Egypt “Ify” Ufele: African themes a standout in young designer’s fashion line
The showroom in her Queens home is bedecked with all the accoutrements of a young designer who has caught the eye of the high-flying New York fashion scene.
Walls are decorated with accolades—proclamations from the New York City Council, an award from an Ivy League university, celebrity recognition items and other certificates.
A rack in the corner brims with exquisite African-themed designs recently showcased by models on the runway during New York Fashion Week.
For a recent media interview, 13-year-old Egypt “Ify” Ufele sits in a white leather, crystal-studded throne chair fit for a princess. She is surrounded by her mocha-toned Barbie dolls, which are wearing the African-inspired styles that she hand-stitched during an earlier phase of her career. These Barbies were her first clients, a reminder of how far she has come.
Egypt has been profiled by the New York Times, Teen Vogue, People and other major US publications for her achievements in the fashion industry and for BullyChasers—the charity she launched to end bullying.
It wasn’t always a kind and gentle world for the amiable teen. “I was bullied and called names in school,” she says, recounting incidents of being punched in the back and having her finger dislocated. “One time, a boy stabbed me with a pencil.”
Egypt recalls a particularly painful moment at a community fashion show. A thoughtless designer rebuffed her, saying she didn’t make clothes for “fat kids.”
Her mom, Reba Perry-Ufele, says, “I tell her all the time: You’re a princess! You’re beautiful! You’re intelligent! When people attack you, that’s a way of God elevating you to a different level.” Ms. Perry-Ufele is a chaplain for the New York Police Department.
Born in the United States, Egypt has a Nigerian father and an American mother, but she considers herself an “Igbo princess.”
She is CEO of Chubiiline, a plus-size fashion line specializing in styles for curvy women, catering to sizes 00 to 26. “If someone comes to my rack, they’ll never hear the words, ‘We don’t have anything for you,’” says Egypt, who also designs for men, children and puppies.
At age five, “I began helping my grandmother by pushing the pedals on her sewing machine,” she told Africa Renewal in an interview. At 10, she was the youngest designer to feature at New York Fashion Week.
She is currently planning her fall 2019 collection for shows in Paris and Milan. This time, her grandmother is helping her with the Africa-themed ready-to-wear.
Egypt is a frequent guest and featured speaker at the United Nations on behalf of the Center for Global Education, which is part of the US Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centers and Associations. She also serves as a “Young Ambassador” for Guns Down, Life Up, a New York City-based antiviolence initiative.
Under the auspices of Bullychasers, Egypt has traveled to Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Togo and the Virgin Islands.
During a trip to Nigeria in 2017, Egypt noticed some children weren’t wearing shoes. Once back home, she launched a shoe-collection drive. “We collected 2,000 pairs of shoes. People were donating, and we shipped them to Nigeria for the kids,” says Ms. Perry-Ufele.
In addition to Egypt’s success as an entrepreneur, she maintains an A average at Medgar Evers College Prep School in Brooklyn. She told Africa Renewal she is debating whether to become a cardiothoracic surgeon or a pharmaceutical chemist. And then she added, “Maybe I should be an astronaut. There’s a whole galaxy out there, and what if we are the aliens? Do you ever think about that?”
Whichever path Egypt chooses, she has no plans to give up Chubiiline. “I like to recreate my old designs and make something new,” she said with a smile.