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The story of success that we dream of in Africa goes something like this: you escape from the village where you grew up, make it to the big town, and from there leave the country to go to London, or Paris, or New York. You work extra hard, overcome a multitude of challenges and attitudes, and finally make it big over there. Only once you’ve made it over there can you truly call yourself an African success story. My question is how can you call that success when you’ve had to leave your home, leave your family, leave your culture and traditions, and change yourself to fit into someone else’s system just in order for you to ‘make it’?
That is not success.
Success is to stay where you are from and build something that people from London, Paris, or New York will travel half way across the world to be a part of. Success is where you can proudly invite people into your country, into your culture, and into your way of life, and they are happy to come and fit into the new world that you expose them to.
That is my vision of the African dream...
Something that causes humans unnecessary discomfort and misery is our failure to accept that change is a constituent part of being. If we learn to embrace change, it could save us the agony of trying to cling on to status quos that were never intended to last forever. Conversely, if things aren’t going so well, it can be comforting to know that our current predicament also won’t last forever.
I’ve undergone changes during my lifetime, the most obvious being that in 2012 I left the UK to settle in the US (more on that later). I’ve also changed career. Several times, I might add! I started off in television post-production and stayed there for about ten years. I later shifted to production, which meant I was working closer to the actors, but still behind the scenes. With hindsight I can see that I chose to work behind the camera simply because I was too scared to step into the limelight myself, so I thought I’d get as close as I could to what I really wanted without taking any risks. But after a decade of denial, something inside me began to stir – that buzz for performing that I’d had when I was a kid; that same something that I had learned to supress over the years...
The African continent is blessed with ample natural resources, more so than anywhere else on earth. It is because of this that there remains a sharper focus on investing in the extractive industries. An understandable play. However, this focus often comes at the expense of Africa’s creative business potential. Even within cultural norms, young Africans are encouraged to follow careers in engineering, medicine, and accounting (the drill is now obvious), leaving the more creative and artistically-inclined professions deprioritised.
I’ve dedicated much of my life to advocating for the promotion, protection and renaissance of African artistry — its creativity, music, fashion, style, and every other element behind what truly is the genesis of African expression and image-based representation. What we wear isn’t just about looking good; what we wear is a silent (but very tumultuous) statement about one’s self, one’s heritage and one's way of life. In fact, fashion is one of the most poignant cultural storytellers of all time, innately descriptive of our nature, nurture, and state of being. Fashion is a grand ambassador that unaidedly speaks the most epic of universal languages, capable of influencing and positioning societies worldwide.
So, if fashion is a language, with a high-powered voice, whose tune is it singing in Africa?
If you’ve been plugged in to discussions pertaining to Africa in recent years, you’ve probably heard rhetoric aplenty along the lines of 'Africa is rising', 'Africa is the future', 'This is the new Africa' and other statements of a comparably rosy hue. Similarly, if you’re a lover of all things tech, you’ve probably heard – if you’re not one of the many tweeting it – that this is the digital era, technology is the now and the future (and other statements of a comparably rosy hue). Now pause for a second, if you will, and imagine the barrels of crude optimism pumping through the veins of someone who identifies as both a young African and a technophile. Given all this combined hype, such a person would be half forgiven for donning their dictator’s robes and embarking on a mission to conquer the planet (Google Maps app to hand - how else would we make it 100m down the road?), firm in the belief that the world really is theirs for the taking.