Alumnus Weaves Dreams into Fashion Reality

Posted March 05, 2024, 2:45PM

For fashion designer Tukii Tucker ‘23, inspiration flows from his emotions, thoughts and dreams.

“I am an introspective conceptual designer,” he said. “I like to create things that will cause people to think and feel for themselves resulting in conversation starters.”

However, his internal creative process has come with its set of challenges.

“The biggest challenge of designing garments is getting them to sell and understanding how to market them,” Tukii said. “The fashion industry is now so commercially saturated, if the garment being created is not ‘trendy’ or ‘the moment’ it is not going to sell.”

While attending high school in Sanford, North Carolina, Tukii's favorite subject was chemistry. “I wasn’t interested in apparel, I was interested in the textiles that make up the fabrics for apparel – print, textures, weaving, color and everything else before it becomes fabric,” he said.

He researched universities with textile programs and in August 2016 landed at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Though the program didn’t align precisely with his initial vision, Tukii found it sufficiently close.

“I wanted to create the polymers,” Tukii said. “What NCCU offered was the comprehension of theory regarding the different polymers (natural and synthetic compounds) and knowing when and where to use certain textiles for apparel.”

Feeling creatively unchallenged, he withdrew from NCCU in 2017 and attended the Art Institute of Charlotte. Unfortunately, the institution closed in June 2018. Although accepted to the Columbus College of Art and Design, financial constraints prevented him from studying there.  

Contemplating that formal education might not be his path, Tukii worked various jobs, including roles such as a quality assurance technician, hotel guest service agent, Amazon employee and a Class-A CDL truck driver.

In 2020, an internship in Chicago with Delvin McCray, a contestant on Bravo's “Project Runway,” highlighted the technicalities he lacked without a formal education.

“Delvin encouraged me to return to school to get all that I needed to truly be the force in fashion that he sees in me,” Tukii said.

Returning to NCCU in 2022, Tukii embraced the challenges but also discovered remarkable opportunities. 

At NCCU, he creatively repurposed the wardrobe of André Leon Talley ’70, an influential Black fashion journalist who wrote for Vogue magazine, advised the Obama family on fashion and advocated for diversity in the world of fashion. This opportunity stemmed from an invitation to sustainability-focused fashion competition at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Tukii also participated in projects for American Eagle Outfitters, presented a whitespace trend project, and featured as an AT&T Dream in Black Rising Future Maker at New York Fashion Week. 

And even while maintaining close to 23 credit hours per semester, Tukii took on the role of a substitute teacher at Eastern Guilford High School, ensuring the continuity of the fashion program. All of this was accomplished with an eye on graduating in alignment with the retirement of NCCU Professor Wadeeah Beyah, a key influence in Tukii’s life.

Darlene Eberhardt-Burke, Ph.D., professor and interim associate dean of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, says that while a student, Tukii wasn’t afraid of long hours.

“If it starts at 9 a.m., Tukii is here at 8:15 a.m.,” Eberhardt-Burke said. “Sometimes Tukii spent the night in the building. It’s the way he sees clothes and re-imagines clothes, his creativity level is so high.”

In December 2023, Tukii earned a Bachelor of Science degree in fashion apparel and textile design. He has applied to a Master of Fine Arts program and will find out in mid-March if he is admitted.

His career goal is to teach fashion either at the high school or collegiate level, helping students discover their purpose. 

“Knowledge is meant to be shared. I feel more effective in any setting where I am able to share with people what I can do and how I was able to do it, versus just showing them what I have done,” he said. 

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