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Zana’Kay Talks About A Tribe Called Zimbabwe, & Why She Chose Architecture

The moment you start discussing or debating on price, know that the value and experience coefficient in your product is losing its foothold.

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Zana'Kay

Former Miss Zimbabwe 1st Princess, Former Miss Bulawayo 2005, Architect, Poet, Blogger, Cultural Activist, and Founder and Creative Director of the brand ‘A Tribe Called Zimbabwe’ – Nomakhosazana Khanyile Ncube, a.k.a. ‘Zana K’, is doing it all, and she’s just not stopping. The moment she steps into a room, you cannot help but notice and feel her presence. Talking to Zana will leave you feeling enchanted and inspired. She describes her brand as a royal brand, whose thrust is to celebrate Zimbabwean culture and heritage through fashion and architecture. Read on to find out more about this intriguing former beauty queen and intellectual.

Zana K

How would you describe yourself? What makes Zana stand out in a crowd? 

I’m an INTJ woman according to the Myer Briggs profile. Introverted, Intuitive and constantly Thinking and Judging. I’m often the silent observer in a crowd, processing as much information as I can gather about the environment and people. Therefore, I love people and the spaces where they are found. I love to learn, observe and study things and people, and I’ve been told I’m a little weird because of this. I guess what also makes me stand out is my somewhat divergent outliers’ perspectives and takes on things. I dress differently, speak differently and see things differently. Perhaps all of these ‘differences’ are manifestations of the curious explorative mind I have. I’d like to think I wear my skeleton on the outside. I’m very cultural and assertive, and that too tends to stand out easily.

What influenced your decision to study architecture?

I loved buildings from a young age, and was fascinated by the art of building or constructing things. I enjoyed making things as a child, and architecture was attractive to me because it offered me the chance to make big things… like buildings.

I, like many people, don’t know much about architecture. In fact, all I know is that one has to do Technical Drawing at school in order to become an Architect. Can you tell us more about your journey to becoming an architect? How easy/difficult was it, and how did you overcome the challenges faced on that journey? 

It’s been a very long journey, one that would fill pages were I to document it. All I can say is I followed my passion, and made sure I gave it my all throughout every step. It’s difficult to be in a male dominated field. Many times, I was an only girl in class, or one of only two females. It’s a competitive environment, and you need tough skin and grit. Architecture is one of the most demanding programs of study at tertiary institutions, because it’s both a science and art subject, and it requires a lot of drawing (technical and creative), making (model building), reading (understanding humanities) and calculating (mathematical and engineering thinking), all simultaneously.

Designing a space for human occupation requires one to think like the proposed users, to imagine function and experience, safety and pleasure, environment and climate, structure and materiality etc. The architect is always thinking about all these things. It’s a discipline that draws on all possible faculties of the mind – so I can say that has helped me to be a multidimensional thinker. Indulging and exploring other art forms like fashion design, poetry and writing, provided the much needed therapy, inspiration and motivation to keep going.  I’m still learning, and it will probably be a life long journey, but it’s definitely one I have enjoyed tremendously thus far.

Zana K

How did you merge your love for architecture with your love for fashion design, considering the stark differences in bricks/stone and fabrics? Are the two inter-connected in some way?

Architecture is in essence, the art of creating spaces – habitable spaces, and in my view, fashion is also the art of creating spaces – intimate spaces. Whereas in architecture one would design a space for multiple people or bodies, in fashion, one designs a space for one body, as it were. A garment is inhabited by one body, and a building is a garment that many bodies inhabit. In this regard, I see no difference between the principles in architecture and those in fashion, because both are about tectonics… which is the technique of how materials come together. The same way I envision making art out of how concrete, steel and glass join together to form an aesthetically pleasing building, is the same way I make art out of how cowhide, chiffon, feathers and horns come together to form a beautiful garment.

The simultaneous transition between architecture and fashion for me is easy. The same ‘presence’ and experience I want to create in my architectural spaces, is the same presence I like to invoke in my fashion garments, which is Royalty, and the celebration of rich African/Zimbabwean culture. I love what I do!!!

Zana K

You have always been a creative from a young age. What motivated your decision to start your brand, A Tribe Called Zimbabwe, and why using cowhide in particular to make the outfits and accessories?

I realised that there is an urban energy that exists on the continent that is not being branded and packaged into products. There is a profitable opportunity to build an African brand that celebrates Zimbabwe’s new sense of identity and explores creatively what it means to be an African and Zimbabwean in the 21st Century. There is a need for a brand that celebrates the unique and rich heritage and culture of Zimbabweans, and showcases our fashion and architectural identity to the world. Zimbabwe has many tribes; the Ndebele, Kalanga, Fengu, Tonga, Venda, Banyai, Sotho, Shona (which on its own is a name embodying a rich ethnic Bantu people consisting of various tribes, the Zezuru, Rozvi, Korekore, Karanga etc.) Yet there is one thing that we all have in common regarding the things we value, and that is cattle.

Cattle play a very strong role in Zimbabwean society. They are fundamental to our economy, and play very important socio-cultural roles. A Tribe Called Zimbabwe brings us all under that one umbrella that celebrates our shared values, and represents a united people who are proud of their individual ethnic identities. So cowhide then became that natural choice material. Not to mention that in my culture, it represents wealth and royalty, and I want Zimbabweans to remember who they are, and bask in the glory and wealth of their heritage ad culture.

Zana K

Who is the ideal client for A Tribe Called Zimbabwe products?

Every Zimbabwean is my ideal customer, and everyone who aspires to be a friend of Tribe and Country, and share in the celebration of our culture and heritage.

You’ve had the privilege of dressing some high profile personalities like Busisa Moyo, Ayanda Burotho and iNkosi uBulelani Lobengula-Khumalo, among others. How does that make you feel when you reflect on the journey of how you started your brand with only US$200, to where you are now, dressing the ‘who’s who’, and supplying your products to people in countries as far as America? 

It’s a humbling experience, and it affirms the biblical scripture that says that “your gift /talent will cause you to sit with kings”. I’m glad that I was bold enough to walk in the path of my calling. Regardless of the obstacles or the humble beginnings, I kept pressing on.

Zana K with Sandra Ndebele at Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards in A Tribe Called Zimbabwe Outfits

You are also co-founder of Umakoti by Nkazana Royal Bride Exhibition. Can you tell us more about that and what/who stimulated the decision to make cowhide bridal wear?

Umakoti by Nkazana Royal Bride Exhibition was a jointly planned exhibition, whose vision was to exhibit the textile work of Ganu, and the cowhide work of A Tribe called Zimbabwe, whilst sharing the common values of celebrating and promoting culture and women.

You recently made exquisite décor pieces for your home office using materials such as cow horns, used bucket handles, old bicycle wheels etc., and the results were really stunning. What stirs your creativity, and did you learn art at school, or is it an inborn gift?

I never studied art or fashion. My art and fashion skills are self-taught, and I guess I’ve always been inherently a creative. I’m inspired by culture and materials. I can look at a material and start imagining the many ways it can be used or transformed into something else. That’s what creativity is I guess… a sense of imagination.

Zana’s Hand-crafted Office Décor

The unfortunate side of being a creative is that sometimes you have to deal with issues like plagiarism of your designs or your work in general. You have experienced that more than once, and that has made you outspoken about protecting Intellectual Property (IP). How does it make you feel when, as a creative, you give your all to your craft, giving birth to your idea and bringing it to life, only for someone to appropriate your whole design process and ultimately the whole product, passing it off as their own?

It’s a conflicting feeling. On one end it’s disheartening and borderline infuriating; on the other it’s somewhat flattering that someone lusts after your creativity to the extent of plagiarism. However, feelings can’t get in the way of sound business ethos and practice, and thus I speak out and take action. It’s not easy to register a patent for any business, especially a small one, as it is an expensive feat. However, it is critical as rudimentary work, to patent as much creative work in order to make easy any exercise of rights to one’s intellectual property. The moment work leaves a metaphysical state of being an idea to becoming a tangible product or written document, it is already one’s intellectual property.

Whilst a country like Zimbabwe may seem like easy prey to violations, firstly we must understand that ideas themselves Are Not Poor. Ideas possess such immense and infinite potential for wealth, it is only when an executed idea fails can we rethink that potential. It’s important ideas and to protect our ideas and the processes proceeding thereof legally. Copycats will always be there and subject to prosecution but at A Tribe Called Zimbabwe we sell more than a product, We sell an experience, a zeitgeist, a milieu, a Genus Loci, as we call it in architecture (i.e. , spirit of the place)… a vibe, iSomething nje ethi, “I’m Zimbabwean”, kaThat thing kanoti “Proudly Zimbo”.

So whilst a few may be swayed to buy a Chinese replica, a true lover of Tribe and Country is loyal to the original authentic A Tribe Called Zimbabwe experience. The same way true lovers of wine are particular about a wine’s terroir, i.e., where its grown, how it’s made, this is the same way culture or art should be consumed. This kind of thinking and market consciousness then throws the foreign imitations off the mental shelves of a customer.

Zana K wearing her renowned crown

In a country like Zimbabwe, patenting one’s products can cost up to US$3,000 per product, and getting lawyers to fight copyright issues on one’s behalf is just as expensive. What do you think can be done by creatives to raise awareness of the need to curb plagiarism?

Creatives simply need to be educated on what IP is, what it constitutes, what infringement is, and how they can avoid the same. It doesn’t help to have a small batch of creatives having this information – all creatives must understand this subject, so that we relate to each other well where these matters are concerned.

A Tribe Called Zimbabwe Merchandise

The legal fraternity also has a role to play. How do you think, or what do you wish they could do to best assist creatives to raise awareness of the above-mentioned issue? Do you think having a Creatives Council, or in this case a fashion council in Bulawayo or Zimbabwe as a whole, would help creatives by protecting their rights?

I think a Creatives Council will definitely bring some structure and protection where IP rights are concerned, but we need to understand that law enforcement should be a last resort in any society where people are grounded in good ethics and morals. The very act of stealing or infringing on someone’s intellectual property, points to an ethical or moral decay either within that person, or society. So the first port of call would be in my opinion, to educate creatives on such topics, before we create bodies that respond to such delicts.

You mentioned to us that you were raised by a very strong mother who was certainly not a pushover, and in essence, she passed on those character traits to you. How important is it to be able to stand your ground in the creative industry, seeing as not everyone may like your products or agree with your style or pricing?

Never offer a product. Anyone, given the right tools and skills, can offer a product. Offer instead, an experience! That way you know your value. You understand your worth, and your product speaks to people that understand the same. The moment you start discussing or debating on price, know that the value and experience coefficient in your product is losing its foothold. It’s okay that not everyone will understand or relate to a product, but everyone understands value.

Zana and her mother at Zana’s graduation

What advice would you give to a young African girl who would one day like to become an architect or a designer with a superb and exclusive brand like yours?

Talent is not a substitute for work. No matter the career choice, understand that you are unique, and have inside you a unique offering to the world. It’s your responsibility to work hard and refine and articulate that talent and gift to the world. There can be a hundred thousand architects, singers, dancers, doctors or fashion designers… but none just like you. So never quiet that inner, unique talent that you have, just so you fit in.

Where do you see your brand in the next 5-10 years? Our vision is to grow into Zimbabwe’s centerpiece of Afrocentric Apparel and Interiors, and mastering the art of translating our African identity and heritage into relevant modern products. We aspire to make an overwhelming impact in the fashion industry by creating a high consumer demand for our products through strategic relationships, advertising and participation in local and international fashion shows, as well as other relevant trade shows. We envision launching a unique line of fragrances and accessories alongside a unique Afrocentric apparel line, and to grow from being a home industry to a prestigious brand, with stores in strategic areas in Zimbabwe and Africa. We aim to use this fresh approach to Afrocentric fashion to unlock a new profit source from the targeted market. A Tribe Called Zimbabwe has the potential to become a highly regarded resource in local, regional and international market.

Connect with Zana:

Website:  www.atribecalledzimbabwe.com
Blog:  www.zanakay.wordpress.com

LinkedIn: Nomakhosazana K Ncube

Instagram: @zanatribequeen  

Twitter: @atribecalledzim

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

Fashion & Beauty

How Anne Kiwia Started Making Headbands & Empowering Tanzanian Women: Every Queen Deserves A Crown!

…our Headband became a Crown to symbolise that sisterhood can not just create a beautiful product, but can also overcome anything, together.

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Image: Fashion and Graphics Designer, Anne Kiwia

Her Tanzanian father was one of the very first Africans to travel to Romania in the 70s to enhance his studies in Medicine on an exchange programme. He settled well there and fell in love with a Romanian woman, and they soon had a daughter named Annemarie.

Growing up in Romania as a mixed-race child and also being one of the very first Afro-Romanian people born there was not easy for young Anne.

“I remember Trevor Noah’s Biography with the title “Born A Crime”. I could say that I carried the same stamp, being the first generation of African-Romanians. My family and friends used to hide my identity, saying I got a good tan and perm. Most importantly though, I received so much love from my Grandma and parents, that nothing really mattered to me,” says Anne.

Anne spent her first years with her Nanna (maternal grandmother), as both of her parents had to work. “She really knew how to paint my world bright and colorful. We used to sit together in the kitchen and sing along to radio, and stitch table runners with cross-stitched figures. Our house was a museum of handstitched crafts. We lived a simple life, and the little we had was shared with the community and friends. I remember queuing in the early hours (3am) for bread and meat. Sometimes we would go home empty-handed, but there was always someone who could help us out. We would commute between the city block apartment and my grandmother’s village house which had no electricity or running water. At the village house we used to plant our own vegetables and sell them at the markets,” smiles Anne, who vividly remembers her early years.

Due to some unforeseen events, her father soon had to return to Tanzania, and left Anne to be raised by her mother and her grandmother. Read on to find out how Anne ended up as an entrepreneur in the country of her father’s birth.

“…no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, it’s the decisions you make that will determine your destination. Poor decisions are worse than being poor.”

anne kiwia

Your maternal grandmother taught you how to hold a needle, sew and stitch at the age of three. Would you say that that is what made you gravitate towards a career in Fashion Design?

I believe that she created an early awareness of different textures, patterns and colours. I was encouraged to create something beautiful on my own, even if it was a little table runner. I also had a little blanket called Nana to fall asleep with. I remember how the texture felt like in my hands, and the washed out pinkish colour.

Many a time as Africans, we assume that Europeans have it good and easy, but that was not the case for you in your early years. You went through quite a lot of hardship with your mother and grandmother and survived on very little. How did you manage to get through that tough period, and did it shape who you are now as a person?

I believe difficult circumstances shape people to become more innovative. Believe it or not but with the little my Nanna had, she could make a feast like Jesus did. I even remember eating pure garlic on a piece of bread by the age of 4. That’s something kids of today have never heard of. But the quality of the homemade bread and the homegrown garlic had a magnificent taste.

Today I’m living in Tanzania which is considered a third-world country, and I witness poverty on every corner. When I share stories with my home team (staff at our home) about my poor childhood, they start giggling. It’s funny to imagine that you can be poor and eat apples and grapes all day (available in Romania on homegrown trees) but you could not get hold of a banana, besides the fact that you don’t even know what it looks like. I remember the smell of the first oranges that my African dad brought home. It filled the rooms with an unknown sweet fruity fragrance.

All in all, I can say that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, it’s the decisions you make that will determine your destination. Poor decisions are worse than being poor.

Leaving Romania and moving to Germany with your mum and stepfather was a blessing for you in terms of educational opportunities. How was your schooling experience in Germany compared to Romania?

For sure I was blessed to be able to gain my education in a country like Germany. As of today, many people argue about race and discrimination in Germany. But as for me, I can only say I was welcomed like any other. I could visit public schools and gain the same quality education as rich kids. My parents were able to make a living and start a new life there. No country is perfect, but I believe Germany is trying its best. In Romania we would have no future in those times as corruption was rife.

Being in Tanzania reminds me of the unbalanced society. There is such a gap in education. If I could be an ambassador for something, I would choose to lighten the education sector with an ‘international standard’ to set up a basic quality education for everybody.

After completing high school, your parents wanted you to get a ‘normal’ job in a bank or as a hotel manager. How did you handle the pressure of being told what to do and trying to live up to their expectations?

I basically failed every bank interview and test I went to. Nevertheless, I never got too upset as I didn’t desire it. Therefore there was no way I could work in those fields

Once I did my Bachelor’s in my chosen field, they could hardly divert me.

At university, you chose to do a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphics and Fashion Design. How do you merge the two, seeing as designing graphics on a computer and fashion design seem so different to a layman?

I was a bit naïve when I subscribed to the programme, thinking that it would be mainly designing fashion. To my big surprise, graphic design played a bigger role, and I had to just go with it. It was only later on that I discovered the benefit of it. Being able to design my own adverts and develop my own branding and have an idea of marketing and PR is worth gold in this field.

As hard it is for me to sit down on a computer, I do appreciate this combination.

What career options were you looking at after attaining your qualification which could encapsulate both aspects of your skills?

I looked at graphic design at the start, as there was a higher chance to get employment. But at the back of my mind I always kept the door open for Fashion and entrepreneurship. Doing internships in Fashion was really more interesting, but to climb up the ladder was also much harder. It was only when I got to work for German Vogue Magazine that I felt I had reached a platform that could set me up for the Fashion industry.

After graduating, your parents gave you some money to get started in life, with the choice to start a business start a business, and instead, you decided to use the money to travel the world. Can you tell us a bit about your world journey? Which countries or cities did you enjoy being in the most, and which ones were the most disappointing in terms of your expectations?

Yes, to the biggest disappointment of my parents, I chose to travel the world as a Backpacker. When I first reunited with my biological Dad in Tanzania I felt so encouraged to travel, as it was my first time in Africa. After my Bachelor’s, it seemed the best time to minimalize my life into a 13kg backpack and explore the world. I purchased a round-the-world ticket from STA Travel, which took me to South Africa – Australia – New Zealand – Indonesia – Singapore – Malaysia – Thailand – Laos.

I was not prepared for South Africa as a friend of mine had invited me to her wedding in Pretoria, and my plans were made around the wedding. I really didn’t expect to see such a diverse and beautiful spot of the world like SA. I immediately fell in love with Cape Town. The culture mix and the individual touch made SA so unique, never mind the breathtaking landscape that never gets boring. It was the perfect place in my identify search, I would say.

The other countries also had their charm, but I wouldn’t have wanted to make them a home. Laos was very original, and quite an adventurous place to travel. Their France-influenced dishes and traditions were inspiring.

“I felt privileged that I was able to gain those experiences in the high fashion industry through Vogue Magazine and luxury online store mytheresa.com. But I also knew that I needed to move on in order to find my calling or purpose.”

anne kiwia

What did you learn from your trip, and how did it impact the direction of your career?

My English improved immensely, and I really got inspired culturally. But the biggest impact it had was that I had the courage to do it on my own, despite all the doubts and fears of friends and family. It gave me a ‘courage-vaccine’ that would set me up for life, without listening to much of what other people think or say. Despite that, my travel year didn’t lead me to miss out on any employment opportunities at all. It actually set the barrier to understand that an opportunity will arise at the right time, at the right place.

On returning home, you managed to land your dream job at Vogue Magazine Germany, thanks to your recently spruced up portfolio after travelling the world. Can you tell us about your experience working at one of the best magazines in the world?

I remember how nervous I was on my first days at Vogue. The environment was so professional and accurate. Despite the picture that most people would paint about Vogue, I felt it had a very driven and passionate environment that would not fall into the cheap gossip image. I got to know different departments and to see and taste a wide range of luxury products. I loved going to the beauty department to look through the latest fragrance and cosmetics. It was a mind-blowing experience to be behind the scenes of fashion, and another step towards creating my own brand.

Getting engaged to your then-fiancee whom you had met in Australia during your world journey meant that a few years after you started working in Germany, you had to move to England where he is from, and living in a small town outside of London meant that you had to put all your dreams on hold. How did you handle having to compromise or sacrifice your career for love?

Well, we had been in a long-distance relationship for almost 3 years, and so it was about the right time that one of us would sacrifice. I felt privileged that I was able to gain those experiences in the high fashion industry through Vogue Magazine and luxury online store mytheresa.com. But I also knew that I needed to move on in order to find my calling or purpose.

Besides having recently found your biological dad after not seeing him or being in touch for 20 years, and having connected with his side of the family for the first time, what else motivated your decision to move to Tanzania?

I united with my dad 20 years ago and came occasionally to visit. I think a sense of freedom called me to stay permanently in Tanzania in 2012. Freedom to make choices even if they were bad. I felt I lived in a vacuum of restrictions and rules that could not unfold my potential. My love for community and relationship were above business, and so there was a desire to see if I could find it in Tanzania.

How did you convince your husband to move to Tanzania with you?

Just before we got married I expressed my desire to live in my father’s country, and if he would consider it once we were married. As we both met while traveling the world, we were soon unexpectedly in for the unknown chapter of a new life in Tanzania.

What pushed you to become an entrepreneur, and what gave you the idea to start the high fashion brand, Anne Kiwia Headbands?

Starting out my new life in Tanzania, I really saw a chance of becoming an entrepreneur. Besides that, I wanted to inspire a nation with my skills and work experience gained in Germany, and set an example of diversity and working together to create.

My research of high-quality fabrics led me to the Mitumba Markets (vintage markets). From there I started a little shop with upcycled fashion, with only one tailor and a sewing machine. But soon with my first kid, I didn’t have the time that I needed to make it work. There was a lack of good tailors in the country and that made me shift to one product, working with unskilled people but with great potential.

Having seen a headband that a friend brought along, I made the decision to focus on one product. With the inspiration of an article in Vogue Magazine about a Pocket Square tissue for $30, I had a vision. We tested the headband at local craft markets, and the international and local response was amazing. When I first thought of a brand name I considered our poor copyright laws, and thought it might be the best to use my own name. It’s not easy to pretend to be Anne Kiwia.

Image: Anne Kiwia
Image: Anne Kiwia Headbands

How is the quality of life for you in Tanzania compared to being in Europe? What do you appreciate most about life in Africa?

Well, we kind of established ourselves here in Tanzania, and having family helped a lot. It hasn’t always been easy, but we made it work. I appreciate the opportunity to work with people not just outside home but also inside my home. I have a great team at home helping me with the household and raising my kids. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do.

Here, I appreciate that time doesn’t matter. There are no deadlines, but we work to our best potential.
Perfectionism exists only in your mind, and if you can see the beauty in a beautiful chaos, you can definitely step ahead.

How has your business journey been like in Tanzania so far? What are your biggest wins, and what challenges do you face?

Growing a brand in Tanzania is a slow process and requires lots of patience and belief in oneself. Even when we face difficulties we always find a way to work around it. The biggest win is that I gained so much trust and respect in the last three years from my team. I started with ‘my’ vision and it became ‘our’ vision. I have no doubts that the people that work with me are so inspired and empowered by my work that they now have the confidence to start their own business if they needed to.

Secondly, I’m proud that Tanzania is slowly adapting to my mixed race identity. I just recently got elected for the first time to join a Tanzanian women’s platform of talented local Designers that have made it in Tanzania. (Check https://makeitmatter.org/).

Lastly, I’m extremely proud to state that our product was selected as the first Tanzanian accessory to be featured in Vogue Magazine.

How do you juggle being a wife, a mother, and an entrepreneur who is contributing towards women empowerment in Tanzania?

I’ve built a little empire at home and put talented and passionate people in the right positions. Salama loves to cook. She joins different cooking classes that I sponsor. We are thankful for having her looking after our health and wellbeing, while we support her with a fair salary and a team-spirit-led work environment.

Saidi our security man is also the solution finder. His way of thinking around problems helps me often to unlock my brain and find better solutions for local problems. All in all, we work together and they know that I can be hands-on on everything they do.

Image: Anne Kiwia (far right) and her team

A few years ago you had to look after your father who was dying from cancer. How did the headband studio team contribute to your healing, and what impact did this partnership have on the overall meaning of creating headbands?

I believe it was the hardest season I have ever faced in my life. Despite looking after my dad, I had several other challenges that were overwhelming and threatening my mental health. I really don’t remember having to deal with so many challenges all at once. In this time I used to seek shelter at my workshop and listen to the ladies singing so joyfully, despite their brutal and violent stories of their neighborhood. When we matched the fabrics of the headbands, It felt like a healing process and a safe place to be, a place to rest my heavy soul for a bit.

Image: Anne Kiwia and her team inside the workshop

At the same time, Salama my right-hand at home looked after me. I had lost 8kg in a period of two months and despite her marriage breaking up around that time, she kept looking after me like a caring sister.

Surrounded by this kind of warrior, I got out of the darkness and got back on my feet, but I needed to share this wonderful experience that was shared with me.

“Every Queen deserves a Crown” was born and the queens that inspired me the most were my very own people I was surrounded by. Suddenly our Headband became a Crown to symbolise that sisterhood can not just create a beautiful product, but can also overcome anything, together.

How do you want women to feel when they wear Anne Kiwia Headbands?

Like a queen! They should celebrate their uniqueness and feel empowered and inspired by the sisterhood that creates them. We are ordinary heroes!

It makes me proud to see the receptionist at my son’s school and many other teachers and parents wearing our headband. Every time my team spots a lady on the street or at church with our headbands, they know they have a special gift, and they are proud to be part of this mission.

Image: Anne Kiwia Headbands
Image: Anne Kiwia Headbands

What are your parting words to young African women who are free-spirited like you and would like to chart their own journeys in life, yet parents or society may be pushing them in other directions?

Don’t be afraid to fail as there is growth to come out of failing. Fear is the worst enemy of finding your path and passion. Sometimes the unknown can lead you to find out what your gifts are. Be patient, and don’t drive for fast money.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Fashion & Beauty

Colourism, The Daughter Of Racism

While the mixed-race offspring of black and white parents were considered less than for being half black, their lighter complexion granted them favour and positioned them somewhat better on the spectrum.

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Image: Colourism; Image Source - unsplash.com

Hazel Lifa

Colourism is this ugly family secret that everyone knows about, but doesn’t care to discuss; a droning sound in the background we have become accustomed to, and can’t remember a time without it. It is described as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

This colourist mentality has deep-seated roots in the racial pecking order of black and white people, which have seeped into other ethnic groups with the same premise of, ‘the lighter the better’. During the colonial and slavery eras, white settlers/slave owners made it a point to establish white superiority, and deemed black less than.

This idea created a ‘spectrum’ per se, where black was the extreme negative, and white the extreme positive. While the mixed-race offspring of black and white parents were considered less than for being half black, their lighter complexion granted them favour and positioned them somewhat better on this spectrum.

This prejudice is very subtle in its appearance, but has lethal and life-changing effects. It can be seen in the praise of lighter-skinned individuals and the undesirable label given to dark-skinned black people, all under the guise of preference. Looking closer at the situation, it is undeniable that colourism has a close relationship with racism, a by-product, or as I have said, a child of racism. Like racism, colourism is taught. No one is born with this idea, but rather has it drummed into them through channels like media.

Furthermore, it is important to note that this taught preference is more directed towards black women, hence making the situation gendered. We see this learned preference in areas like dating and the entertainment industry. Hail the ‘yellow bone’ that seems to have it easier and seen as more of a desirable woman than her darker sisters. This very notion is what drives the billion-dollar business that is bleaching; this colourist standard of a black women’s beauty has fuelled the market of dangerous creams, lotions, pills and treatments, all in the pursuit of fairer skin.

Black women in entertainment have attested to the fact that this public secret exists, from South African entertainer Khanyi Mbau, to Lupita Nyong’o all the way in Hollywood. Mbau has never been secretive about her bleaching, among other elective cosmetic procedures she has had done. She spoke to her bleaching being mainly a ‘maintenance issue’, rather than for her job in an interview. She also spoke on the favour which fairer-skinned performers like Pearl Thusi get because of their looks.

Image: Khanyi Mbau, before and after bleaching her skin

Across the globe, Lupita Nyong’o claims she has been told at an audition that she is too dark for television, but stayed true to her talent. Simply watching television, one can see the living and breathing examples that in my opinion perpetuate the self-hate that is colourism. Because we have become so used to it, we fail to recognise that this mindset is essentially making us hate ourselves. We have young men flooding the internet with how much black women disgust them, to careers judged on skin tone rather than the actual talent, to little black girls who grow up feeling ugly.

Image: Lupita Nyong’o

At the end of the day, we are subscribing to a white man’s opinion of our beauty, not ours. Looking down on your own race speaks volumes to just how embedded this construct of self-hate is drilled into the African’s psyche; he/she feels she sees the world through his/her own lens, yet it is clearly not the case.

Colourism is just another one of the ugly invisible chains of colonisation that still live within us, generations after the fact. Think to yourself before you label a darker-skinned individual unattractive, less intelligent or any other negative label. What is so bad about their features or performance or mannerisms, whether it be in everyday life or in front of the camera, besides their skin tone? When you can do that honestly, then you are thinking for yourself, and not following someone else’s lead.

Connect with Hazel:

Email: hazel@asanteafrika.net

Instagram: @word_smith96

LinkedIn: Hazel Lifa

Twitter: @Hazel_Lifa

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Careers

Neka Malone – From Wrongfully Convicted & Homeless Mum of 6, To Trailblazing Entrepreneur in Ghana

I even considered suicide once, and what stopped me was the thought of “Who will love my children unconditionally, and who will teach them the foundation of faith?”

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Image: Neka Malone

@asanteafrikamag #EverydaySheroes

Providing a stable and comfortable home for your children is every parent’s dream, but for many years, that was something that Taneka Kahilia Malone was not able to do for her children. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States, the mum of six went through a most challenging period in her life. Heartbreaking as the experience was, read on to find out how Neka and her kids managed to get through some of life’s greatest challenges.

What motivated your decision to study Psychology at university?

I studied in Dallas Texas, and I was very intrigued with how the mind works and the behavior of people. My mission in life is to help people heal from past challenges and struggles, and identify with who they are.

Around 2011, as a single mother of five boys and one girl living in Dallas, Texas, you went through a lot of challenges, the biggest one being homelessness. Can you briefly tell us about those challenges which you faced? What led to you becoming homeless?

Watching my children make pallets on people’s floors was heartbreaking for me. I used that pain to push myself to become financially stable. I was wrongfully convicted of a felony in 2006, which put a huge strain on me professionally, hence I was not able to find sustainable income. I was forced to take jobs that did not pay me enough to maintain housing.

What gave you the strength to get up each day and do odd jobs, while also continuing to look for better jobs to look after your children?

My children were my motivation, the fact that they smiled and laughed through the storm. Some nights we stayed up all night just talking and thinking about the future, and that gave us all hope. My children managed to still graduate high school and build their athletic careers. It was imperative that I kept my faith and continued to rise, even if it was just a few steps at a time.

Image: Neka Malone

I can imagine that at times it got so difficult that so many things would go through your mind. Did you ever get angry at God during your lowest moments, and did you ever give up and think you would never get out of the misery?

I’m only human, and for a long time I thought I had angered God, and that God was not hearing my cry for help. I never stopped praying, and even with all the anger and resentment of life in my heart, I still prayed and believed that there had to be an opposite to my struggle. I even considered suicide once, and what stopped me was the thought of “Who will love my children unconditionally, and who will teach them the foundation of faith?” By God’s grace, I’m still here.

“In Africa, I do not feel afraid because of my skin colour. People respect you more, you’re acknowledged as a woman entrepreneur…”

From moving across homeless shelters, motels, and friends and family’s places, sleeping on the floor and surviving on government support, what inspired all your children to stay in school, stay humble, stay smiling, and stay well-behaved and finish school?

They have never seen me give up in life. The countless sacrifices I made to make sure they attended school motivated them to want to provide a better life not only for themselves but for me also, and my children encouraged and motivated each other.

Image: Neka Malone

After moving back to Minnesota and staying with family for about a year, finally in July of 2017, your prayers were answered and you and your family got approved for a four-bedroomed family home. Reminiscing on everything you had been through, how did you and the kids feel when you first moved into your new home?

One word – Peaceful!!!

God has been gracious to you and your family, the kids finished school and now almost everyone has a place of their own. How does that make you feel?

As a mother of six, this parenting thing was not easy. I’m beyond proud that they have been taught that no matter the depth of the sea, keep swimming, because greater things lie ahead. I’m very much humbled and blessed, and the love and admiration my children and I have for each other is incredible. They are my biggest cheerleaders, as I am theirs.

You also co-authored two books, one of which made you an Amazon No.1 Best-Selling Author. Can you tell us about the books?

‘Echoes in the Darkness’ was a joint collaboration of women who are domestic violence survivors. Amazon Best-Seller ‘Women Who Inspire Greatness’ was targeted towards the youth, and young women in particular, to help them learn about different women who overcame various obstacles while building their careers. Both books allowed me to be authentic, genuine, motivational, and inspiring, and contributing to them was so much fun!

Image: Echoes in the Darkness
Image: Women Who Inspire Greatness

When was Fire on the Runway born, and what was the inspiration behind starting it?

I started the Traveling Fashion Production ‘Fire on the Runway’ in 2015. Our first show was in Dallas Texas, U.S. in 2016. After becoming triumphant over my journey of homelessness and joblessness, I felt I had a deeper calling, so I started my entrepreneurial journey in mid-2014. My family was led by my Aunt Liz Adams, and we started Diamond Girls Fashion, an online clothing store with a focus on providing nice affordable wear to women in the military.

Fire on the Runway has now grown internationally, and will be touring Africa with our ‘All Eyes on Us Fashion Tour #RefocusAfrica’.

What are your biggest achievements so far as CEO of Fire on the Runway?

Changing the lives of others around me, growing my brand internationally, and now owning an all-black organisation!

Image: Fire on the Runway

After all your kids had left home, you decided to move to Ghana. What made you decide to pack up all your belongings and move to West Africa?

I started visiting Ghana in April of 2018, and from the first day I fell in love with the culture. Later on learning about the growing economy here and opportunities to build several businesses was very interesting to me, so I stepped out on faith, and the rest is history!

In 2020 you started an online store. Can you tell us about your business and how it is doing?

The store is called Kahilia’s Kollection and we sell sophisticated everyday wear for women. A year later we are still maintaining and growing our clientele.

You’ve been in Ghana for nearly six months now. How is it going there, and is it everything you imagined it would be?

I totally love Ghana, there is a very peaceful vibe. It’s not what I imagined, to be honest, it’s more than I could have even thought of. The beauty of the country alone is captivating. One month after arriving I was appointed Social Media and Marketing Manager for the Tourism Society of Ghana, which for me was a huge accomplishment.

What are you enjoying most about being in Africa, which you could never get or experience in America?

Freedom! I do not feel afraid because of my skin colour. People respect you more, you’re acknowledged as a woman entrepreneur, not just being a black woman entrepreneur. I can’t leave out the food; my favorite is Jollof Rice and Groundnut Soup with Red Snapper fish.

In most countries in Africa, we take for granted that someone can own an all-black company or organisation, but in the United States that is such a big deal, and opportunities like that are celebrated. What is the significance to you of now owning an all-black organisation?

I feel very accomplished and honoured that I achieved something that most people in America can only dream of.

Image: Fire on the Runway Event Flyer

What are your plans for the next five to ten years?

I will continue building Fire on the Runway and writing books, including my own story in fullness. I also will develop a mentorship program for the youth who are interested in the fashion industry.

What would you say to a single mother who is facing similar challenges to those which you faced, and all hope seems lost to them?

Keep going, It’s all part of the process! Stay strong in faith, never give up, and remember you are doing your best. Remember to love you as well!

Connect with Neka through her Instagram, @fireontherunwayllc, or visit her website, www.fireontherunway.org.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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