You might recognize a Stuzo original if you follow Lena Waithe or Willow Smith or Jada Pinkett Smith. But they aren’t just celeb favorites, Stoney Michelli and Uzo Ejikeme launched the genderless brand for all of us to feel free of restriction. Check out their latest collection from DapperQ’s NYFW and find out why they create clothes that celebrate the progression we live in today.
Q: How did you two originally meet, get married and become business partners?
Stoney: Uzo and I met at a Christmas party, excuse me, a “shindig” as she liked to call it. Lol. Her best friend and her threw it and I crashed the party! We hit it off that night and decided to move to Cali together the next year. I showed her my designs, she loved the movement and decided to join the squad as my partner. Two years later we were married!
Q: What was your original aha idea? How has emphasis or focused shifted as you’ve evolved?
Stoney: The original idea was to create a brand that was a way to express both Uzo and my identity and our idea of beauty. Looking at ourselves and the world around us…we came to realize that there are not many designers doing what we are doing.
We felt it was necessary that we move forward with our visions and creativity. Getting to this point however wasn’t so easy. There were times where we were still trying to understand what exactly what we wanted to say and how we would say it. We had tried to see what other people had liked and thought we should try that too, but after awhile, we came to the conclusion it wasn’t for us.
After some time of going through the process, we understood that we are all human and we are all beautiful, so why not make clothing that makes everyone happy, instead of limiting ourselves to one focus of audience. Since then we’re very happy with our brand and what it stands for.
Q: That’s beautiful! Thanks for sharing that. I’d like to pause on your intention to be a “genderless” brand versus “unisex”. How do you define the word genderless and how does that manifest in your products?
Stoney: We feel genderless is a better term because it allows people of all spectrums to be able to take part in our brand. Although unisex is widely known, it still holds a place of limitation in its wording. Sex in its term is more referred to who your attracted to, whereas genderless means there’s no gender or a gender role your feel you have to fit into. Our clothing is made for everyone, regardless of how you may identify.
We manifest it through our lifestyle and encouraging our customers to live their truth. We want them to feel free of restriction when they wear our clothes. We want them to feel like their true selves in any form of real expression they chose themselves.
Q: Amen. Along that same thread, you’re for ”the non-conforming and bold at heart“. How do you balance your bold aesthetic and meet your audience where they are with their heart? You’ve seemed to hit this nice groove of statement pieces.
Stoney: We really like to refer to our graphic tees and hats. Although it may seem like basic words on a t-shirt, the message it holds carries more weight than can be imagined. We’ve created a space where people can self identify and share it with the world around them. We have a shirt that’s titled “Human”, in this shirt we’ve placed offensive terms known in our society and crossed them out with the word Human being the last word and underlined. That statement allows our audience to take part in a movement and to openly share their opinions with those around them, not conforming to any ideas of what people may have said or thought before. There’s something powerful in that idea, knowing what we have to say resonates with people so much, they feel the need to put it on when they get ready and walk around the world.
Q: In DapperQ’s NYFW (the biggest queer runway show at fashion week) you came out with this new Ready-to-Wear piece that was unlike anything my Stuzo creeping had thus far revealed. It was a regal cape-jacket complete with matching pants and crew cap. What was the inspiration for this look and was it just a one off in my size or will there be more for everyone else?
Stoney: This piece was inspired to empower Sheros and Heroes all over. It’s crafted with pockets and an inset so you can pull your hands out and fly. Or keep them in and reign supreme. The crew cap was a part of a collaboration with the company Threadhaus. We wanted this collection to reflect the growth and more polished version of Stuzo. They are made to order and will be available in November!
Q: What do you hope your designs to provide the community that you feel is currently missing?
Stoney: Inclusiveness and expression. Giving power to individuals to form their own identity in a visual perspective. We’re very open about our sexuality and feel everyone should be open about it as well. No one should ever feel ashamed to say who they’re attracted to or how they identify.
We’re also very adamant in embracing our African heritage and creating styles that convey it. In today’s trends you rarely see styles and patterns that are influenced through people of color’s culture and we feel it necessary that we take charge in displaying that.
Q: How do you think we can use fashion to help educate previous generations?
Stoney: Fashion is a reflection of the world we live in. By creating a physical representation of now, we give them a reference point of how things may have occurred and allow them to celebrate the progression we live in today.
Q: What have you learned from your biggest obstacles?
Stoney: We’ve definitely have learned how to communicate and be selective of opportunities that we may come across. But one of the most important things we have learned is we must always take care of ourselves. We are human and we not perfect, so we need to make space to understand and grow from it, allowing us to move forward and better accomplish our goals.
Q: If each of you could raid one closet – sneakers included – who’d it be and why?
Stoney: I would raid Janelle Monae’s closet. I think her style is very urban Prince, right up my alley.
Uzo: Janelle Monae as well and Traci Ellis Ross. They’re the perfect balance of femininity and masculinity.
Q: Yes! Both of them, so good. How do you define success for yourself?
Stoney: Truly, what success means to us is happiness. We have been so blessed for all the opportunities. Watching our brand grow every day, and because of our constant search of happiness, we create our designs with love and purpose. We have grown so much as artists and have learned that happiness and peace within our own lives, will reflect in our work and what are really trying to accomplish.
Q: What do you think of a curated website that features brands created by people of color, women and the LGBTQ community?
Stoney: We think it’s a brilliant idea and love to be a part of it!
Down with Stuzo but unfamiliar with NORBLACK NORWHITE, Someone Somewhere, and the Tyler Wallach Studio? Drop your email on the line to get the origin stories of brands run by women, people of color and LGBTQ.