U. of C. grad, 21, is turning crochet pastime into social uplift clothing line

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Dinah Clottey learned to crochet at age 12 to teach her mother the craft. While classes were taking place, Clottey’s mother did not pursue crocheting. However, their daughter is a 2022 graduate of the University of Chicago and Winner of the U. of C. Diversity Leadership Awardhas her entrepreneurial dreams centered around crocheting with her fashion brand, T’Kor Couturewhere the name is an abbreviation of her middle name.

Amid the lockdowns of the pandemic, college, and 2020 protests surrounding the racial bill, Clottey went back to what she knew, grabbed her tools, and upped her game.

“I just had so much on my mind, so much crammed into me, that it really started as a project for me to creatively release a lot of my feelings,” said London-born Clottey. “I would do something that just inspired me from what was going on at the time.”

People took notice, and what Clottey calls a “cute little thing” caught on in a year. T’Kor has almost 11,000 Instagram followers, and Clottey is focused on commissioned work for Chicago singer-songwriter Jamila Woods. T’Kor Couture was also selected to participate in the 2021 Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Accelerator Program, a competitive 10-week summer program designed to help early-stage companies develop key elements of their business, with coaching and a $6,500 stipend. And their successes aren’t just based on their entrepreneurial skills. At 21, Clottey’s resume includes working as an organizer and communications colleague for Kamala Harris’ Iowa presidential campaign and his life one of several college students selected from across the country to ask former first lady Michelle Obama a question for a 2021 television special.

“One thing I’ve noticed about myself is how many different dreams and aspirations I have — a lot more in the creative field,” said Clottey, a graduate student of Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island. “I grew up with not too many obstacles in my head as to what I could achieve.”

Looking back, Clottey recalls a conversation with a classmate whose dream was to go into the film industry. She said he never considered pursuing his passion, opting instead for something more practical. In her opinion, she just couldn’t understand why he didn’t do it. The young man finally shared his reasons for giving up his dream: to take care of the family and not being able to go to film school or invest in film equipment.

“I didn’t realize how much this conversation would affect me until I got to the University of Chicago and sat during the pandemic,” she said. Law school was out, sociology was in. Now she’s looking forward to serving as a program manager at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies this fall and a new leadership development initiative in curriculum development to help.

“What has stayed with me most is my need to push and amplify underrepresented voices and creators,” she said. “I still juggle exactly how I want to do it.”

As a student, Clottey juggled her interests as a board member and president of the black student organization. Under her leadership, she developed and launched the annual Black Convocation, an event celebrating the achievements of black students at the U. of C. Clottey also served as the outreach manager for the award-winning podcast Kinda Sorta Brown—which discusses politics affecting black people and brown communities.

“I’m very inspired by black culture,” Clottey said. “This is really the model I have for this business. I looked at the fashion industry and a lot of these big names and basically how white she was and I thought it’s just really important for black people and underrepresented people to put their names on things to let them know where they’re from come . For me, this (T’Kor Couture) also became a project of embracing my own heritage and embracing who I come from and who I am and that I’m black and proud of it.

“I’ve done a whole series based on Ntozake Shange’s work ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.’ For me, the agency I have to express myself and interact with works that have inspired me and my way of thinking has been so amazing.”

T’Kor Couture’s rich colors in oversized and form-fitting silhouettes evoke thoughts of comfort, playfulness and pride. Clottey’s Enuf Collection is about black women seen for their strength and Clottey’s Crowned Collection features a crown on objects. She was inspired by Jean-Michele Basquiat. Music, literature, art, politics, Clottey’s fashion is inspired by so many things about black culture.

“I appreciate fashion in all of its forms, how people show themselves, from the clothes they wear to the hairstyles they wear to the accessories they wear or the tattoos they have. I love paying attention to everything. But at the end of the day, I want to uplift black people.”

Reflecting on Clottey’s conversation with the student at her high school, she said that doesn’t always have to be the experience for people of color. You can go for it. As? With a support system, hard work and remembering why for what you do.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘It’s very hard to fail if you don’t stop,'” Clottey said. “That’s why I love ‘For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.’ It’s natural that, as black people, we feel like we’re not good enough to do what we want to do. It’s a mindset change that takes practice and support. To change that mindset, you have to surround yourself with people who believe in you and who only want the best for you.”

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