This Toronto designer pushes sustainable fashion beautifully beyond the organic t-shirt

“I would go to my mother’s sewing machine and play with the knobs,” Chizoba Udeh-Martin remembers, of her early fascination with sewing.

As Cher Horowitz would put it, Chizoba is like a totally important designer. Lead designer in fact, of the Toronto-based, made-to-order fashion brand, Zoba Martin.

Her earliest memories of fashion design date back to her childhood in Nigeria, watching her aunt design and sew her own wedding dress from scratch. Chizoba says the experience planted the seeds for her to one day become a designer in her own right.

She remembers her aunt had bought “several yards of white satin fabric” and Chizoba, as a young girl, watched the entire process with curiosity and fascination.

wedding dress

The designer Chizoba with a flowing lace garment. Image courtesy Zoba Martin.

Before launching her own label in 2016, she worked as an alteration specialist for Kleinfeld, in awe of the work that went into the bridal gowns. There, she decided she was being called to design her own dresses.

Though her designs are not exclusively bridal, it’s her favourite occasion to design for. She describes the process as “intimate,” feeling honoured to create dream dresses for her clients on one of their most memorable occasions.

“My goal is to create elegant pieces that celebrate each individual that wears Zoba Martin,” says the designer.

I discovered Chizoba at Startup Fashion Week, back in 2019 where she was showing a small ready-to-wear collection. I was drawn to her excessive use of millennial pink and sparkly tulle.

Audience members were given a tiny white bottle of soap bubbles — you know, like the ones they give excited children at weddings to keep them entertained. The crowd was awestruck by the exaggerated silhouettes and Chizoba’s creative whimsy.

Chizoba has a way of making you feel special, whether she’s creating the dress of your dreams, or giving you a tiny bottle of bubbles and whisking you away on her fashion fairytale.   

Despite dabbling in ready-to-wear, Chizoba prefers the sustainable aspect of custom, made-to-order pieces for her clientele. She is confident that her custom-made pieces carry sentimental value, and are very likely to be held and passed on for generations. 

Of the care and time she puts into each design she jokes, “You would think I’m the one wearing the dress.”

Chizoba is hopeful that we will move beyond the shameful association with being an outfit repeater (à la Lizzie McGuire), propagated by the consumerist, fast-fashion industry.

She encourages those looking for luxury fashion and evening wear to “Consider having something custom-made for you, be more mindful of what you’re wearing and what pieces you’re investing in.” 

Well aware of the environmental toll, fashion’s waste problem weighs heavily on her heart. The average Canadian consumer throws out 81 pounds of non-biodegradable textiles annually (yikes!).

Chizoba effects change through meaningful, custom pieces her clients will wear over and over again to eventually pass on. This would make a huge impact, when you consider the fact that Canadians purchase, on average, 70 new articles of clothing a year.

In 2022, sustainable fashion is not exactly a hot take, and most designers with a sustainable approach err on fashion’s safe side. We all know we can get elevated basics, but who exactly is getting excited over an $80 organic cotton t-shirt in muted mauve?

Zoba Martin’s brand makes sustainable, slower fashion fun, luxurious and feminine.

Pre-pandemic, Chizoba was in the process of opening up her own Toronto storefront, a dream which has since been put on hold. Always optimistic, she says the pandemic built her character and she has “had a lot of quiet, creative time since the Spring of 2020.” 

She still dreams of opening her own shop in Toronto, with an atelier in the back and another in Nigeria, “My goal for 2022 is to grow the Zoba Martin brand.”

wedding dress

The designer wrapped by a string of fabric. Image courtesy Zoba Martin.

“If you’re looking for someone to create a unique piece for you, reach out to me. I always take my time with every single client I work with. I design pieces that reflect my clients’ personality and accentuate their beauty.”

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