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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Connect with us via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @asanteafrikamag
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
Fashion By Flamingo – Connecting Cultures Through Fashion
Using fashion as a platform that can give another approach to African culture, more than academic studies and
news reports can.
Ever wondered how studying Psychology and a love for Fashion Design mix? Pia Martin, a German national now residing in Kenya, decided to blend her studies with her love for African fashion, and through her startup, Fashion By Flamingo, has been working to empower African designers in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana. Read on to find out just how she has been doing this.
What inspired you to study Psychology, and since moving to Kenya, how have you been able to merge your studies in Social & Intercultural Psychology with your quest to collaborate with African designers?
I think studying Psychology means studying life. The knowledge I’m getting is not only preparing me for a specific job, but it helps to reflect on who I am, as well as helping me get to know the world around me.
Since moving to Kenya, I noticed that many organisations try to help local disadvantaged people with money, and that indirectly keeps the image alive that staying poor is a necessary condition for one to receive support. I think that to motivate people to achieve growth, foreigners should not be perceived as sponsors, but as business partners, opening doors for opportunities to show one’s talent. That would unveil mentorship opportunities for people, and help them realise that the better the quality of their work gets, the more value it has. The driving factor would therefore be motivation and the message would be that “effort makes a difference”.
How did you get into fashion and what made you so interested in showing off Africa’s rich culture to the European market through fashion?
Since I was a teenager, I loved the creative process of tailoring an outfit, or styling what I had in my wardrobe to express my personality. In the context of my brand, the idea is to use fashion as a medium – a platform that can give another approach to African culture, more than academic studies and news reports can.
Someone who is seeing or wearing something from one of my collections is already exposed to a piece of African culture; the colorful Ankara prints, Maasai beadworks, the shaping of a dress, or just the natural local materials – all that is not a verbal approach of explaining a culture, but a beautiful reminder of the story behind each unique piece of fashion in my shop.
What products are synonymous with your brand?
More than having one specific product, our signature is to come up with designs that are unique statement pieces with a touch of African culture, that might be the materials, colours, or the design.
One of the main goals of your startup is to empower talented African designers. What or who inspired that decision?
As a brand that stands for African designs and myself having been raised in Germany, it was clear to me that I can’t be authentic if I do all the designs by myself, but that I have to be open for collaborations with local designers, tailors and other brands to create something truly authentic.
I might have the advantage of understanding what my customers are looking for in an outfit, the need of a good quality product and how to style it, and I’m also profiting from feedback that I get from my European family, friends and customers, but at the same time, I don’t have all the knowledge of the best local materials, the traditional designs, and the creative influence of African cultures. That is why my approach is to collaborate and come up with a collection that can connect cultures, African-inspired but made for the international market.
You are passionate about the fashion industry using natural materials that are created in environments which do not violate ethics codes. What can you tell other designers to encourage them to follow the same guidelines, and what needs to be done to not overlook this topic in the fashion industry?
I had a meeting with a Kenyan lady who does great beadwork, and when it came to agreeing on a payment, I asked myself, from what she usually earns, how can she be able to pay school-fees for her children and still pay all her other bills? So it made me reflect that it should not be the goal to take advantage of artist’s skills by getting them to do a job done and underpaying them, but rather, artists should communicate and explain to customers why their products are more expensive than others, because they were produced in fair conditions.
Interestingly, most European clients would understand that and even appreciate knowing that they are buying a product that has neither exploited the environment nor the people who created it. In fact, it’s often not out of bad will at all, it is simply very transparent for a client to know the history of an outfit throughout the production chain until it’s being sold.
What I would tell other designers who might fear that they can’t make any gain if they improve production and material standards is that it matters to communicate and explain to customers why the selling price is higher. It also depends on the client’s target market. Not all clients are actually able to buy expensive clothes, but those who have money mostly need to see and understand why it’s worth paying more, and that there is an ethical reason for the price range, and not just a greedy salesperson.
What would you like to have achieved through this startup in the next five to ten years?
Although fashion trends are always changing, there are still things I’m learning with time. I would love to connect with designers from more countries (currently we only have collaborations with Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya). I would also love to work with the same teams for a longer time and keep improving the designs and quality, and try to control the process from where the materials are made to make the final product better over time.
Besides the marvelous and enchanting fashion, what else draws you to the continent of Africa?
Connecting cultures became more than an academic interest to me; it’s the consequence of the lifestyle I have chosen when love led me to settle in Kenya. Now, some years later, my man and I are expecting our firstborn child. As an interracial couple, we both bring our cultural backgrounds together and try to take the best from both sides as we build our own family.
How can people connect with you or support your startup?
They can view our products and DM us via our Instagram page, @fashion_by_flamingo.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Miss Eloquent – Zimbabwean Beauty Taking Africa By Storm
Miss Eloquent Africa is a Beauty Pageant that seeks to empower African women to embrace their beauty, and be proud of being African.
What do you think of when you hear the word, eloquent? Confident, well-spoken, talented or maybe star-power? Well, all those can be used to describe Ellain Qhawelihle Ncube, aka Cocoa. The Zimbabwean beauty is a finalist in the Miss Eloquent Africa pageant, a fairly new pageant that is empowering young women and celebrating culture across Africa through what has been dubbed ‘Africa’s Biggest Night of Beauty’. The 20yr old former Miss Curvy Varsities, actress, model and writer is no stranger to the spotlight.
Cocoa has won two awards thus far in her career; one Best Supporting Actress award from the Nash Drama Competitions and another from Isiphiwo Sami Drama Competition. Cocoa’s career has grown under the watchful eye of Fingers Modelling Academy, being groomed by Ma’am Sarah Mpofu Sibanda. Cocoa’s talent has landed her a scholarship to study Physical Theatre at the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy, under Mr. Lloyd Nyikadzino.
We sat down with the Bulawayo beauty to talk about her success so far in her fight for the 2021 Miss Eloquent Africa title, and everything in between.
Where were you when you got the news you were one of the two finalists to represent Zimbabwe at the Miss Eloquent pageant? Walk us through the moment.
Right; now this was the most exciting moment of my life because it came when I had lost all hope of making it through. I was on my way to a photoshoot with @AndilePhotography, and it was the last day of voting, of which I had not been checking my profile because I knew I had the lowest votes.
I then decided to just check them that afternoon before the shoot, and wooow…. I had the second-highest votes, which was a huge shock to me. I couldn’t believe it until that evening when the organiser Mr Stanley announced the finalists, and my name was right there. Given the opportunity, I would relive that moment, because it’s the best thing that has happened to me in 2021.
Tell me, how does it feel to be representing your country in such a huge way?
It’s really amazing because I have not only been given an opportunity to represent my country, but also my city Bulawayo, my family, and also the curvy beautiful women out there in Zimbabwe and in Africa as a whole. So, I am so excited and also looking forward to representing my country with confidence, dignity, pride and hope that one day Zimbabwe will be a pioneer in the arts sector.
Was pageantry ever a part of the life plan for Cocoa?
Yes, my modelling career began when I was doing my A’ Levels. I have always been inspired by beauty queens such as Ashely Morgan, Sipho Mazibuko, Catriona Gray, Zozibini Tunzi, who dedicate their time and skills to creating a peaceful, safe, and healthy environment for everyone, thereby making the world a better place for everyone.
Can you summarise for me what Miss Eloquent basically is?
Miss Eloquent Africa is a Beauty Pageant that seeks to empower African women to embrace their beauty, and be proud of being African. This year’s theme is “Our Africa, Our Pride”. The theme is to promote Africa’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and ultimately promote tourism through pageantry.
You are the pageant’s local license holder for next year, what does that mean?
It means that next year I and my fellow queen Nicole Mandimutsa will be responsible for organising Miss Eloquent Zimbabwe.
The Miss Eloquent pageant aims at empowering young African women, promoting African cultures and uniting Africans. How do you plan on taking these aims a step further if you win the title?
Many African women succumb to the fact that they can’t do things because of what society says, and also in many cases, images of Africa are always negative and focused on war, corruption, poverty, to mention a few, and yet there’s more to Africa than all that negativity. Therefore, If I’m to be crowned Miss Eloquent Africa I will dedicate my time, skill and energy to changing that mentality through my 2021 project “Action of Hope.” I will do this by educating young boys and girls of the beautiful African traditions, cultures and beliefs, and help them explore their talents without judgement. Hopefully, through this project, we will see more beautiful images of African children and adults embracing their cultures, because we need the world to see how beautiful Africa is.
I also want to use the Miss Eloquent Africa platform to advocate for mental health, my work with Ingutsheni Central Hospital, the mental health referral institution in Zimbabwe, has opened my eyes to this serious issue. According to the WHO, mental illness could be a deadly pandemic by the year 2030. In my opinion, it’s better to raise awareness and be safe than sorry.
Pageantry essentially is putting yourself out there, and with increased use of the internet, cyberbulling is definitely a thing. Has this yet to become something you have gone through?
Fortunately for me, I have not yet experienced cyberbullying, but it is something I am very well aware of.
On that note what advice would you give other women out there on how to handle cyber bullying?
I am not going to pretend to have all the answers, but from the things I have seen and heard, it looks like a horrific experience. My advice to women is, “Don’t take online chatter so seriously, don’t put your worth in the hands of strangers. Not everyone will like you, some people are just broken, and need to bring you down to feel better about themselves.”
The matter of colourism is one many in Africa are starting to talk about and become aware of. What is your take on it as a woman in pageantry?
First and foremost, every skin colour is beautiful! l personally don’t care about skin colour, because the truth is beneath every skin colour, you bleed red, and we are all human beings. However, we can’t avoid the fact that there is discrimination among African people based on skin colour, which is very disheartening. I always ask people, “How do you expect to fight against racism and win, when you are busy promoting colourism, tribalism and all that?”
In order to fight against related issues like racism, Africans should unite! We should embrace our beauty, our cultures, and be confident enough to show the world how beautiful and amazing all shades of our melanin skin are. An African proverb says, ‘In order to fight an Alien and an oppressive culture, you must first embrace your own.’ We need women to rise, take up space, and accept their unique and beautiful skin colour.
It definitely is a time of development and change within the pageantry world; the Miss SA pageant announced this year that the competition would be open to transsexual participants. What’s your take on such change and what it means for the industry?
First of all, instead of calling it change, I think I would prefer to call it progress, because really when we look at South Africa’s modelling industry, it has been developing quite well. From acknowledging that curvy women are also women who deserve a shot at being Miss SA, to crowning a queen with short natural hair who has inspired thousands of African women around the globe to feel secure about having natural short hair, and now also accepting transsexual individuals… that is a whole lot of progress.
I think it is great that they are using pageantry to promote equality, unity and peace in Africa, because for a long time and up till now, the LGBTQ community struggles to fight against societal discrimination, and it is because people are too ignorant. Just because someone is different from you doesn’t make them any less human. I applaud South Africa for taking a stand against discrimination.
Where can we go to show our love and support of you as you vye for the Miss Eloquent crown?
Those who would like to know more and be a part of my projects can reach out on those platforms, also for sponsorship. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
We are rooting for you Cocoa!
Interviewed by Hazel Lifa
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