While growing up in Queens, N.Y. Ufele was two years old when she was diagnosed with asthma, which causes the airways to narrow and swell. The condition meant she had to take on the responsibility of managing her health as a young kid.
“Making sure I have my inhaler on me, making sure, I’m not running too much,” Ufele recounts. “I was hospitalized a few times for asthma. One time I even had to get intubated because I stopped breathing. My lung almost fully collapsed.”
After the scary incident, Ufele was prescribed steroids, but one of the side effects was weight gain.
“A lot of kids didn’t understand how does a medication make you gain weight,” she says. “They started calling me names. In the beginning, I did think the kids didn’t know any better.”
Ufele tried to ignore the harsh things they said but after a while, the rude comments started to get to her.
“It eventually turned physical where I got stabbed with a pencil,” she recalls.
After discussing the issue with her mom, Ufele founded Bully Chasers so other kids wouldn’t have to go through what she did. With the help of her mother Dr. Reba Perry-Ufele, the duo held an anti-bulling campaign at school where the students signed an oath not to bully.
“I go around to different schools and talk about how to prevent bullying,” she says. “What to do if you see someone being bullied or if you’re being bullied yourself.”
Ufele encourages people to introduce themselves to other kids who may be sitting alone in the cafeteria.
“Loners tend to get picked on,” she explains. “If you see someone being bullied, report it or try to step in to prevent it.”
Bully Chasers isn’t Ufele’s only way of dealing with stress, fashion design is her other calling.
“I always found comfort in sewing with my grandmother,” Ufele says. “If I had a rough day I would end up going to her house. We would sew for hours because she’s a seamstress.”
The teenager hails from a sartorial family, her sister is also a fashion designer, so Ufele would soak up all the knowledge that was at her disposal. When she was nine years old she founded her own clothing brand Chubiline.
“Chubiline is an all-inclusive line for all sizes, all shapes, all genders,” Ufele says. “I named it Chubiline because everybody used to always call me chubby as like a bad thing. I just wanted to turn it into a positive.”
Ufele takes inspiration from her Black American and Nigerian roots. In 2016, Chubiline made its debut at New York Fashion Week.
“It’s traditional clothing with an urban twist,” she says. “African clothes tend to be very formal. I decided I was going to make it where you could wear it wherever you want.”
The prodigy hopes to infuse Chubiline with the same ethos as Bully Chasers.
“Discrimination is a part of being bullied that does happen a lot in the fashion industry,” she says. “People tend to push away certain types of people because their line doesn’t cater to them.”
For now, Ufele is putting her faith in Gen Z and her mission.
“I hope my work leaves an impact on how people handle bullying,” she says. “I do believe Gen Z has the ability to make real change. We have the voice and a lot of the resources we could use to make sure everybody’s voice is heard. Everybody feels like they’re included.”
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