I am a huge nerd; I love anime, I love Sailor Moon. For my last shop, I tried to do things that were more popular and following what everyone else was doing, but with Adorned by Chi, I wanted to stick to what I know and I what I like. That’s why there are sweaters with “Weirdo” on them; that’s me!
That’s so refreshing to embrace! I feel like black nerds, in childhood, embrace their nerdiness in their inner circle, but don’t really bring it to light. But now, as adults, we’re proud to claim the weirdo title.
Exactly. I used to listen to a lot of rock [music] during my freshman year of college, but I would hide what I listened to and put on Gucci Mane. I love Gucci Mane now, but back then I didn’t even know who he was. I was like “Yeah, I listen to this, yeah!” So yes, I’m definitely thinking of a younger me in making the things that I make. Hopefully, there’s a younger me out there who thinks that “Oh, I can like this and that.”
Let’s go back to your childhood for a bit. Was Sailor Moon your first anime? What sort of impact did it have on you?
Well, “Sailor Moon” and “Pokémon”, but “Pokémon” didn’t stay with me like that. With “Sailor Moon”, it was just so girl empowering; everything about it was about sticking up for your friends, knowing it was okay to be a girl, and knowing it’s okay to be clumsy. Sailor Moon is clumsy, she’s a crybaby – I’m all of those things too – but she still saves the day. Usually when it comes to hero stories, it’s about the person having to shed those traits to become someone else, but I like how she never shed her traits; it’s just her.
Did you also first get into fashion as a child? If not, when did you?
When I was younger, my mom would dress me up in frilly dresses and I was like “ewww”. In fifth grade, I remember saying that I was going to be a tomboy. I wore a lot of athletic clothes and tried to be a tomboy. I didn’t really care about fashion until college, actually, when I was obsessed with Janelle Monae and Solange. I was like “Ooh, I’ll wear a bow tie and suit to class! And oxfords!” I had oxfords in a bunch of colors. I even taught myself how to hand make bow ties and I sold them on Tumblr. Me stanning for them inspired me to be more creative and weird with how I look and how I presented myself; it led to my own personal style.
What are some of your favorite fashion trends right now?
I’ve never really been on trend, but I guess I like that chokers are making a comeback. It’s all very ’90s, which I appreciate. I’m not what’s trending right now because I dress the same: high-waisted skirt or high-waisted pants, I tuck my shirt in and I’m out the door. I make sure it looks cute even when I’m sticking to my basics. Oh! I’m actually a fan of the late ’70s, early ’80s look, like from “Stranger Things“: the tube socks, Chucks, bell bottoms; the ’70s are cool.
Since you usually go with the flow in terms of fashion, does that carry over into any timeless pieces or wardrobe staples you always go back to?
High-waisted vintage pants are my kryptonite; I love them! Whenever I find a high-waisted pair of pants, I have to have them. Those, and maybe a skater skirt? So high-waisted pants and skater skirts are like my staple and I can mix it up with a different tee shirt.
How do you come up with the different pieces for Adorned by Chi? You have accessories, and the two collections [the “Foxy Lady” and “Awkward” collections], and the berets; is it just you who comes up with the ideas or do you work with other fashion enthusiasts?
Oh no, it’s just me. I really like the ’90s anime aesthetic; that’s why I love berets and the high-waisted pants. The ’90s cutesy anime characters all wore berets and it was so adorable and French! Now, with the tee shirt designs…one day, something awkward happened to me, and I drew the word “awkward” in a banner and thought “I should put this on a shirt.” Even the “Weirdo” sweaters; I usually get ideas when I’m feeling a certain way and I put it on a shirt. I’ll sketch it, scan it, illustrate it on Adobe Illustrator, and then I have a company that screens it onto the shirts for me. I don’t do the screening myself, but hopefully that’s a step I can take in the future.
Ooh, also, the ’70s collection was inspired by [the Netflix series] “The Get Down.” I saw it and thought “I want my own ’70s collection!” Those clothes don’t really go with the rest of the shop, but “The Get Down” was so awesome, so I thought “Seventies shirts, here I come”.
Are the products being well received?
Oh yeah, I have really diehard, returning customers who I love. I love every single person who buys anything from me. I actually have a Facebook group of customers; it’s called “Soft Black Girls“, like that whole soft aesthetic. It’s a Tumblr term, meaning, like, anything flowy and light pink. I wanted a Facebook group of girls who liked that aesthetic, and it’s turning into more than that. Everyone seeks advice form each other and wants to meet up with each other, and we talk a lot about anime.
Why is representation important? Was that a goal for Adorned by Chi?
Representation is important, honestly, because you need to see that things are possible, especially as a black woman. We need to see that things are possible for us. People will say that skin color doesn’t matter and who cares if someone is the first black person to do this or that, but there’s programming that happens when you’re young. You see these images on TV, and when none of them look like you, it limits what you think you can be. If everyone who looked like you on TV is in jail, or the sassy sidekick and not the star, you’re never going to think you can be more. So, I think it’s important to show these things not only for black people, but for non-black people. Black women don’t just like one thing and don’t just look one way. We’re so multifaceted, so I’m just trying to use this shop to push another kind of representation of black women out there.
What was one of your first instances of positive representation?
Honestly, it wasn’t until I was 17 and heard Janelle Monae for the first time. She was singing [on “Violet Stars Happy Hunting”] “I’m an alien from outer space” and I said, oh my god! Is this a black woman singing about sci-fi? This shop wouldn’t exist without Janelle Monae because she inspired me to be weird.
Who is your favorite magic girl?
What’s next for Adorned by Chi? Would you want to extend the brand beyond the clothing line and the blog?
Right now, I’m introducing pins; I guess that’s another craze right now. But I didn’t see any for black anime fans, so I decided to make my own. I’ll be adding those to the shop very soon. Other than that, my plan is to add more tee shirts, more cute stuff and just going with the flow. For pin designs, I have a character named Chiamaka who’s drawn in the ’90s anime style, and then my “Black and Proud” tee shirt design. As time goes on, I’ll probably add more black girl anime characters and black empowerment things; things that just make people feel more validated in what they like and who they are.