Meet Nikki Billie Jean, The Fashion Director Behind Some of Cardi B’s African Print Looks

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2019 saw Cardi B visit Nigeria and embrace local culture in what felt like unprecedented fashion for a global superstar. One of the key elements she embraced were the ankara prints. This was partly due to the work of Fashion Director, Nikki Billie Jean who consulted for the rapper. This move marked a new high for the Fashion Director. In this interview, she walks us through her trajectory within the Fashion world, her use of the Ankara print and her work with Cardi B.

The Ankara print is your primary design tool. What is it about the Ankara print that you love so much that has made it a central piece of your work? 

Where do I even begin? I love the colors, patterns, uniqueness and versatility of ankara print fabrics. The colors and patterns makes me happy, puts me in a good mood and proud to be African. I also love how you can literally make anything and everything with ankara fabrics, due to it being made with 100% cotton.

When you make the most basic thing and use Ankara prints, it elevates it times 10.

I am a huge fan of Janelle Monae and she has a big influence on my style. She has mentioned in interviews that she mainly wears black and white as her uniform to pay homage to her working class family. For me working with and wearing ankara print is my badge of honor and my way of representing and paying homage to my African culture.

You founded the All Things Ankara platform: what inspired it and how has the journey been?

All Things Ankara was created from my passion for Ankara print fashion that started in college. My passion for ankara print fashion began when I started undergraduate college at Penn State Altoona in Fall 2009. My freshman year, I became a member of the Penn State Altoona’s African Student Association (ASA), Decale Bella African dance team and a model in the annual Taste of Africa show. I started college around the time when there was a rise in popularity of African culture (fashion, music, food, comedy, entertainment etc.), and this made me even more excited to embrace my African culture. My sophomore year, I became the Vice President and event coordinator of Penn State Altoona’s, African Student Association. For the Taste of Africa fashion show segment that year, I had the opportunity to use couture ankara print clothing and produce the fashion show as well. We received so much positive feedback for the show and everybody on campus was talking about the show. I really enjoyed producing the fashion show, and this was when I knew I wanted to work more with ankara print fashion and clothing. I started doing more research and started following a ankara print inspired page on Tumblr to stay up on the trends.

My junior year, I started attending Penn State’s main campus, became a member of the African Student Association (ASA) at this campus, was the first ever Miss Nigeria for the Miss Africa PSU 2011 pageant and placed as the 2nd runner up. In August 2012, my junior year going into my senior year in college, I went to my favorite ankara print inspired page on Tumblr and noticed the page was gone. I looked for similar pages on Tumblr and Instagram but none of them were up to par. After discovering that there weren’t enough publications and social media pages dedicated only to ankara print fashion. I launched the All Things Ankara Instagram page that day. Every year since I started All Things Ankara, I expand the brand or launch a new project. In 2015, I had the opportunity to work with Jidenna for All Things Ankara Ball 2015. The campaign for the event went viral and many people know the brand because of the All Things Ankara Ball 2015 campaign. All Things Ankara has developed into a go-to source and one-stop-shop for ankara print fashion. All Things Ankara is a multifaceted ankara print fashion and entertainment brand, consisting of an online publication, shop, marketplace, and special events (ball, pop up, fashion week & brunch). I am super grateful for the time I spent being a member of the African Student Association at Penn State. It prepared for many things I am doing now with the All Things Ankara brand.

How did you get to work with Cardi B?

On December 4th, 2019 I was contacted by Jennifer Udechukwu, who is an assistant stylist to Cardi B’s stylist Kollin Carter. She sent me a direct message on Instagram mentioning that she wanted to pull some clothes for Cardi B to wear in Nigeria. Jennifer also mentioned that she would need the clothes by that evening before their flight left for Cardi B’s mini west African tour in Nigeria and Ghana. With only a few hours notice, I was lucky enough to make it happen and she wore an orange gown with an ankara print piping detail from the All Things Ankara Marketplace.

On November 9th, 2020 Jennifer contacted me again mentioning they needed to African print fabrics and accessories for a show Cardi B was doing with Facebook. Kollin Carter and Kollin’s other assistant stylist Reva Bhatt also reached out to me and picked fabric from the All Things Ankara Shop and gold earrings from the All Things Ankara Marketplace. The fabric Cardi B is wearing is the same fabric I used to design the Ankaranista Suit from the Nikki Billie Jean Shop in 2017. 

How was the larger experience working with Cardi B like and has it inspired any growth in your business? 

It has truly been an honor working with Cardi B and her styling team. Major shoutout to Jennifer Udechukwu, her assistant stylist. She is the sole reason why I have been able to work with Cardi B twice. Working with Cardi B has really shown me that there is power in the tongue and that it is important to have a positive team around you. My Instagram pages have definitely grown and have received a lot of positive feedback from working with Cardi B. It is always nice seeing ankara print clothing on celebrities but when you are one the person behind it it is very rewarding.

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