Saving people’s lives has always been what Dr. Diana Pempho Lisosa Kululanga wanted to do from a very young age. She tells us about her journey to becoming a medical doctor, and why she chose that career path.
Can you tell us about yourself? What do you do, and what does your job entail?
I am a medical doctor by profession. I work at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), which is the biggest tertiary hospital in Malawi. I see patients with different conditions, and work with the QECH health personnel to manage their diseases and conditions.
Was that always your dream job?
Yes, yes, and yes, a million times yes.
You mentioned that you chose to do medicine because you wanted to make a direct and almost immediate impact on people’s lives. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
A doctor knows a whole lot about a patient; in one conversation I learn of a person’s illness, beliefs, family, social, economic and mental status, hence I am able to address needs in all these areas. While we are all doing so much for mankind, most are doing it indirectly through policies, laws, education and other activities; yet as a doctor, I work directly with my patients and help them directly. The direct impact of helping a patient recover from a point of death to life again, is joy unspeakable!
Biology was your favourite subject at school and you actually graduated high school as the best Biology student. What other subjects did you focus on in order to qualify for medicine at university and which university did you attend?
I focused on science subjects – Mathematics, Physical Science, and of course English. I Attended University of Malawi, College of Medicine, the only college in Malawi that trains medical doctors.
If you had not been accepted to study medicine for example, what other career path would you have chosen?
Architecture, because beautifully designed, decent houses make me happy.
You were raised by a team of very strong women; a single mother and an overseas aunt who paid your university tuition for over five years out of six, as well as other educated and professional women in your family, including your grandmother. In a poor country like Malawi where girls are told that they cannot go far in school but should get married instead, how important is it to you to educate the girl child? What benefits does educating the girl child bring to a family and to a nation as a whole?
It is of ultimate importance that a nation invests in educating a girl and boy child. I believe that a nation needs the special qualities that distinguish men and women to achieve great things; without the other, there is a delay or a failure in achieving the vision a country bears. An educated girl child is a huge asset to a country and family. An educated woman will always make sure that her children get educated, like my mom did. She encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me. There was never a day where I felt like I couldn’t do anything because I am a girl. She did not just say it, but she showed us that a woman can do anything, for example by riding a bike daily when going to work. I will forever be indebted to my family for the culture of educating a girl child. My great grandparents, Mr and Mrs Chiphwanya, saw potential and believed in their daughters. To them, their daughters were not just objects for marriage, but seeds worth watering, and the harvest still feeds the generations that follow. I have grandmothers and aunts who have worked, in fact led, in the corporate world, and there is no doubt in me that I will take the same road. I draw my inspiration from my aunt, Mrs Maureen Kachingwe, who is a lawyer, and I’m so thrilled and blessed to be the first doctor in the family.
Medical school was obviously not very easy; can you tell us about the challenges you faced as a student and moreso as a female medical student? How did you overcome those challenges?
The challenges were from internal and external sources. My internal challenge was the ability to work out my life on my own. I had spent the previous years of school following schedules, and now I had to develop a schedule that works, given the numerous things I had to learn, study and practice, while having only myself as the overseer of the schedule. Secondly, there were more males than females in my class, and as such, I had to work hard to survive and not really to excel.
The external challenges were the financial challenges; whilst I was in my second year of college,the government decided to increase the tuition fees. I am grateful that my aunt Angella Laura Horton did not back down. However, I still had hiccups in terms of my other needs, other than tuition fees. However, this motivated me to start considering starting a business .
You are now in the internship phase of your training, which you will be completing in May next year; tell us more about that… the triumphs, the hardships faced, and especially as a woman in a male dominated field?
Well, well, well… the first hardship is the fact that female doctors are assumed to be nurses by patients. It takes a great deal of patience to explain that you are actually a doctor.
The second hardship is patients doubting you because you are a female. They have always been treated by male doctors, and the presence of a female doctor does not sink well within them.
Thirdly, some comments made by colleagues are just gender biased, but I remind myself of the reason why I started on this journey, which is to save lives.
Once you are done with your internship next year, that will mark eight years of your training to become a medical doctor. What has motivated you to stay strong and keep on pushing to achieve your goal?
I am results oriented, hence I look forward to the end of things, and I endure the process, just like my master Jesus, who for what was set before him endured the cross.
The financial benefits of being a medical intern in Malawi are not that great. How do you stay motivated to get up and go to work every day and keep on pushing towards your goal?
Medical internship is not the end, it’s just a step in my career. I choose the benefits of this step above financial benefits. This is the step where you learn to be more responsible over another person’s life, and where your decisions have an effect of life and death, hence they have to be made with the right reasons, and sometimes defended. These are skills needed beyond patient management, but life in general .
You are a very industrious young woman, and some time last year you had to find ways to fund yourself, as your mum’s work contract had just come to an end. Can you tell us about your initial business ventures which you embarked on with your business partner to fund your well-being during medical school?
I have embarked on several ventures with my business partner Dalitso Kaluwa, and we keep learning. We started in 2016 by selling hair extensions (weaves), and then milk scones.After that we bought a sausage-making machine and sold sausages, and eventually we turned to baking cakes. We had and still have big dreams, and knowing we didn’t have any other source of money, we got into business. Yes, there was a time when I had to support myself with other needs, for example processing paperwork for my internship and my graduation, as well as assisting with other bills at home. My last option was to use the business money, on account that I would return it to the business, which I did after I started receiving my internship salary.
What were the successes and failures of those business ventures and what did you learn from that experience?
The ultimate success is to maintain partnership. Truth be told, black people seem not to trust each other, and hardly work together for a greater goal. They would rather compete with each other than work together. I count this partnership as a great success, because we have been through the lows and the highs together, and we have managed to stay together.
We have lost money before, not once, not even twice. Business on paperwork is overrated, (laughs). I mean, its good to be positive, but never disregard the threats and weaknesses, which is what we would miss in our plans previously.We have failed to win bids before. When I was going into my final year of college, I wanted to run the college tuckshop. I wanted this opportunity so bad, but unfortunately our proposal was turned down, despite being visionary, good and creative. We have failed to convince a customer before, and worse things still disappointed us.
I have learnt important lessons from each failure. Firstly, you have to keep going regardless of what happens because you only make progress if you keep moving. Secondly, always seek counsel, because there is nothing new under the sun. There is someone willing to share their wisdom, whether for free or at a fee. Never the less, the reward is worth it, for in the multitude of counselors, there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Thirdly, it takes humility, patience, and a particular level of commitment to a greater goal, to start a small business. One must remember where they are going, and stay focused.
You have a very industrious circle of friends as well. How important is that in motivating each other, and assisting each other to get through the difficult periods in life?
They say “Show me your friends, and I will show you who you are.” I don’t think you can keep drawing motivation from distant relationships and stay motivated. Sometimes reality hits, and you need real motivation. My circle of friends inspires me big time, I never feel alone, and I enjoy talking with them about business because it is something we all relate to. My boyfriend, Confidence Banda, runs 3in1 Events, planning weddings and other events. My business partner’s boyfriend, Peter Mwamlima, owns CEPHA Biomedical Solutions, and I have another pair of friends, Dorice and Zengani, who own Donga Investments. My study partner, Dr. Josephine Gondwe, sells perfumes, and my mentor owns several businesses. There are also other ladies in my circle who sell second hand clothes.
After your business trial and error phase, you then resorted to baking and selling cakes. Tell us more about that. Did you do a course to learn how to bake and decorate cakes? How is that business doing?
Yes, we attended a course on cake decorating on several occasions for the development of our baking skills. This has been the longest time we have been in a particular business, and it keeps getting better. We have grown our customer base as our skills have been improving through investing our time and dedication. We have also employed a lady to help us, thereby contributing to the President’s vision of 1 million jobs. I consider this good progress.
How do you market your business?
We mainly use social media and posters. We are on Instagram and @dr_dee_dnd_cakes is our handle. We are currently working on our Facebook page.
You sell your products even at the hospital. With the usual notion that doctors are highly paid, how do you manage to put your pride aside and decide that even as a doctor, you are not shy to move around marketing your products?
One of the lessons I have learnt in business is to be humble, and to commit to a greater goal – I have to do this now for the vision at hand. I meet other doctors selling custom made bags or cosmetics, and it’s just the norm of the day.
Where do you see your business in the next few years?
It’s true that one cannot buy happiness, but one must certainly buy cake, for it is always a good starting point. I therefore want DnD to have spaces in town like coffee shops, where everyone can walk in and enjoy the ultimate pleasure of life – eating cake.
How do you manage to balance your studies, your work and your business?
I only commit to what is worthy of my time. I give each of these the most of me whenever required, and never at the expense of the other. My business partner is also very supportive, and working with her certainly lightens the load.
Learning is a long and continuous process in the medical field. When you are done with your internship, what is the next step? If you are to specialise, what would you specialise in, and how many more years would that take?
After my internship, I want to study for a Master’s Degree in Infectious Diseases, as I have a keen interest in elimination and prevention of infectious diseases which are a huge burden in developing countries. After that, I will specialise in paediatrics.
Why would you want to specialise in that particular field?
When I was 5 years old, our neighbour’s son died from Malaria; it was the first time I ever saw a young person die, and it was strange because I used to think that death was for the grown-ups. I had kind of forgotten about this, until I started my clinical work as a student, and witnessed the deaths of many children from diseases that can be prevented. I therefore would like to join the team that works hard to save the lives of these little angels.
What are your parting words for a young African girl who is facing challenges but would also love to become a doctor one day?
There is no obstacle that can overcome your desire. Consider your dream as water – through persistence, water strikes through a rock. Never take the advice of those who say you can’t, for they do not exist when you close your eyes and see yourself in a lab-coat, using a stethoscope. When the desire to go after your dream seems to fade, water it with faith through prayer, for this is the evidence of things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1), and there is a greater force working for you, not against you. Your story will inspire many, so don’t let them down. I, Dr Diana Kululanga will always be cheering you on, screaming and rooting for you! I did it, you can do it too!
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Mirroring The Times In Sculpture With David Ngwerume
I am sure we all can agree that the beginning of the year 2020 was a rude awakening wrapped in a global event for the books due to the Covid19 pandemic. Zimbabwean sculptor slash Lawyer, David Chengetai Ngwerume, took to his creative outlet to not only process but provide a map for future generations in the form of his work, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ that has taken the world by storm.
According to Ngwerume, art “…is a duty and calling…”
The 40-year old’s sculpting journey started in the humble communal lands of Musana in 1995 under the instruction of revered fellow sculptor Cosmas Muchenje. He continued to excel in his academic studies as well which led him to an LLB (Bachelor of Laws, Honours) in 2006 from the University of Zimbabwe.
According to Ngwerume, “Art is a duty and calling that I persistently continue using various forms mainly in Stone Sculpture in invoking thought into Humanity, share awareness with the contemptuous world.” Ngwerume’s sculptures have been exhibited all over the world from Hong Kong (China), Canada to the United States of America, and locally in Zimbabwe at the Hebert Chitepo Memorial.
“My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.”
The sculptor’s ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic Collection’ comprises of pieces such as ‘MJ’ inspired by the pop icon Michael Jackson, encouraging people to mask up and get vaccinated. Another piece in the collection is called, ‘We are Torn’ which encourages people to sneeze into their elbows.
He is currently working on two other collections:
- ‘Thy Next World Collection’ which addresses concerns pertaining to humanity as we move into the future;
- And ‘Taking the Reins Collection’ which looks at the advancement of the world through the relationship between people and horses and their loyalty to humanity.
Ngwerume’s art is a reflection of the times and he is not stopping any time soon. He is also responsible for the iconic ‘Scales of Justice’ sculptures situated in front of the High Court in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare and the second capital, Bulawayo. We got to chat with the sculptor.
- The first question is probably something you get a lot, but I just have to ask; how did you manage to find yourself in the world of law and sculpting? To us laymen, the fields look so vastly different.
I am a hard worker and I believe staying in work in both professions has made me invincible. The modern-day world is driven by skill and knowledge and it is acquired by putting in more effort.
“As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.”
- Have you ever found yourself in a position to choose between the two (law and sculpting) or a situation where one had to suffer for the benefit of the other?
Never! My ambition has always been to do more and I believe amongst the many I do I can manage both. If anything my professions feed off each other in a way.
- What is the intention of your art?
To influence change in this world and make it a better place through various mediums from Stone Sculpture, paintings, installations and various other mediums in portraying contemporary messages that invoke thoughts into humanity towards shaping their moment in times and make this world move towards positive thinking.
- In a past article, it is mentioned that you draw inspiration from your experience practising law; can you remember the first case that inspired an exhibit? Why did you find the case worthy of being your muse?
The first case I got inspired by was a Domestic Violence case. It motivated me to do a painting titled, WOMEN – STRUGGLE from the CRADLE. It was the extent of damage this particular domestic abuse case had inflicted on those involved that moved me to create.
- In another article it is mentioned that you mostly use serpentine stone, why is that?
I use various types of stones in my sculpting, like Spring stone, Opal, Lepidolite and Granite. It all depends on the message I intend to portray.
- Would you say you have any sculptors who either they personally or their work influences your work?
I am inspired by many sculptors like Michael Angelo, Gustav Vigeland and Dominic Benhura to name a few. As a creative I also can tell you inspiration is everywhere, everyday life is filled with endless sources of influence.
- Sculpting isn’t really popular in Zimbabwe, how can you say the sculpting scene is in Zimbabwe? Is there a support structure from fellow sculptors or it’s more of finding your own way?
Zimbabwe in a nutshell is about finding your way, but the upside of today’s world is that it’s a global village. In this global village, if you do your best, the world will always notice. My ambitions are global so I am in for it; it’s not always about where you are but where you are going.
- Could you please try explaining to us the creative journey you took in creating your popular COVID 19 Gallery?
The COVID-19 Pandemic is a global event affecting us all, and as an artist, I found it prudent to play my part in capturing the moments and share my views on Awareness and Vaccination.
- In making the exhibit MJ, how did you hone in on making the sculpture about the U.S pop star Michael Jackson?
MJ was the first public figure to move around wearing a mask, and his actions were early warnings of our reality, where the air we breathe is not safe as before because of COVID-19. His messages then were foretelling.
- According to New York-based art dealer Shingirai Mafara, your pieces are going to be part of the United Nations World Health Organisation permanent collection. Such an achievement, congratulations! How does knowing your work will live on long after you are gone feel? One could call it time travel of sorts, conversing with future generations.
I believe art is a reflection of perception and I am grateful for such higher strides being attained through my ingenuity. It is humbling to know that my work will inform, maybe even inspire future generations all over the world.
- How has it been coming into contact with big art dealers like Shingirai Mafara and do you think that has or will affect your style or subject matter moving forward?
Such dealers inspire my work and further my will to create and give me higher hopes that my art will be seen globally.
- Your most recent exhibit, “Halt Child Marriages” is definitely one for the times. As a man, where do you think the root problem lies in Zimbabwe’s child-bride pandemic?
The issue when it comes to child marriages is pure ugly GREED. The greediness in those men is uncalled for, it’s dirty, it’s illegal and it is immoral to view the young Girl Child as an object. We need to right such wrongs, and I am more than happy to lend my artistry to the cause.
(All pictures used are courtesy of David Ngwerume’s Facebook)
Interviewed by Hazel Lifa
My Work Is My Passion – Zim Rugby Guru Nelson Madida
A chat with Zimbabwean professional rugby player Nelson Madida.
For Nelson ‘Terminator’ Madida, a simple day at the office is light years from what many of us envision as a job. The professional rugby player, coach and trainer is one of the lucky few who get to do what they love on a daily, and he couldn’t be happier. Madida’s sporting career has come with a slew of awards like the 2015 Best Forward Player in Matabeleland, and the 2017 7’s Player of the Year. These awards ultimately led him to play for Zimbabwe’s national rugby team.
Once he had dominated the player aspect, Madida shifted to training others and making bold moves in the world of rugby. Dubbed a ‘rugby guru’, Madida’s experience playing internationally highlighted how opportunities in spaces like the rugby world were closed off to women. This realisation steered Madida’s involvement with the Nyambose Girls Academy through the programme, HOPE. The programme was aimed at using the sport of rugby as a tool to empower the girl child and encourage gender equality in the game of rugby. The Nyambose team went on to win the 2017 Bulawayo Women’s Club League.
The Covid19 pandemic was a huge disrupter for many and the father of one is no exception. Never one to be short of ideas, Madida started an online fitness and health programme in 2020 to keep people’s bodies and minds in shape. The programme has Zimbabwean and South African participants who have benefited from the self-crafted training regimes and free medical advice on muscle issues and injuries Madida provides.
Madida stated, “The world finds itself in a difficult position due to this pandemic. The sporting world has suffered severely from the consequences of the virus… I have come up with a fitness and health programme meant to keep people focused on something other than the coronavirus.”
Madida is also the Sports Director at Christian Brothers College (CBC) in the city of Bulawayo. We caught up with the sportsman/mentor/ trainer/coach/community leader for a chat.
Zimbabwe participated in the Tokyo Olympics Sevens rugby qualifying trials in Monaco, how was the trip?
It was fun and inspiring. It’s always a great time when I get to meet and play with players from other countries/teams.
Any highlights from the experience?
I got to see the growth of rugby in Zim through the new crop of players on the Zim team and other new players from other teams.
Being a trainer as well, could you say rugby influenced your fitness level or has the game just been an added advantage?
I have always been a fitness fanatic, but rugby as a sport naturally pushes you beyond the boundaries to become a better and supreme competitor.
From the field to the community; what inspires your involvement as a community leader in the Bulawayo community of Pumula?
To help and motivate the younger generation to be the best they can be, and that starts NOW! People often think this happens overnight, but no, we should start in the immediate communities we live in.
Could you give us a basic breakdown of the community activities you are involved in?
1. I run a rugby academy that helps kids with Depression (suicidal risk).
2. Mentorship through rugby.
3. Keeping old people / senior citizens healthy and happy through fitness.
You started an online fitness and health training program right about the time the pandemic started, how has that been?
It has been progressive and a challenge at the same time, adapting to the new normal has its growing pains but I am optimistic.
When you started training a girls team at Nyambose Girls Academy did you experience any push back from stakeholders seeing as rugby has long been seen as a boys-only sport?
No, we had a lot of support for the girls’ rugby team. It was heart-warming to see how people could see what we were trying to achieve.
Any new projects or programs in the near future?
YES, definitely; but I won’t spill the beans just as yet.
Having played rugby this long any regrets or advice you can give to rookie players you wish you had known sooner?
Regrets none, advice? If you love something never give up but always know that failing is a part of a learning curve.
Any sportsperson who has influenced your career and why?
Myself, (laughs) I think it’s important to always give yourself more credit for how far you have come and what you have achieved. I saw what I wanted and went for it, I didn’t have all the answers but I kept pushing even when others didn’t have faith in my vision.
If you weren’t doing what you do today what would you be doing?
(A pause followed by a nervous laugh) Honestly, l don’t know… this is all l have ever known. My work is my passion.
Any noteworthy differences between being a player and a coach?
Not differences really but similarities rather, you are always learning on both ends which ensures I am never bored.
Interviewed By Hazel Lifa
AKEWA – A Celebration of African Creativity & Craftsmanship By Francois Aveyra
A chat with Gabonese/French fashion powerhouse Francois Aveyra who apprenticed for huge international brands such as Balenciaga, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, among others.
Having been an apprentice for huge international brands such as Balenciaga, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Cor Raniero Gattinoni, you would think that founder of prêt-à-porter brand AKEWA, Francois Aveyra, is one very tough and proud individual. Reserved but always smiling, Francois is quite the opposite. A happy soul who enjoys life, loves nature, and is not pretentious, his friends and family describe him as a confident and trustworthy person who brings sunshine and good vibes into their lives. A bit of a loner sometimes, Francois loves people who are as reserved as he is, and maybe the quiet time is what gives this creative genius all the inspiration and motivation he needs to churn out exotic and colourful designs which celebrate contemporary African creativity.
Says Francois, “I love making clothes, bags and accessories which represent my story. My products represent who I am… a mixture of different cultures.”
When he was a young stylist in the 80s, Francois made a name for himself working at Parisian events which were attended by the likes of Grace Jones, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Serge, Gainsbourg, Andy Warhol, and Claude Montana, among many other stars.
Based in Marrakech, Morocco, the yoga-loving design guru took some time to tell us his life story and about his exceptional achievements in the fashion industry.
You were born to a Gabonese father and a French mother. Can you briefly tell us about your childhood, and life lived between the two countries?
I grew up in France, and I would travel to Gabon, Central Africa, over the summer holidays. Flying between those two worlds brought me a lot of exposure, compared to my friends. By that time, most of my friends had never been on an aeroplane. I loved travelling and I felt so privileged. My father was a very traditional man, and through visiting his side of the family, I was introduced to Gabonese music, dance and spiritual traditions, all of which intrigued me greatly. From my childhood, I attended and assisted my father in many spiritual ceremonies; I loved it, and I felt so powerful with him.
How and when did you decide that fashion was what you wanted to do as a career?
I was close to the beach with a friend one day, and we were talking about fashion. She was supposed to start work as an assistant to Guy Laroche, a great haute couture designer in France. Suddenly, I had a revelation, and I decided right there that I wanted to attend Fashion School in France. My father refused at the beginning, but after a few months of fighting, he accepted the idea. I had always felt so attracted to dance, music or acting, and I would have probably chosen a career in the arts, but life and destiny brought me to fashion.
Before that, I had actually started law school, and after doing just one part of my studies in Bordeaux, France, I stopped because I realised that becoming a lawyer wasn’t meant for me, and I went to Design School in Paris.
My mother is a hairstylist and I spent most of my early years behind the hair salon doing hair on some dolls (laughs). My grandfather was a painter, and so from seeing him work, I started to draw at a very early age. I spent most of my time with my grandma who was very elegant and smart. She was a great influence to me. She played violin so well, and we would watch black and white movies together. I believe I got most of my artistic and creative influence from my entire immediate family.
As your career progressed, you decided to leave Paris. Which country did you go to first, and what did you do when you got there? Which other countries did you eventually work in as well, and what did you do there?
When I completed Fashion School, I started working for small brands like Naf Naf, but my dream was to work in Italy, because I was so impressed by Armani and Versace designs. I was able to realise my dream, and in Italy I worked for Cor Raniero Gattinoni in Rome, who had clients like Ingrid Bergman, Anita Ekberg, etc. Her mother, Fernanda Gattinoni, was very famous in the 60s during the ciné cita period. A lot of American productions were produced in Italy at the time.
After a while I moved back to Paris, and then London, because I wanted to discover the world and to feed my spirit of creativity. I eventually settled in Morocco in 2016, where I’m based now. By the way, soon after I was done with Fashion School, I founded my first brand in Gabon, LEAMONO, in association with Albertine, who was the daughter of the president at that time, and her cousin Ursula.
As the years went by, you managed to grow in your career and you became the owner of an artistic agency. Can you tell us more about the agency and the work you did, and what motivated you to start that business?
Having worked in different sections of the fashion industry, I learnt so much over time. Among other things, I worked as a Booker in various modelling agencies, I was once a stylist for advertising and magazine agencies, I worked as a Casting Director, and I also worked as a Press RP in English. Armed with all this experience, my global vision of fashion, and sheer curiosity, I then decided to create my own agency representing talent which included fashion photographers, stylists, hairstylists, makeup artists, illustrators and directors.
I am naturally someone who loves to take care of others, and if someone is feeling bad, I will do my best and exert all my energy to make that person feel better, and achieving that goal gives me a lot of satisfaction. Hence I created the agency because to me it was only logical, seeing as my job was concentrated on looking after others. I enjoyed being the ‘orchestra chief’ or ‘conductor’ of the whole operation.
I totally loved my job, being everywhere, doing production, and applying the vast knowledge I had gained over the years. Choosing talent, mixing them up, and developing them with an artistic vision of their career was the highlight of my vocation.
Your business grew from strength to strength, and as you mentioned earlier, you were privileged to work as a Model Booker and Stylist for some of the most prestigious agencies and influential people in the world’s largest fashion capitals such as Rome, Paris, New York, and London. How did it feel to have made a name for yourself and be recognised, reflecting on how far you had come from when you were a young man in Libreville, Gabon with big dreams?
To me, whether one comes from Africa, China, the countryside, or a small city, if you have big dreams, the feeling will be the same. When you do things with heart and passion, everything comes naturally, step by step, because obviously one does not wake up with a crown on their head overnight.
My dream was not really to be recognised, but to do what I wanted to do passionately and to meet with people and share my knowledge, as well as learn new things. Above all, I wanted to do what makes me happy, and that was the most important thing to me.
Can you tell us about the birth of the brand AKEWA? How and when was it born, and why did you choose that name? What does it mean and what is its significance?
AKEWA was born in Marrakech. Initially, I was just supposed to help a Moroccan designer and disappear (big laugh), but I started working for a friend in decor for 6 months before I then decided to create shoes and bags which I sold to friends. Soon after, I was now selling the products online, and when I realised it was going well, I decided after a year to open a physical store and that was when the brand explosion happened (smiles).
AKEWA is an expression of gratitude. It means ‘thank you’ in my Gabonese language which is called Mpongwe. The context is “thank you to life, and thank you to freedom”. I feel very attached to the notion of freedom, because for me, it signals a rebirth.
Did working with big brands and big names such as Mick Jagger, Carla Bruni, Madonna and Grace Jones have an influence on your decision to start your own fashion brand?
As I mentioned earlier, my biggest goal from a young age was to discover the world; I was so attracted to the fashion and creative industries, and I wanted to be part of that. I arrived in London at the young age of 17, and I was at Kings Road with the unconventional hub of young and fashionable creatives during the punk era. The stars did feed my curiosity, and yes they definitely influenced me – they were a light to my path.
Everybody was very simple at the time, we all shared the same feelings and moods. Life was also very simple back then – there were no iPhones or other similar gadgets to capture and expose you in a bad situation. Everyone was very cool and we all minded our own business.
I had my own type of ‘swag’, confidence and personality, and even though I wasn’t famous, that worked for me because the doorman would always let me in at events (laughs).
Where do you see the brand AKEWA in the next 5 years?
Well, Covid-19 has been quite a hindrance, but I hope that it will soon pass and everything will be going well again in a couple of months, because what I want is to see AKEWA all over the world.
I’m working on a perfume right now, and I’m also preparing the “Who’s Next – Paris” ready-to-wear international exhibition for January 2022. I trust God that all will go well.
You are also into philanthropic work. Can you tell us about your involvement with Refugees Got Talent? What is your role there and what inspired your decision to become part of it?
When I first arrived in Marrakech, I shared my flat with a friend who runs a refugees association called Global Migrants Africa. I immediately felt a lot of concern for the people he was working to assist, and I lobbied my network of friends and colleagues to support the initiative.
The organisation supports a lot of artists and sculptors by lobbying an African market for the products, and I decided to invite potential customers to purchase the products. I also collaborated with another association to find ways in which they can provide dance classes for young children. We even got the likes of Léonore Baulac, a French ballet dancer who is an étoile (star) at the Opéra National de Paris Ambassador of Associations, to come and assist.
Also, most of the members of my teams at my atelier (design workshop) and shop are actually migrants from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Cameroun.
What words of advice would you give to a young African who has dreams of making it big in the fashion industry just as you did?
That is very simple; NEVER GIVE UP, AND FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!
To see more of Francois’ alluring designs, follow @akewa_african_lifestyle on Instagram, and @AKEWA.STYLE on Facebook.
Interviewed By Tholakele Dlamini
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