Detroit-based engineer Muktar Onifade is using his skills working as an engineer to create a fashion line that celebrates West African culture.
The 26-year-old native Nigerian and General Motors calibration specialist said he was inspired to launch his line, VIZUVLGVDS (Visual Gods), after going to a fashion show featuring beautiful African styles. “To be Black now, you have to be fearless really,” Onifade says in a Thursday, Feb. 9 NBC Black profile. “There has to be this certain level of self-belief in what you can accomplish.”
Onifade saw an opportunity to make a line that could be worn anywhere and any time outside of special occasions and events. To put his plan into action, he took his first paycheck from working at GM and brought a sewing machine.
Since 2015, his VIZUVLGVDS line has featured two collections that showcase his meticulous engineering talents and his African cultural heritage.
Have you ever had trouble finding that perfectly sexy one-piece or tantalizingly comfy bikini to show off your assets in the summer? So did a few designers we met, and they say it was their quest for a curve-contouring swimsuit that drove them to start their own companies.
When it comes to swimwear, these sisters are making waves. From itty-bitty, teeny-weeny string bikinis to formfitting, flattering one-pieces and everything in between, The Root has a list of nine bathing-suit designers who offer something for all shapes and sizes.
1. Tennille McMillan
Tennille McMillan began designing bathing suits in 2012 after fans of her clothing line, Nakimuli, wanted more from the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born and -bred designer. Her suits favor African-inspired prints, and she tells The Root that she has just started designing her own patterns, too, which come in all shapes and sizes. The 34-year-old designer says that Erykah Badu wears her line, as does Danielle Brooks from Orange Is the New Black.
2. Desiree D’Aguiar
Designer Desiree D’Aguiar does only one thing: swimwear. The 25-year-old started her Winifred Taylor label last year. Although D’Aguiar works in Toronto, where she grew up, the beach plays a large role in her life, thanks to her Caribbean roots. D’Aguiar tells The Root she gets her inspiration from artists, using their work to drive her collection. Her next collaboration will be with Tosh Jeffrey.
3. Altrichia Cook
Altrichia Cook is the designer behind the A. Lekay label. She’s been in the swimwear business for two years. The 28-year-old is based in central Florida, where she grew up. Cook tells The Root that her quest for a high-waisted swimsuit that would hide certain imperfections led her to start designing her own. It caught on with her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority sisters, and the company was born. Nicki Minaj is a fan and wore an exclusive bikini in July’s issue of Cosmopolitan. This year A. Lekay showed its suits during New York Fashion Week.
4. Risque Dukes
Risque Dukes founded her swimwear company of the same name in 2013. It’s based in Miami, which seems like the perfect location for an über-sexy line. The 25-year-old Army veteran tells The Root that she always wanted to be an entrepreneur and designer, so when she couldn’t find a “selfie-worthy” bikini, she decided to design her own. Her current collection includes bikinis featuring prints of Haitian, Bahamian and Jamaican flags. This year Dukes showed her suits during New York Fashion Week.
5. Monif Clarke
Monif Clarke, the designer behind the Monif C. label, is from New Jersey but traces her roots to Barbados, where the 36-year-old gets some of her inspiration for her sexy, bright and tight line of swimwear. She was one of the first to introduce plus-size bikinis five years ago, when she couldn’t find suits she liked that fit her figure. The swimwear line is an offshoot of her clothing line, which started with the “Marilyn” convertible dress and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
6. Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo
Nigerian designer Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo came up with idea for Kamokini a few years ago while living in England. The 27-year-old tells The Root that she wanted a swimsuit “that would make a woman feel confident when she might be at her most vulnerable.” So she sketched some designs and had them made during a trip to China. She started by selling to friends and family, then last year officially launched her company. Kamokini is a combination of her family name and “bikini.”
7. Marie-Jean Baptiste
New Yorker Marie-Jean Baptiste is the designer behind the Rue107 line, founded four years ago. The name comes from her own Haitian background. The brand, the “home of confidence and curves,” includes swimwear and caters to all sizes. Baptiste weaves the rich and bold colors of her home country into the feminine swimsuits, which she says are perfect for a day at the beach. Baptiste, who was studying nursing before pursuing her passion, tells The Root that her detour only helped her understand even more how to design for the body.
8. Shakedria Mathis
Shakedria Mathis’ swimwear company, 8th & Ocean Swim, was born in 2013 out of her love of travel and her obsession with finding the perfect bikini. She combined the two into the “travel-kini,” which she says is perfect for the “pretty young traveler or PYT, who loves and lives on vacation in a bikini.” The 29-year-old designer hails from Miami but lives and works in New York City.
9. La’Daska Mechelle Powell
La’Daska Mechelle Powell started making swimsuits while in design school in Tampa, Fla., in 2009. One year later she launched her swimwear company, Ladaska Mechelle. The Texas native has designed for the Dallas Stars Ice Girls and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. She tells The Root that she finds inspiration everywhere and makes most of the suits herself. The 31-year-old now lives and works in New York City.