Vanguard by Shopify Studios is a weekly podcast that explores the human stories of entrepreneurship from unexpected corners of our current moment.
Jacque Amadi is the head magical girl of Adorned By Chi, a lifestyle business based on anime-inspired fashion. Jacque is quick to admit she runs her business with emotion first, facts and figures second. An approach that wouldn’t scale. But after launching the Adorned By Chi manga, a comic about Nigerian university students with magical superpowers, Jacque’s ready for her next act: licensing deals inspired by the Adorned By Chi brand.
- Store: Adorned By Chi
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Recommended: Slam Dunk, Las Vegas Licensing Expo
Emma Fedderson and Anshuman Iddamsetty
Senior Supervising Producer
Jacque: I have unwavering faith in this project and, like, I get nervous. Y’know, I’m thinking about the meetings we’re going to have in the next week, and I’m nervous about them. But I don’t have any fear that this project will achieve what I know it can achieve.
Anshuman: Where do you think that comes from, this fearlessness?
Jacque: Um…I don’t know. It could be delusion.
Jacque: But I guess if I am delusional, it’s definitely helping me.
Jacque: My name is Jacque Amadi. I am Nigerian American. I am the head magical girl at Adorned By Chi. Adorned By Chi is a character-driven lifestyle brand and comic series for misfits and magical girls.
Anshuman (voice-over): This is Vanguard by Shopify Studios.
Anshuman (voice-over): It’s a podcast about how people from unexplored subcultures and unexpected communities make money today. I’m your host, Anshuman Iddamsetty.
Anshuman (voice-over): Jacque Amadi describes her personal aesthetic with two words.
Anshuman (voice-over): Soft girl.
Jacque: Froufrou dresses, the pink, ruffles, flowers in the hair, and stuff like that that I didn’t necessarily see a lot of black women online wearing.
Anshuman (voice-over): And it occurred to Jacque that if she was into this lifestyle, others might be as well.
Jacque: People see black women as fierce and strong. And nothing’s wrong with that at all! But it can also be, like, a damaging stereotype if you’re not allowed to be soft. And so I created this Facebook group called, “Soft Black Girls” for us to kind of share our fashion looks.
Jacque: But then, because I’m such an emotional person—and I love to overshare—I inspired everyone to start sharing! [laughs]
Jacque: And then the group kind of turned into more of, like, an emotional support group, and fashion.
Anshuman (voice-over): Adorned By Chi grew out of this Facebook group and became a full-on lifestyle brand, catering to black women and femmes looking to explore other identities.
Jacque: We were leaning on one another, we were being vulnerable with one another. And so together we kind of expanded the meaning of “soft black girl.”
Anshuman (voice-over): Today on Vanguard, I speak with Jacque Amadi, the head magical girl of Adorned By Chi.
Anshuman: For people who aren’t familiar with your business, how would you describe it?
Jacque: Okay. So it is essentially a character-driven lifestyle brand and original manga series for magical girls and guys. Our product line started off kind of anime-inspired, but now we have our own original series, and we’re creating merchandise based off of our characters.
Anshuman: So how would you define magical girls and guys, and I guess people?
Jacque: So magical girl is a genre of Japanese animation and comics. It features weapon-wielding, dress-wearing, crime-fighting cuties who usually find, like, a magical animal-like kind of being who tells them, Hey, you have magical powers, only you can save the universe. Let’s fight a monster each week. [laughs]
Anshuman: When I think back to all the anime I’ve seen and all the manga I’ve read, there are very few characters that look like me, as a South Asian man. And I’m pretty confident to say, I mean, that there are an extremely limited number of characters who identify as black. What do you make of that? That lack of representation?
Jacque: Well, as a fan, you like to see characters that represent you. But then also I do understand that Japan is a homogenous society, and I also don’t really expect them to represent me or represent me correctly. I always am appreciative when it’s done right. Sometimes it’s done wrong.
Jacque: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Slam Dunk...
Anshuman: Yes, I have.
Jacque: You know, there’s the one black character on there, and his name is Gorilla, and he turns into…a gorilla. But like I said, you know, I don’t expect proper representation from a homogenous society. I would just expect them to open the doors for creators of different ethnicities so that we could tell our stories through the medium on a more global scale as well.
Anshuman (voice-over): Jacque grew up in Kansas. In college, she had a small business selling vintage clothing. But after Jacque graduated, she wanted a change in scenery.
Jacque: I had stars in my eyes or whatever, and I just had to get out of Kansas. And so I had a friend who lived in Dallas, and I told her I’m coming down there. I’m going to blow up my business. It’s going to be crazy. I packed up everything in my car, drove down to Dallas and slept on her couch for three months. I also had no AC in my car. It was a hot summer. And so I was applying for jobs. I was trying to run my business and neither was happening.
Jacque: I was broke, I was sad, and I just hated myself, to be honest. I was like, “What’s wrong with me?” I thought I was so talented. I thought I was so gifted and I even—and I’m a Christian—and I even felt like God must hate me because nothing is going right. And now that I’m looking back, I’m like, Wow, I was being so dramatic. But that’s really what I thought.
Jacque: And so I started Adorned By Chi, kinda as just a side passion project, and a way to give glory to God ’cause Chi means God in Igbo. And so in the beginning, I was making little flower crowns. I also never really saw, like, black women marketed in this cutesy kind of like flower child, adorable way. And I really wanted to capture that through my imagery. So after the flower crowns and whatnot, I think I made my first shirt, which was the “Usagi Taught Me” shirt, the Sailor Moon T-shirt. And that did numbers. [laughs] And so I made more T-shirts and more T-shirts.
Jacque: And then my customers, they would tell me, like, you should make T-shirts about this or that. And we kind of built this community of anime-watching nerdy, cutesy black women who like twirling and skater skirts.
Jacque: I had been taking these known characters and making them look more like me and my customers. And I thought, I’m kind of tired of doing that. I want to create characters that already look like us so that we don’t have to force ourselves to see ourselves in the things that we enjoy.
Anshuman: In 2018 you launched the Adorned By Chi manga. How did that happen?
Jacque: So I had a Facebook group for my customers. And in that group we would basically just like nerd-out on everything. And I had made a little character and her name at first was Chia Maka. And so I posted the character and I asked my customers, like, what’s her backstory? Who is she? Let’s build a story together. And it was just for fun. You know, they were like, she likes roses. Her power is this, her power is that.
Jacque: And I just had this story in mind, you know. I’m very extra, so I’m like, things don’t just live in my mind. They have to come out. So I sat down, like, wrote down all these characters, the five characters you see now, their motivations, their backstories. I found pictures on the internet of what they should look like—their outfits, their makeup, everything.
Jacque: And then I thought, I’m gonna make a manga!
Anshuman (voice-over): Jacque launched a Kickstarter before she had written a single page of what would become the Adorned By Chi manga. She had to come up with an entire universe of characters, and really fast.
Jacque: So Adorned By Chi is about five university students who discover that they have goddess-like powers, and they’re tasked with defeating an apocalyptic monster. The story is unique because it’s set in Nigeria, and it’s even more unique because it’s based around Igbo culture and beliefs.
Jacque: The main character, Adaeze, she has super-bad social anxiety. She isolates herself. She cries all the time. She’s a nervous wreck. Emeka is our sole magical guy, and he wants to be president, he’s very like, I want to lead. And then Kelachi and Gaga are the—Kelachi has albinism and both her and Gaga were actually abandoned when they were younger. Nigeria, and pretty much Africa as a whole, does not treat people with albinism very nice. So I definitely wanted a character, and I wanted one of the best characters to have albinism. Basically, I wanted an array of black people who weren’t really a stereotype, they’re just living and doing them.
Anshuman: All of these characters in some way were drawn from Igbo culture. Why was that important for you?
Jacque: So I’m Igbo, I’m a first-generation American, and I feel like I don’t have the best connection to my culture as I could. You know, being in Kansas, our community was small. And then also I feel like my parents felt like they had to Americanize us, you know. They didn’t speak Igbo to us. I mean, they said some things, like, you know, “Be quiet” or “Oh my gosh.” But other than that, they didn’t speak Igbo to us, which I’m sad about. Like, I don’t want the culture, my culture, to die with me.
Anshuman: What was the response like when you finally had these characters out there so people could finally see what you wanted to do?
Jacque: Oh, it was great. We surpassed our Kickstarter goal, so I set out for $15,000. Which was actually, I didn’t realize at the time, pretty low for the ambitious goals. But we set out to raise $15,000 and we raised $18,000. Even a producer, like, approached me at the time, I was like, whoa.
Jacque: Yeah, people really like it.
Anshuman (voice-over): Jacque has been transparent about her own struggles with mental illness. It’s what makes the Adorned By Chi community so tight. What other businesses might keep private, Jacque has shared publicly.
Anshuman: Of all of them, who do you identify with?
Jacque: Oh, definitely Adaeze. I cry all the time. I had friends texting me and were like, you really just wrote about yourself. [laughs] You know, she’s intelligent, she’s gifted, and she’s always scared.
Jacque: So, I definitely identify with her now.
Anshuman: I’m someone who manages anxiety and some depression as well. I’m learning right now that one of the healthiest things I can do is just talk openly about it. I’m curious how being so open and being so, like, radically transparent about your anxiety has played a role in how you run your business.
Jacque: I think that it’s helped me foster a community of patient, understanding, kind people, because I see, like, comments sometimes on other pages where people are, like, not the nicest. And my customers, they’re so nice when they email. Sometimes they apologize if they got the wrong order or something.
Anshuman: Wait, what?
Jacque: Yeah! They’re like, yeah, one girl was like, “I got an extra shirt. Do you want me to send it back?” I was like, “No, I mean keep it.” Stuff like that. Or like, you know, I posted that we had an order delay, and they were like, “It’s okay, girl! We’ll wait!” They’re so nice, and I think, they don’t just see me as this faceless business. They see me as somebody who is struggling with anxiety like they are, who feels the same things that they feel, you know? And especially in our Facebook group, like we talked about deep, deep, deep stuff. And so, like, they just know a lot about me, and I know a lot about them. Like, there’s a lot of my customers who, like, will talk to me in my DMs or will send emails or talk to me on Twitter. So yeah, being open has kind of given me this community of kind and patient people and also made me comfortable, personally.
Anshuman: It seems like it’s a lot of—how do I phrase this? It feels like a lot of emotional labor as well. Is that fair to say?
Jacque: Oh yeah. Yeah. That’s why I had to shut down my Facebook group because...
Anshuman: Wait, what?
Jacque: Yeah, I just shut down my Facebook group because my boundaries are very far away, but they're still there, you know? And I felt like at some point, you know, boundaries were being crossed and I just…. Oh, this was the only time where people got mean! They said that I was, like, messing with their mental health by shutting down group.
Jacque: Like, a group for my fashion business. Yeah, I know, that’s how deep we’re getting in the group.
Anshuman: What has that been like, to have this anxiety and this depression, at times, and try to run a business?
Jacque: Oh, it’s so hard because a lot of business I’ve noticed is, like, you’re not supposed to have feelings. You’re supposed to look at facts and figures and numbers. But I look at feelings and emotions first and then facts, figures, and money later. But then it hinders you when you are talking about networking events. I’ve had anxiety attacks, like, during, before, and after. You know, I’ve been in spaces where I’ve literally, like, I left everything behind and just ran out. But then I keep putting myself in those rooms because I have this story that I feel like these young women, young men, everybody needs to read. So I have to do it. ’Cause who else is going to do it, you know?
Anshuman (voice-over): What Jacque wants to do next is blow up the manga and turn it into an animated series, a line of toys, makeup. You name it. And that means more networking.
Jacque: To get us there, I’ve been putting myself in super-uncomfortable positions or wherever the world leads me pretty much, which is always an uncomfortable situation. One of these situations is this licensing expo in Las Vegas. We’re actually heading there this weekend. The expo is next week, and there we’ll be able to talk to these huge companies like Crunchy Roll, Funimation. Paramount is going to be there, Netflix. Our goal is to leave that show with a handful of licensing deals to create unique products with our characters, but also the animated series.
Anshuman: I don’t know much about licensing expos. They sound important, but what are they like?
Jacque: I think there’s, like, 500 companies. We each get our own booth. And at your booth you get to show off your, uh, characters, show them your stats, tell them about your audience, and then they can acquire a license to use your characters’ images on their products. Yeah, so we’re really pushing our Chichi character, the little poodle, because I see her as, like, the next Hello Kitty, kind of. And she’s just so cute. So we have, like, a cutout of Chichi that’s, like, 3 feet tall. And then the theme of our booth is like a garden party, because in the manga, two of our characters are very—they find solace in, like, this rose garden. So we have our little matching skirts, we’re going to have roses, palm leaves, and everything like that. Basically, I want people to walk by and be like, Why are they so extra?
Anshuman (voice-over): Jacque Amadi is the head magical girl of Adorned By Chi.
Anshuman: So Jacque, what’s been going on since we last spoke?
Jacque: So, so much has been going on.
Jacque: So we went to the Las Vegas licensing expo, which is the largest licensing expo in the world, and we were one of three businesses there to be recognized for the One to Watch competition. The winner was actually Popular Science, a brand that’s been around for 150 years, maybe more, even. So I feel like we didn’t do so shabby as a runner-up.
Jacque: In addition to that, we made some awesome connections at that show, and I’d say maybe two days ago, I received an offer for a partnership, via email. That’s super exciting.
Anshuman: What kind of advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
Jacque: I would say, and I say this a lot, to punch fear in the face and do it.
Listen to more episodes of Vanguard by Shopify Studios, a weekly podcast that explores the human stories of entrepreneurship from unexpected corners of our current moment.