The South African Precious Moloi-Motsepe, one of the richest women in Africa, is a staunch supporter of fashion designers on the young, lively and culturally diverse continent.
Style has been in her blood since she was a young girl growing up in the township of Soweto, and for her the time has come for ‘African designers’ to shine internationally.
A decade and a half ago, she founded fashion weeks in Johannesburg and Cape Town, bringing together designers from across the continent to pose for the global stage.
Her goal is now beginning to bear fruit, she said AFP with a confident smile in a brand new luxury boutique in an affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg, the business capital of South Africa.
“African designers are finding more recognition here at home than ever before,” says the 58-year-old, wearing elegant make-up and wearing flowing black pants with a silk blouse.
“At major events across the continent, at music awards and football events, you will find celebrities wearing local designers,” said the wife of the President of the Confederation of African Football, Patrice Motsepe. “They’ve definitely become household names.”
Together with her husband, according to Forbes the ninth richest man in Africa, they are South Africa’s most prominent “power couple”.
Elsewhere, “celebrities like Michelle Obama or Beyonce … are now wearing African brands,” she said, adding that the Wakanda phenomenon linked to the Black Panther movie is “spreading our culture, our heritage, into the world.” Has. That also has an effect on driving fashion.”
Moloi-Motsepe grew up in Soweto, a poor township that was a stronghold of resistance to the apartheid regime. It was there that she acquired a sense of style.
“My grandmother made her own dresses… and she wore them so elegantly,” she said. Soweto “loved to dress up” albeit closely influenced by and after American trends and brands.
She later had the opportunity to travel and attended a Paris fashion show run by the talented designer John Galliano.
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It was a shocking eye-opener to realize that designers “take inspiration from the history, heritage and culture that I thought Africa had a lot to offer”.
Africa seemed to be a source of inspiration for Western designers, “but I haven’t seen many African designers on catwalks,” she said.
That was the catalyst to create a space to “bring global recognition to the best African creators,” a project the medical doctor-turned-philanthropist and creative arts financier tackled with vigour.
“First I had to make sure that they were recognized here at home, that we change the mindset, that make people appreciate and value African fashion designers,” not just as tailors, but as respected designers.
This was an ambitious challenge, not yet realized but in full swing.
“African consumers are now realizing that their own designers are just as valuable as any brands they buy around the world,” she said.
One of those featured at last week’s Johannesburg Fashion Week was Cameroonian fashion designer Anna Ngann Yonn, whose label Kreyann has made a name for itself in Africa and beyond.
The fashion weeks she created in South Africa, with supermodels like South Sudanese Alek Wek and acclaimed guests from New York, Milan and Paris, have allowed designers to “showcase their work, network with other designers and attract attention of the media”.
The next leg of 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 that a few years ago he exhibited with some African designers on the sidelines of fashion shows in Paris.
Some of the feedback was “positive, some not so positive,” she said, chuckling. But “we saw that as a step in the right direction.”
“What was important to the young designers that we then and still think of as established designers is the voice,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
Africans continue to be underrepresented among major global brands. And in many parts of Africa, wearing foreign brands is still a symbol of social success, she agreed.
“We’re very busy,” she said, but the African fashion advocate is undeterred.
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