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Jul 28 2016
by Hannah Holzer

Student Balances School Work and Her Own Successful Clothing Company

By Hannah Holzer - Jul 28 2016

At 18-years-old, Chinasa Gift Nwokocha decided she should start her own fashion company. In 2013, while a student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Nwokocha became inspired to create her own unique lines after seeing clothing which displayed emoticons.

Nwokocha, a Nigerian native, determined she would start a fashion business with clothing displaying popular West African sayings through emoticons. The brand was named Emoji Express and was launched on her 19th birthday.

“I saw a couple of t-shirts that utilized emoticons and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Nwokocha told “I jokingly…said that I would start my own clothing brand that utilized emoticons to express popular sayings within my West African culture. At first, I dismissed the idea as a joke, but for the next month the idea kept coming back to me and I began thinking about different cool ways I could turn my idea into reality. Finally, in January I thought to myself, ‘why not?’ I was 18 years old at the time…so I figured starting this business would give me so many cool experiences to talk about during future job interviews.”

Nwokocha told that she took out credit cards and started a campaign asking for $15,000 – which failed – to get her business off the ground. After landing a job at Forever 21, Nwokocha saved her money to transform her line “from just a t-shirt company to a full-fledged clothing brand.”

Now, Nwokocha’s fashion brand is named Ataria N.Y.C. and will be celebrating its second anniversary by launching a new line – Unchained. Ataria N.Y.C. is viewable here.

“We were formally under the name Emoji Express because of what we were doing in the past,” Nwokocha told Ignite Africa. “So when we realized we were starting to do bigger things and we were starting to make full-blown apparel products, we thought ‘Hey, it’s time to…change our name.’”

Nwokocha said she was not interested in fashion at an early age, but in the late 2000s, her sister, who was doing modeling work, helped her to glimpse into the world of fashion. Now, Nwokocha balances her school life at Villanova with her entrepreneurial responsibilities.

“We’ve been blessed to see profit within a couple of months,” she said to Ignite Africa. “At the end of the day, it hasn’t been easy – I’m a full-time student, I don’t live in New York, my school is in Pennsylvania, so I’m traveling to New York back and forth. I’m keeping up Dean’s List and catering to a growing business so it’s been tough. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but that’s exactly why we want to celebrate, I feel like we have so many accomplishments.”

Lead Image Credit: Ignite Africa

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Hannah Holzer - UC Davis

Soon-to-be UC Davis freshman, journalist, film enthusiast & baker extraordinaire.

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