South African Precious Moloi-Motsepe, one of Africa’s richest women, is an avid promoter of fashion designers from the young, dynamic and culturally diverse continent.
Style has been running through her veins since she was a young girl growing up in Soweto Township, and for her, the time has come for “African designers to shine” on the international stage.
About 15 years ago, she founded the Johannesburg and Cape Town Fashion Weeks which bring together designers from across the continent with the aim of putting them on the world stage.
Her goal is now beginning to bear fruit, she told AFP with a confident smile, in a brand new luxury boutique in an upscale neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic capital.
“Now more than ever, African designers are recognized here at home,” the 58-year-old said, dressed elegantly in her make-up and flowing black pants with a silk blouse.
“At big events on the continent, music awards, football events, you will find celebrities wearing local designers,” said the wife of Confederation of African Football President Patrice Motsepe. “They have definitely become household names.”
With her husband, the 9th richest man in Africa according to Forbes, they form the most prominent “power couple” in South Africa.
Elsewhere, “celebrities, Michelle Obama or Beyonce, … are now wearing African brands,” she said, adding that the Wakanda phenomenon, linked to the movie Black Panther, “spread our culture, our heritage, to the world “. impact on driving style as well”.
Moloi-Motsepe grew up in Soweto, a poor township that was a hotbed of resistance to the apartheid regime. It was there that she acquired a sense of style.
“My grandmother made her own clothes…and she wore them so elegantly,” she said. Soweto “people liked to dress up”, although closely shaped by and following American trends and brands.
Later, she had the opportunity to travel and attend a Parisian fashion show by the talented designer John Galliano.
It was a shocking revelation, realizing that the creators “are inspired by the history, the heritage, the culture, which I thought Africa was full of.”
Africa seemed to be a source of inspiration for Western designers, “but I haven’t seen many African designers on the catwalks,” she said.
“Change of Mindset”
This was the trigger to create a space to “propel the best of African creatives to global fame”, a project which the doctor-turned-philanthropist and creative-arts financier launched with vigor.
“I had to first make sure that they were well recognized here at home, that we changed mentalities, that people appreciated and valued African fashion designers”, not only as tailors but as designers respected.
It was an ambitious challenge, not yet achieved but on the right track.
“African consumers now recognize that their own designers are as valuable as any of the brands they buy globally,” she said.
Cameroonian fashion designer Anna Ngann Yonn, whose brand Kreyann is making a name for itself in Africa and beyond, was one of the stars of fashion week in Johannesburg last week.
The fashion weeks she launched in South Africa, featuring models like South Sudanese Alek Wek and high-profile guests from New York, Milan and Paris, allowed designers to “showcase their work, network with other creators and attract media attention”.
The next step in the mission is to take them to “international platforms” to ensure Africa’s presence in the global fashion dialogue. Africans in the Diaspora play a key role as ambassadors.
The entrepreneur remembers taking a few African designers to exhibit in Paris on the sidelines of fashion shows a few years ago.
Some comments were “positive, some less positive,” she said, laughing softly. But “we took this as a step in the right direction”.
“What was important for young designers and what we thought were established designers then, and still today, is voice,” Moloi-Motsepe said.
Africans remain underrepresented among major global brands. And in many parts of Africa, the sport of foreign brands is still a symbol of social success, she acknowledged.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, but the African fashion advocate is undeterred. (AFP)