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Fashion of Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Source: ojo m. maduekwe

One Woman's Drive to Satisfy Europe's Craze for African Fashion

The news is stale that African fashion has caught the attention of the world. Nigeria, and by extension Africa, must be proud and celebrate names such as Ituen Bassey for the simple reason that foreign fashion designers and celebrities are now paying attention to the Ankara material, a once-upon-a-time colourful fabric associated with poor Africans.

Last year, American pop star, Rihanna, wore an Ankara print dress by emerging Haitian-Italian fashion designer and former model, Stella Jean, for an engagement at the United States White House. Now the catch here is that both Stella Jean (although emerging) and Rihanna are big names in the international fashion and music industry respectively.

Before Rihanna were Alicia Keys, Thandie Newton, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Gwen Steffani, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Solange Knowles, Lydia Hearst, Amber Rose, Angela Simmons, Dawn Richard, Kat Graham, Nicole Parker, and many others who had worn an African print dress by either Deola Sagoe, Jewel By Lisa, or a design with no particular designer.

A variance in all of these scenarios is that while there have been several instances of American music and movie celebrities rocking an Ankara design, same cannot be said of celebrities in Europe. To fill this gap, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Crucible Events & Planners, Temitayo Omotola, has been organising the Africa Fashion Show Geneva, since 2013.

Globally, the successes recorded have been in bringing awareness to African fashion. Not much has been done in the area of structure and retailing. With two successful editions, Omotola's Crucible Events & Planners, organisers of the African Fashion Show Geneva, are paying extra focus in this area.

Crucible Events & Planners is a Swiss based event planning and entertainment group that specialises in public relations and tailored events. The company prides itself as "the agency of choice for individuals, organisations and businesses seeking a one-stop, hassle-free solution for their event and entertainment needs."

In 2014, during planning for the second edition, Omotola was quoted to have said: "Since the 20th century, the progress made in the fashion industry has been phenomenal. Despite the myriad of challenges facing Africa, the fashion industry has tremendous growth potential to improve unemployment and empower the youth with a multiplier effect on other sectors of African economies. Crucible Events & Planners intends to be a major player in achieving this feat bridging the gap to discover African designers and to increase trade; and investment opportunities."

This year, while preparing for the third edition, THISDAY caught up with her, and again she reiterated her desire to help capture the Geneva fashion scene for African designers and fashion lovers. According to her, the reason being the fashion show was born out of the need to "create a positive story about Africa."

Fashion to Omotola has always been some sort of love affair. "I love fashion," she said. But beyond that is another reason, something a few people can connect to. "There is something which many people are not aware of, and it is the idea of fashion being a big contributor to development."

When development is brought into the mix, one normally expect events like the Africa Fashion Show Geneva to get support from African governments willing to take advantage of such to showcase their country's rich cultural heritage. Omotola narrated her experience of how she approached the embassies of participating designers in Switzerland.

"I personally reached out to the embassies in Switzerland last year, requesting from them to nominate and sponsor designers from their countries. We got a positive response from Ghana, Burundi and Tanzania. None of them said they could sponsor but they did nominate designers."

Where African governments have failed to show financial support, there has been major improvements to the show notwithstanding. The Crucible Events & Planners signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fashion Inclusive Brazil (FIB) a Fashion, Music, Arts Company; a move that has seen both Fashion Inclusive and Africa Fashion Show Geneva providing a channel to promote fashion events in Brazil and Switzerland respectively.

Given the strong racial and cultural heritage between Brazil and Africa, Africa Fashion Show Geneva participating designers have through the partnership showcased their designs in Brazil and vice versa. Baldon clothiers based in Abuja, Nigeria showcased in the Fashion Inclusive Eventon on December 7, 2013 in Buzios, Rio de Janeiro. The event was featured in the local newspaper in Rio with a related interview on the Fashion Event in Buzios.

For this year's Fashion Inclusive, Nau Nuhu from Tanzania, Baldon Clothiers from Nigeria and Emma For from Guinea are nominated designers awaiting confirmation. Also, according to Omotola, "as part of our efforts to strengthen south-south cooperation and to draw on cultural ties between Africa and other regions, this year at the Africa Fashion Show Geneva in June, a guest designer from India will be featured."

In 2014, the guests who graced the event comprised of the diplomatic and United Nations community in Geneva, such as Michael Molle; Acting DG United Nations Office in Geneva, Anja Loetscher; Director, Geneva Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as African Ambassadors in Geneva and leading names in Swiss business, media and fashion.

Slated for June 12-13, the 2015 show according to Omotola, "will be held in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); and will be dedicated to the protection of indigenous creativity of Africa's fashion goods and products to enhance competitiveness and commercialization." A rich array of guests are expected to grace the event.

By Ojo M. Maduekwe. Original story was published in THISDAY. Temitayo Omotola is the CEO of Crucible Events and Partners