Young entrepreneur uses his clothing brand to break free from corporate culture

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Stephen Udenenwu is sitting in a dimly lit Syndicate area of the union. The bright lights of the Fuzzy’s sign are picked up by the gold embroidery on his sweatshirt. It is not an ordinary sweatshirt it is something he designed himself.

Udenenwu is a Missouri City, Texas native and marketing senior at the University of North Texas. He has been creating a buzz within the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex with his clothing line Azupaaki, which focuses on casual streetwear and athletic wear for men and women.

After his father passed away in 2002, Udenenwu’s family had to adjust to a new way of living. His mother struggled between three jobs just to provide for the family. Appalled at the thought of going through college just to end up with a corporate job, Udenenwu refused to be another man in a suit and tie. He made it his mission to create a unique brand that would showcase his creative style and help his mother financially. 

Udenenwu wanted to incorporate his culture into the naming of the brand. Since he is Nigerian-American, specifically from the Igbo tribe, he chose a word that represents him and the overall purpose of the brand.

“In Igbo, Azupaaki means ‘backpack,’ ” Udenenwu says. “To me, a backpack is the epitome of an adventure. You carry whatever you can in it, and you start your journey.”

The name Azupaaki symbolizes that life is a journey. The three A’s in the name stands for “Adventure Awaits All.” 

“Overall, life is an adventure and although it hasn’t always been great I’ve learned that I have to keep pushing through,” Udenenwu says passionately. “I’ve always wanted to create a brand, something that was my own and something that was real. Azupaaki is my life and yours, too.” 

However, Udenenwu says that the creative process is easier said than done

“I have to work with embroidery and screen printing shops in the local area to get my pieces done,” he explains. “The process isn’t easy because mistakes can easily be made, but I always make sure each design is perfectly executed.”

It has been over two years since the brand was first launched. Azupaaki has been featured in five pop-up shops and fashion shows in the local area. In April 2018, Udenenwu was showcased at an event in Denton, Texas called House of Hali. The event was put together by another young entrepreneur and model, Halimat Shokunbi, who decided to do a collaboration with some of the students at UNT. 

“Being featured in the House of Hali pop-up shop event made me feel pretty good honestly,” he says with a smile. “To know that people have seen enough of my brand to reach out to me in order to help me elevate more is definitely dope.”

Udenenwu believes that the brand is doing good, but he is always looking for ways to improve. His main goal is to make the line as inclusive as possible.

“I decided to drop some women’s apparel like tracksuits and shorts,” Udenenwu says. “I didn’t want them to feel like they had to settle with just buying male or unisex apparel. I want my brand to incorporate everybody’s taste.”

The success of the clothing line does not depend on him alone. Along the way, he has brought on models and brand ambassadors to help elevate the brand even more.

“I wanted individuals to see people who looked like them wearing the apparel to give off an everyday feel,” Udenenwu says.

Zakaria Aboutaj and Wageha Moktar are just two of the many ambassadors on the team. Aboutaj says that being a part of the Azupaaki team has opened quite a few doors for him.

“I am beyond grateful for being a part of this team,” Aboutaj explains. “I met great people that I can call family while making important connections along the way. I even became more comfortable in myself thanks to my role as a model.”

Moktar expresses that when Udenenwu reached out to her, it wasn’t an opportunity she could pass up.

“As an ambassador on the team, I was able to be involved in the financial side,” she says. “This was really beneficial because accounting is my major, so I was able to gain hands-on experience with money management in an entrepreneur or business setting.”

Udenenwu’s passion and drive have fueled his devotion for the progression of the brand. He says that he is looking forward to seeing how far his journey will take him.

“My hope for the future is to become one of the biggest brands worldwide,” he says.

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