As a three-year-old kid, Onyii Brown emigrated from Nigeria to Amherst, Massachusetts, where her parents completed their higher educations and scraped by collecting cans and delivering pizzas while they did. In the background, Onyii spent hours digging up seventies clothes (like a leather jacket she still has) at a local community center and sewing African fabrics she grew up with into the seams of her jeans. She was drawn to fashion, but after graduating from UMass Amherst, she put that interest on hold and moved to Houston with her husband, where she worked in commercial real estate until the market went bust in 2008.
It was when, in 2013, her husband lost his job that Onyii decided to put needle to thread. “I knew I had to do something, and I had this huge collection of African fabrics I’d been collecting forever. I saw this wrap skirt in my head—I didn’t have a pattern or anything, but I figured it out,” Onyii remembers. She started selling her creations on Etsy under then name Onyii & Co. and quickly built a devoted fan base. When it came time to level-up her sewing skills, she turned to courses at her local community college and began grading patterns and branching out to modern babydoll dresses and wrap tops, too. It hasn’t always been easy—as a result of Hurricane Harvey, she had to remake an entire season of pieces in one week—but she tackles each obstacle with an enviable optimism: “At the end of the day, I hope the line is a reminder to people that they don’t have to stay stuck in their circumstances.”