Inspirational Woman: Caroline Chinakwe | Mixed Media Artist

Caroline ChinakweCaroline Chinakwe, is a Nigerian-born, London-based artist, mixed media artist and a graduate of London College of Fashion.

Caroline started her career as a garment technologist and had over 20 years in the fashion industry working in garment technology, design and styling for brands such as Nicole Farhi, Karen Millen and Topshop.

With over 20 years working in the fashion industry, Caroline’s recent  transition into art, developed from the need to create and share visuals that reflected her own ideas of black culture, beauty and style.

Using a combination of various artistic mediums including photography, acrylic, hand-painted details, and digital collaging, Caroline creates colourful, bold, captivating and unapologetic pieces, that reflect her  personal vision of fashion and style as an Afro-European.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a London based, Nigerian-born and self-taught, mixed-media artist. I graduated from London College of Fashion with an HND in fashion design and technology and worked in the fashion industry for over 25 years in various capacities, including; production, design and styling and for brands including UK labels Nicole Farhi and Karen Millen and for African luxury boutique, Polo Avenue in Lagos Nigeria. In 2019 I took a huge leap of faith and transitioned from fashion to a full time artist. As a single mother of 3, this was the most difficult, courageous and the best thing I have ever done.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No! I fell into fashion by accident and realised halfway through my career that I really wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t have the passion that I felt I should have. People see the fashion industry as such a glamorous industry and career for me to be in, for me it was far from that. It was if anything very frustrating and this frustration was my reason for creating images that unbeknownst to me would change the trajectory of my career and life. So nothing was planned at all, life just took me by the hand and I just followed its lead.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’m a believer in spirituality and destiny. I started my career as an artist at a time when the world was changing and people were open to new ideas, embracing different race, culture and identity and at a time where the inequalities between men and women was finally being recognised, so things weren’t as difficult as I know they could have been. I know for sure that if I had tried setting up my business pre, covid, the Black Lives Matter and Me TOO Movement, I would have experienced a much harder journey and maybe would have given up by now.

This isn’t to say things haven’t been challenging by any means. I’m still a black female trying to have my work noticed in a white, male dominated and elite world, so it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to find my own way of addressing and breaking through and challenges, such as setting up a community interest company, Camden Black Creatives, supporting black creatives in Camden, my local borough.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

When I look back at the last year, I honestly can’t believe how far I’ve come and my accomplishments. I was the first artist of residence at the Mondrian Hotel in Shoreditch. I was named artist of the month on ART Jobs. My group Camden Black Creatives was the first all Black gallery showing at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead. But I have to say that just taking the leap as a single mother, who is also a carer  for her elderly mum, in my late 40s and leaving a relatively secure career I had built for over 25 years, then starting a new career in an industry I knew absolutely zero about and making it work, is definitely my biggest achievement.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The passion and belief in myself and my creativity. At no other time in my life have I believed in myself more. People can tell you all day long how talented you are, or how amazing your products are, but for me, I never truly believed it and now I look back, I think not believing in it was a huge part in why I didn’t achieve the same success in 25 years that I’m now achieving in one year of being  in Art.

You have to love what you’re doing and really believe in yourself and not be afraid to say, “I’m bloody good at what I do”. Men do that all that time, even if they’re crap, they still go on like their the best in the world. Women, find it difficult to praise themselves and accept their ability and success.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is something I have done throughout my career and I believe the Government could do more in encouraging business to develop a mentoring programme with their employees. The transition from education to employment isn’t easy for most young people. A mentor can bring out things from a young person that a teacher might have missed, as well as helping them develop actual skills that most employers are looking for.

I’ve worked for 2 charities over my career. First with an East London Charity supporting and mentoring start up fashion businesses. I then worked with my best friend running a charity in South Kilburn, working with young people from under privileged backgrounds wanting to get into the creative industries. Since I started my business I’ve mentored over 12 graduates, giving them work experience and helping them develop their skills ready for paid employment. 6 of them are now in employment and one of them is now my full time employee. So mentoring is very important to me.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Equal pay! Women if anything should get paid more than men because of the additional work we do in life generally and let’s not even mention all the female health issues we have to deal with and through this we have to hold our heads up, ride through pain and be the shoulder for others to lean on. I think if men could walk a year in the average woman’s shoe, they would pay us more.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Trust and believe in yourself more.

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