Ugo Mozie on Africa, Youth, and Fashion
The Oxford Guild recently held a talk and Q&A session with Ugo Mozie, a man with an illustrious career ranging from styling, designing, marketing and creative directing for big names in the fashion industry.
Ugo Mozie's talk focused on these experiences and We Are New Africa (WANA ORG), a non-profit he started to empower African youth. It was a brilliant opportunity for PHASER to hear from such a remarkable individual who is now branching out further and taking part in the movement to put Africa on the fashion map.
Ugo Mozie opens his talk with a formative experience. When he was three years old, armed robbers killed several of his family members and others nearby. He and his parents were spared by hiding in a locked room. These robbers had been following the family car dressed in quasi-military uniforms. After this frightening experience, Ugo’s father decided to move the family to America. This experience stayed with Ugo for the rest of his life.
Earlier, audience members had greeted and hugged him warmly - I quickly realised that a lot of the people present were in fact Ugo’s family and friends from the US, making his reminiscence about the armed robbery even more poignant. Throughout his talk, he constantly referred to and joked with his father. Afterwards, queues formed as Mozie took pictures with members of the audience. He may have exuded confidence and coolness in a Dior suit, but it was apparent that he remained grounded.
After spending a childhood in Inglewood, California, his move to Houston was stark, making him aware of America's conservative attitudes towards race relations. Experiences of being pulled over by police and being accused of stealing cars were common for him. Many in the audience noticed his positive demeanour in spite of setbacks stemming from prejudice. He said that he combats pessimism by always speaking up on race issues. In regards to race relations in fashion, Ugo believes cultural appropriation happens too often, leaving design sources with little credit. Ugo doesn’t want inclusivity to be a trend or a buzz word; it should be something long-lasting. For those coming from a minority background, wishing to break into the creative industry, he suggested that collaboration is key, building bonds. There’s a keen eye and astuteness when it comes to his clients - he wants politicians wearing his clothes next.
It cannot be doubted that Mozie is a hard worker, relentlessly moving through several high profile roles at the age of 26. Arriving in New York at the age of 17 to study advertising and marketing after graduating early from high school, he soon discovered he had a talent for styling. His collection - Aston Mozie - was met with rave reviews at NYFW when he was just 18. Since then, he has also been a fashion editor at Ghubar magazine and the PR director at Vivenne Westwood. But not all of Mozie’s career has been an upward trajectory. A low ebb in 2012 had him sleeping in cars, on friend’s sofas or sometimes the streets. He admits that this was unexpected but that it taught him not to take success for granted.
“Ugo doesn’t want inclusivity to be a trend or a buzz word; it should be something long-lasting.”
Hats were always a personal passion for Ugo, having watched his father and grandfather wear fedoras. They became a sign of maturity, confidence, and adulthood, so it's unsurprising that Ugo released a luxury hat line in 2015. Being a hat wearer requires a confidence; Ugo admits it’s not for the fainthearted, but encourages people to cast aside their doubts and wear hats like ‘a crown’. In his approach to designing you can see his roots as a stylist come through. It's always about taking something or someone to ‘the next level’, to improve by making bold sartorial choices.
Even though he left Nigeria at an early age, Ugo travels there three times a year and is well acquainted with the creative industry. Events such as GT fashion week and Arise fashion week show a burgeoning fashion hub, but Ugo believes there is still room for improvement and wants to see further progress to bring attention to African fashion and culture.
Mozie has also recently started a non-profit called WANA, stemming from a desire to show the world how great Africa is and to change the narrative of victimhood which is often perpetuated by the West. It has helped organise technology summits in schools where students are given computers and taught essential skills. Sex education is also a priority for WANA due to surges in teen pregnancies, rape, and STIs. Ugo Mozie’s work with WANA is designed to aid black empowerment and unite the continent. Nevertheless, his recognises that Africa is not a monolith. He is respectful of each nation’s distinctive culture and style.
In regards to future designs, his current ambition is to design a range of unisex loungewear which brings comfort regardless of gender. Like many designers, he's realised that the future of fashion is gender neutral. He cites gender fluid designers such as Rick Owens as important influences. His previous collaboration with Four Five shows that he already has experience in androgonous design. He is definitely not one to pigeonhole himself, so we can expect the unexpected.