Laughter permeates throughout the room. Dressed in a “Will Work for Pattern” t-shirt, fitted camo pants, and a fitted baseball cap, Apuje Kalu smiles and extends his hand for a handshake. “Thanks for the interview. I’ve been looking forward to it,” he says, expressing his appreciation for the opportunity to talk about his passion. Born and raised in Washington, DC to an American mother and Nigerian father, Apuje worked in corporate America for 7 years as a supply chain management consultant before becoming a full time freelance stylist and creative director. As an undergraduate student, Apuje attended Florida A&M University where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and a minor in Mathematics and later went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude. With the death of his younger brother’s father during his senior year in college, Apuje moved back home to help his mother and be a role model for his brother. Leveraging his strong work ethic, interpersonal skills and down-to-earth personality, Kalu has been able to build his career through working with major international brands such as Disney and every day people for their most cherished life events. Winning the 2011 Emerging Stylist Award from Fashion Awards MD (Maryland), Apuje has able to effectively find work and also find many people who appreciate it.
LuxuriousPROTOTYPE (LP) sat down with Kalu to learn more about his journey throughout life and his focus on the future.
Club Members, meet Apuje Kalu.
LP: Stylists are often seen and not heard but you seem to want to have a voice and actually impact the industry with your work. What’s your ultimate goal for Apuje Kalu, the man and Apuje Kalu, the professional?
Apuje: My goal as a man and a professional actually blend because they are interrelated. When I was in corporate America, there was a distinct line between being a professional and having a personal life. But being a stylist is such a major part of my life, that my professional goals align with my ultimate goals as a man. My major goals are to continue to cultivate relationships with my friends and family throughout my journey. A well-known journalist, Nicole Bitichie, once said that she has met a lot of famous people who were lonely. I want to continually grow with my loved ones and keep them close to me as I also grow as a man. I want to always make time for my family. Secondly, I don’t want people to think of me as a black stylist. I want people to think of me as a stylist who just happens to be black. I genuinely enjoy the business of styling. I want my career trajectory to mirror that of Rachel Zoe. She is sought after on the red carpet, editorials, and even for advertising campaigns. I want the ability to do the same! I want to be a brand. I would also like to be a correspondent on E! or the Style channel. It would be nice to see a strong male presence on the red carpet.
LP: What advice would you share with those interested in transitioning into a career into the industry? Many people think it’s a luxe job, but what don’t they see?
Apuje: This industry is all about relationships. Not only do you need a love for fashion, but you also need to be able to nurture relationships. You’ll need thick skin and you should be able to endure hearing the word “no.” In addition, you should be able to take constructive criticism, be persistent, and always follow up!
LP: At what point in your life did you realize that you had the gift and love for what you do?
Apuje: I was exposed to fashion in high school. I have to give credit to the DMV area because a lot of people had their own lines and entrepreneurial fashion ventures. The fashion was local and home grown. 5 of my friends and I started UP&UP, which was a brand that used custom lettering and African patterns. In college, I joined Epicurean! Fashion Experience. We took modeling and the finer things in life very serious. We would make our own clothing and learned how to dress in several ways from couture and avant garde to every day street fashion. From there I took on a role as the fashion coordinator and my job was to define the overall fashion outlook for the entire organization. I would help us decide which scenes to utilize and what we would wear for each. I would pull from stores and it laid a foundation that I build on today. We had to find a way to be different. Engineering is about shapes and movements and so is clothing.
In order to keep from being caught up in the pretentious world of fashion, Apuje denotes being himself from the beginning as the reason that he’s been able to stay humble and level headed. It isn’t a typical to walk onto a set and see Apuje singing and dancing to his favorite song or joking around with the models to create a light mood.
LP: Who are some of your favorite designers to pull from?
Apuje: My favorite designer that I’ve pulled from so far is Marc Jacobs. I like Marc’s voice. He’s able to distinguish himself even from Louis Vuitton and I also appreciate his evolution as a man and it is evident in his designs. He makes himself accessible to several markets in an effortless way that produces well. As far as in the future, I am looking forward to one day pulling from Tom Ford. He’s the contemporary version of Halston. There aren’t many strong, iconic American designers and Tom Ford is definitely one of them. He has a very strong women’s wear portfolio as well as men’s line. A popular rapper once said, whenever I die, burry me in a Gucci store, well, when I die, burry me in a Tom Ford suit! (chuckles)
LP: Tom Ford is absolutely classic! I think it’s even fair to say he’s already legendary. So, if we were to walk onto a set being styled by Apuje Kalu, what music would be playing in the background?
Apuje: It would probably be one of two songs. I believe music dictates your mood and it’s able to express almost anything you’ve experienced in life. Clothes are similar in that respect and you dress how you feel. You could expect “Adorn” by Miguel or “Flashing Lights” by Kanye West. I often change the words in Miguel’s song from “…let my love adorn you.” to “let my clothes adorn you.” When working with female clients, I like for them to feel comfortable, sexy and empowered. The baseline and melodies of Adorn provides the perfect backdrop for that to happen. Yeezy (Kanye West) is one of the best at conveying the trials and tribulations of stardom. The story told through the lyrics of “Flashing Lights” accompanied by the crooning of Dwele helps me stay humble and hungry for my eminent success.
LP: Before you go, share with us some words of wisdom. What is your life mantra? What words do you live by?
Apuje: Ghandi once said “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” This is something that I always live by. People will always sit around and complain. I never wanted to be the person who would just complain about something. I wanted to be the person that figured out how I could effect that change.
Although based in D.C., Apuje travels throughout the United States, leaving his mark with detailed styling and a belly full of laughter. If you’d like to know more about Apuje, his work, and his future, check out his site, follow him on Twitter, and get sneak previews of his work on his Instagram @ apujek.
Below, are a few more of some of our favorite looks from Apuje’s work.
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