Designer and musician, Amy Iheakanwa, shares her quest for female empowerment through fashion and art. Amy is 1 of 10 Aussies talking to us about issues that matter to them, via SBS 2 Facebook live video this month for #SBSUncensored.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

18 Jul 2016 - 2:32 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2016 - 2:27 PM

Fashion designer, musician, band mate, post graduate, activist - Amy Iheakanwa does it all. She made headlines earlier this year for calling out Channel Ten's oversimplified appropriation of African culture in their I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here promotional material via a Change.org petition.  

On top of activism - and being a budding business mogul - Amy has a deeper calling; social justice for women, which is something she aims to bring forward in everything she does.

"When I started my fashion label, SheKudo, with my best mate [Shetu Bimpong], this was something we wanted to reflect through our garments; a sense of individualism and confidence (not only for the wearer, but ourselves, and then hopefully an inexorable positive influence on our fellow women)," she says.

"Through my music, I‘ve also been able to write about personal growth, what it means to be a woman to me, the usual labels we place upon ourselves, and thus those same labels we also receive from others."

Amy also finds her mixed-culture and heritage plays strongly into the way she looks at the world. Raised by a Nigerian father and Caucasian mother in rural New South Wales, away from bustling multicultural metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne, Amy says her experience with cultural identity has been an "interesting" one.

"Often we were identified as the Aboriginal kids because being African wasn’t even thought of unless directly stated," she recalls.

"But I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to combine many of my strengths and put them towards great things. I’ve been able to experience two worlds which have beautifully merged into one to create an identity which I am so proud of. By being exposed to my father’s way of life, his values and beliefs as well as my mother’s, I‘ve been able to pick and choose what works for me."

There were challenges of growing up in a mixed-race family, too. But many of Amy's resentments towards her parents while growing up were a function of being the child of an immigrant father. Her father pushed her into academia wanting her to become a doctor and took pained efforts to keep her Nigerian roots alive, typical of most immigrant parents. However her Australian mother was lax in comparison, she says.

“I look back on this and laugh so much even though my head would almost combust from frustration at the time. Bless his heart he just wanted us to excel in every way we could, even though I still don’t always agree with his methods,” says Amy.

Amy never pursued medicine but did inherit her father's strong desire to "cure as many souls" as she could. For a while, she felt even guilty about pursuing her creative avenues but now is convinced her current qualifications could be just as useful.

"Now I have a Master’s degree in International Public Health where I feel I can make a bigger impact," she says.

Featured: Shetu Bimpong and Amy Iheakanwa, creators of fashion brand 'SheKudo'. (Supplied)

When music came into her life, Amy kept her involvement in a reggae band a secret from her parents for years, afraid of their disapproval. The same happened as she expanded to design and fashion. But mostly her parents appeared worried about their daughter spreading herself too thin.

"Exploring my creative side and being involved with fashion and music inevitably led to an internal struggle as people would say to me 'focus on one thing Amy – how can you do all of them at once.'," she says.

But she's confident she can do it all. Ultimately, she finds her creativity fuels her drive and gives her a bold brazenness, especially when it comes to taking on social causes.

"I’ve always been a little ruthless when it comes to social justice and the rights of women," she says. "I love to see strong women stand up and be okay to be an individual and be okay to be in love with herself and not concerned about the thoughts of others."

 

Amy makes up one of ten 'social influencers' set to go-live on SBS 2 Facebook this month as part of SBS Uncensored: a project where young Australians can talk openly about what issues matter to them.  

Catch Amy live @ 7pm on Wednesday, July 20 on SBS 2. Like the page to get a notification!

For the full lineup and schedule:
SBS Uncensored: 10 young Aussies coming to you LIVE on SBS 2 Facebook
SBS Uncensored brings to you ten young Aussies from around the country to talk on what matters to them when it comes to making a better Australia. LIVE on SBS 2 Facebook this month; get in on #SBSUncensored.