Uchenna Ibezue models one of her designs, the "Afriglam" side-drape embellished dress. The silk matte jersey piece is inspired by the traditional African wrapper.

Uchenna Ibezue models one of her designs, the "Afriglam" side-drape embellished dress. The silk matte jersey piece is inspired by the traditional African wrapper. (photo by Sarah Pastrana / April 16, 2013)

Uchenna Ibezue has been designing clothes ever since she can remember. As a child, she cut scraps of cloth and paper to make new dresses for her dolls.

“I even used a leaf,” Ibezue says with a laugh.

Today, the 38-year-old designer with a new boutique at Historic Savage Mill favors matte jersey and silks, chiffon and lace.

“I like fabrics that drape -- they flatter everyone’s body,” she says.

It’s 3 p.m. on a Saturday, but Ibezue (who often goes by simply Uche) is sitting down for the first time since she opened the doors of her boutique, O’mak Designs. Her first customer actually followed her in from the parking lot.

The reason the Nigerian-born designer has such a devoted following is that she offers a unique line and personable service.

“Number one, everything is comfortable,” says Susan Peterkin-Bishop, a loyal customer who owns a natural hair salon in Silver Spring. “But they’re also very stylish. The store is warm and welcoming. And I love working with Uche.”

In many ways, Ibezue is following in the footsteps of her mother, a talented seamstress. “She would buy clothes and transform them,” says Ibezue. “I would think, ‘This is magic.’

“I wasn’t interested in playing with other children. I followed her everywhere,” Ibezue says. “I knew then, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”

But as with many dreams, success was not instantaneous. Ibezue studied fashion in college, then spent time in London. “I’d go to the fashion houses in London and just ask questions,” she says.

Like her mother, Ibezue frequently would buy clothes and transform them into her own creations.

In London, she also met her husband, an engineer whose job brought them to the United States in 2002.
“In America, though, the people I met weren’t as excited by fashion.”

Still, she continued traveling to Milan, London and other cities to buy clothes. “I wanted to do fashion,” she says.

But, Ibezue says, “I was losing money.”

So she enrolled in a nursing program. While she did well, Ibezue says, “the passion was still burning.”

During a final exam, she says she heard a “big voice” telling her to pursue fashion. “I asked the guy next to me if he just said something,” says Ibezue.

She freshened up her skills by taking online classes and starting going to fashion events again.

“When God calls, he sends help,” Ibezue says. “I knew I was on the right path.”

In June 2010, Ibezue unveiled her label at a show in Rockville. She chose the name “O’mak Designs,” which is an acronym using letters from her husband’s first name (Okechukwu), her daughters’ names (Chisom and Nneoma), and her father’s nickname for her, “Ajuka.” The blending of the names symbolizes the journey they’ve taken together and acknowledges their support, says Ibezue.

Initially, the line -- which includes ready-to-wear and exclusive collections -- was available online only at omakdesigns.com.