As a global African (using the words of Ali Mazrui as he defined Africans who spent decades of their lives in the west), the past decade has re-connected me to the continent, in an area where the continent has so much to offer.
My entry point in Africa was in the early 1990s through fashion, when I walked into a Paris modeling agency looking for a part-time job. I started working immediately, and a few months became a wonderful decade. I quickly realized the huge potential of fashion to push my own agenda: creating awareness about the plight of impoverished children in Africa, and promoting the almost invisible presence of Africa and Africans in international fashion arenas.
I started the Ethiopian Children’s Fund (ECF) in those early years, and soon afterwards I established an initiative called African Mosaique, organizing fashion shows with African designers to raise funds for ECF. The first event was held in 1996 in Paris, at the Carrousel du Louvre, on the last day and last show of the Paris prêt-a-porter collections—I think it was right after Chanel or Dior. The event was fully supported by the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode, more than 50 international models and designers, stylists, and fashionistas. All of them came together to donate their time, energy, and resources. It was organized chaos backstage, but there was this inexplicable spirit, solidarity, discovery, and joy, as we all rushed to get the show started on time. The show was a dream. To my knowledge, this was to be the first international showcasing of African designers from around the continent and the diaspora, on perhaps on the most important fashion platform of the time.
(Photo courtesy of African Mosaique)
It was the beginning of a journey that I was thrilled to be on. That night, it all came alive. We showcased, we celebrated, and we raised funds. I was doing everything I always wanted, and modeling paid the rent!
Fast-forward 15 years: I live in perhaps the most exciting place in Africa, in South Africa, with my soul mate, Admassu, and our two lovely kids. At the Ethiopian Children’s Fund (ECF), we just celebrated the class of 2010, our very first graduates, where 50 percent of the students passed with honors and distinctions. At African Mosaique, we continue showcasing, designing, and manufacturing world-class African-inspired clothing, with all sources created and manufactured in Africa.
Today, there are fashion weeks in more than 15 countries in Africa; some countries even have multiple fashion weeks. There are also great continental initiatives, such as the Festival de la mode Africaine in Niger (FIMA), the Festival for African Fashion and Arts in Kenya (FAFA), Swahili Fashion Week in Tanzania, and the upcoming World Festival of Black Arts and Culture in Senegal (FESAM). Fashion is becoming a forefront for creativity, identity, and economic growth, all around the continent and the diaspora, and cannot be ignored anymore.
I continue to discover the infinite possibilities and inspirations in Africa and I have enjoyed some of the most profound happiness and fulfillment in my encounters and experiences working, living and growing in Africa.
I look forward to bringing you with me on my journey.