"I would build off of [that traditional Nigerian attire] in my own style," says Ilochi, a Pittsburgh native and founder of local styling company StylingByChi. "But I really looked at my mother. My mom didn't care. She'd be like, 'I’m wearing what I want to wear. I’m showing up to the grocery store in a suit, don’t say nothing to me.’ So I was like, you know what, if she can do it, there’s something in here.”
It started as trial and error, some outfits hit or miss, but Ilochi soon realized she had a knack for mixing prints and patterns without creating looks that clashed. “I could throw a lot of different colors together, and it didn’t look tacky,” she says.
Now with StylingByChi, Ilochi uses style to heal, help, and inspire through clothing. One could even go as far as to say she’s a fashion philanthropist. Ilochi has a partnership with Goodwill, stressing the sustainability of thrifted fashion and quality pieces at low costs. She also speaks to individuals living with autism, those living in poverty, and at-risk youth about making fashion more accessible, and gifts clothes to those in need. Healing, Ilochi says, is where her love for fashion and styling stems from.
“Using it as a way to help other people has definitely helped me with my mental health and my understanding of myself as a Black woman,” says Ilochi. “It was really hard for me to embrace that, and being Nigerian, [styling] really helped me find my place. I saw how much it impacted my life and wanted to give back in that sense. I wanted it to be bigger than fashion.”
Ilochi first got the idea to be a stylist at age 15. A friend and classmate at Perry High School in the North Side saw Ilochi’s potential and brought up the career as something to pursue.
“At the time, I didn’t really know what that was because at schools that aren’t really funded, they don’t talk about fashion,” says Ilochi. “I researched it, and it was everything I was doing already. I just didn’t have a title for it, and it was really like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
From that point on, Ilochi set her focus on studying the ins and outs of being a stylist. “It’s one thing to be self-proclaimed,” she says. But it’s a different story to have the schooling and knowledge to back a career choice, especially as a Black woman.
Ilochi is currently studying business at the Community College of Allegheny County with one semester left until graduation. After that, she plans to go to the School of Style to get her styling certification. “I think it’s important to learn the background of the business because it's 80% business and 20% creativity,” says Ilochi.
Even though Ilochi has yet to get official degrees, she already has a thriving styling business with a focus on helping others. It really took root last summer around Style Week Pittsburgh. Before the fashion show, Ilochi heard that the Goodwill on McKnight Road was doing a back-to-school sale.
“I was like, you know I’ve never really seen anything pushing children who can’t afford Jordans or Nikes or things like that,” she says, “so I was like, you know what, I’m going to Goodwill and I’m going to start buying parents clothes, and while they’re shopping be like, ‘Hey, is there anything you're trying to go for?’”
All on her own accord, Ilochi set up shop in Goodwill, helped families find stylish pieces for their children, and then bought the clothing for them. “Some parents, when I bought their clothes at checkout, they were kind of taken back,” says Ilochi. But the manager of that Goodwill took notice and told her to contact the Goodwill marketing team.
Ilochi emailed the team, but didn’t hear back until Patrice McKenzie, founder of local thrift fashion blog Thrift Out Loud, invited Ilochi to style a model in Style Weeks Pittsburgh’s sustainable fashion show. Each stylist was given a model and a $50 gift card to Goodwill to show that people can be stylish in something that’s thrifted. After the show, Goodwill reached out to Ilochi about a partnership.
Now, she showcases thrifted fashion on her social media pages promoting Goodwill, and often donates the clothes to those in need when she’s done. But for Ilochi, that still wasn’t enough.
“It was like uncovering a new layer of purpose,” Ilochi says. “I asked if I could speak about clothing to their residents, how they could stay warm during the winter, how they could layer, and things like that. There’s more to fashion and styling than wearing what everybody else is.”
Before the pandemic, Ilochi would speak to teens and help them see thrifted fashion as cool. She would help people with autism and mental illness find their personal style. Ilochi has taken styling beyond the rack and created an entire brand.
“Styling has saved my life, and I mean that in every sense of the word,” she says. “I was in a really bad place mentally. I had lost a few friends to suicide when I really started pushing styling, and being able to get up in the morning and put an outfit on that has these colors, or even if it was a dark outfit, it kind of let me be somebody else and kind of escape what I was going through at the time, and seeing that I could do that for myself, it lit a flame in me, knowing that it could be bigger than fashion, bigger than the glitz and the glam.”