Clothing line develops from love of textiles
Chocolate Chick Apparel gives new, improved meaning to attractively sweet and sassy, a boutique clothing line that specializes in simple, eye-catching fare that compliments the African American female.
Nicely priced, it’s headed up by owner Natasha Hunter, a Minneapolis native and graduate of North High, who handles the operation in her spare time as she winds down her career in the U.S. Navy.
What, you may well ask: Why is Chief Petty Officer Hunter doing designing and selling tee-shirts, tee-shirt dresses and sweatshirts? “Around 2005,” she reflects, “I started noticing the shift in hip hop music and how disrespect for Black women, which used to be reserved for gangsta rap, was starting to go mainstream.
“I started paying attention to how the young Black women around me began to behave in relation to their denial and/or disrespect, and about how I felt growing up being called names that threatened to tear at my self-esteem. So I sought to do something about it.”
She succeeded admirably. Having done with a clever quip on a plain background what the skimpiest outfit fails to do in terms of conveying the sexiest aspect of any woman or girl: personality. For instance, you find such self-affirming messages as “Butter Pecan Bombshell,” “Caramel Cuties” and, of course, “Chocolate Chick.” It’s as basic and beautiful in sentiment as the wearer feels.
Added to which, you check out price tags on the website and find all the selections are remarkably affordable enough for you to strut your stuff without seriously lightening your wallet. “I keep my prices reasonable because I’m not trying to get over on anybody and honestly, my brand is still a work in progress. There is still some refining I’d like to do as well as other dimensions I’d like to add to the Chocolate Chick Apparel brand that I don’t want to deter anyone from getting on board at the ground level.
“I’m loosely following the models set forth by Kimora Lee & Beyoncé. Kimora came out with Baby Phat and then later developed KLS, which was a higher-end line. Beyoncé did the opposite when she started with House of Dereon and later presented the watered-down Dereon.
“For both women, their less expensive line was where they gained their mass appeal. So, on a smaller scale, I think I’m on track.”
What, besides an inspiration to do the right thing, moved Hunter to do it with a clothing line? Well, in 1995, she joined the Navy and while on active duty earned a degree in fashion merchandising at the International Academy of Design and Technology Chicago.
“I’ve always loved textiles, but I’m the friend that would see something in a store and say, ‘This would be nice if the zipper was here or the collar was like this.’ So, originally, my degree started out in fashion design.
“After a couple of sewing classes, however, it became obvious that the industrial-strength sewing machine and I would not be fast friends. Being that I was still [on] active duty in the Navy and making a one-hour-each-way commute on the Metra four days a week to Chicago for school, there was no time left for me to really practice on the sewing machine and, for the sake of my student loans, I had to switch programs.” Along the way, she tinkered on and off with the idea of clothing sales as a sideline.
“In 2009, I transferred to Anacostia, Maryland and was deployed to Afghanistan. After I returned from Afghanistan, I was promoted to chief petty officer. A couple of years after that, I moved to Texas and birthed my daughter in 2012.
“During this whole time, people that supported me the first time would always ask me, ‘How’s the tee-shirt business going? When are you going to get back into Chocolate Chick?’” She adds that experience in practical evidence, and the fact that she had a marketable product on her hands helped, so to speak, seal the deal.
“In March of 2014 my cousins came to visit for my sister’s 40th birthday [and] raided my boxes of Chocolate Chick tees. That convinced me I should get back into it.
“They…talked about how the first tee-shirts they had were still good and they still got compliments on them. They, along with my sisters, niece and friend April Bryant, set the wheels in motion for me to get out of my slump. My first sale was on June 28, 2014 and we’ve been doing well ever since.” Bottom line, for Natasha Hunter it’s about mixing business with being self-supportive.
“I’d have to say my experience as a young Black woman, plus listening and relating to women that I come in contact with, are what motivated me to do this. Coming from the ’hood, you’ve absolutely got to have a sense of value, some pride and courage if you are going to be who you are truly intended to be.
“I feel like my tee-shirts are a low-key way of saying, ‘I know you see me, I am proud, I am beautiful, I am confident and we both know it.’ Like, just saying that without even opening your mouth is a wonderful introduction to anyone you meet.
“The young girls faces just light up when they see us older women wearing them because it’s affirmation that we are them, and they are us. They are like a common thread and almost always a conversation-starter no matter where I go. I just want Black women young and old to feel good about themselves.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.