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I’m showcasing Africa to the world through fashion –Diana Tambe, Cameroonian founder, AFWA

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She studied Economics in The Netherlands, trained as an air hostess in France and went ahead to get certified in International Tourism and Travel Management at London Metropolitan University.
The diva also had a stint in modeling, but today, she is the founder of Africa Fashion Week Amsterdam (AFWA). Welcome to the colourful world of Cameroonian highflyer, Diana Tambe.
In this interview, Tambe, who speaks three international languages, shares her views about Nigerian and African designers. She also talks about how African fashion can be showcased even in the most luxurious stores, Harrods inclusive, and why she will be hosting African Fashion and Cultural Week in three cities in Nigeria next year, in conjunction with her Nigerian partners. Enjoy it.

How did your love for fashion start?
I started out doing commercial modelling. I graduated into designing a bikini line and later a lingerie line and finally haute couture. With time, I got into events basically because in The Netherlands, we didn’t have platforms to promote designers like me who have collections with an African touch. It was a case of creating opportunities for me and other Afrocentric designers that led to my founding the African Fashion and Culture Week in Holland.

What kept you connected with Africa despite growing up in Holland?

But I am African… I remained connected with who I am. There is no way you could have taken Africa out of me. I was born here. I love Africa, I love our people and culture, and that’s why I am dedicating this much effort to showcasing the continent to the world through fashion.

You said you make couture with an ethnic touch. How exactly have you been able to do this?
‎It’s simply by using our fabrics and infusing typical African fabrics into designs that would have just been classic high- level couture.

How has the response been to AFWA?
‎I actually started working on the Africa Fashion Week Amsterdam since 2010 and we hosted our first edition in 2014, and in August we hosted the 2016 edition which was much more successful than the earlier years. But I am still aiming to do even better. My ultimate goal is to take more talented African designers to the right people in the fashion industry and to make the world take even more notice that Africa is ready to compete on the global scene. I have faith that I can do this with equally committed partners in different parts of the continent, like we are collaborating with Tozali magazine here in Nigeria.

What rating did the fashion critics give the AFWA?
‎Yes, critics have made their opinions known; the one that easily comes to mind was a show I hosted for a minister in The Netherlands’ government. It got people talking because we had white models showcasing African inspired designs, and with the minister right in the pictures, that were all over. It got people reacting for up to three months. But I had to make them understand, we go for experienced runway models not minding if they are white or black. I also let them know that I used black models during the Africa Fashion Week… but the comments on the designs we had on display were very good.

What made you decide to host shows here in Nigeria?
‎Well, my business partner, Aydin Acik, who is one of Europe’s respected fashion (show) producers and style ambassador and I hope to host high profile fashion and culture events in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. We are starting with Abuja, Lagos and Bayelsa. We are interested in Nigeria for the well-known reasons that Nigerians are fashionable people, they are well travelled, and of course, you have a vibrant fashion cum entertainment scene.
For me, Africa is a huge market that is yet to be tapped. The fashion industry is growing in Africa and we thought it would be wise to kick start whatever we want to do here in Nigeria, Africa’s second largest economy and the entertainment capital of the continent. Also very importantly, we believe in working with people we can trust. We have found such organisations and individuals in Nigeria who we can work with to create real opportunities for Nigerians and African designers – to create wealth for them. We actually believe that we can create jobs for young talented people through our events in Nigeria coming up in 2017.

How many designers are you expecting for the Africa Fashion and Culture events?
‎What is going to be strikingly different about our events is that we will not just be having designers who we expect to apply in their hundreds, but we also need people who will be ready for mass production, because those who will place orders will be on hand. All three shows are going to be a setting for networking as I have my partner here, Aydin Acik, who they can connect with for shows in Europe.
In a nutshell, our shows in 2017 will have many international buyers and retailers.

What you are saying sounds enticing to Nigerian designers some of whom have complained of not getting large orders from buyers unlike what happens after shows in the much advanced countries. So, how do you intend to attract these buyers?
We have done this before, a Nigerian designer, Farida Musa, showcased in AFWA in 2014, and today, she has been to the London Fashion Week and other major shows in the US. She started out with our main partner here in Nigeria, Tozali magazine, which hosts the Henne Ball where she won the fashion award. You can tell we are used to growing African brands by exposing them to retailers. In fact, the last time Farida spoke to me, she said Topshop has contacted her… Our (African) brands can be in Harrods with the right packaging and marketing. There is really no use for a designer to showcase her collection and not get orders from retailers, how can such a person thrive? I want to walk into Harrods and see African brands on display. There have been occasions when African designers give me their products and when they tell me what their market price is, I feel embarrassed. For example, I have a leather handbag given me by a Ghanaian designer, and when I asked him, he said it cost about $50 and I was amazed that a handmade bag with quality leather like his was going for as low as that. The same bag in the hand of a big designer like Christian Dior will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. By placing such a bag in Harrods, its cost will skyrocket and we can do this.

In Nigeria, hosting a successful fashion show also means having the best of entertainment, will this be the case with Africa Fashion and Culture Week events?
We will go for the big names in music and we will be looking to attract the cream of celebrities, but our focus remains making African brands money-earning enterprises. We are committed to a professionally executed show. I have seen shows in Africa where you will see children on the front row with some of them crying; for us, only the brand retailers, store representatives, VIPs, critics and the press will be seen in the seats upfront.

How well have you interacted with Nigerian designers? What is your assessment of them?
Nigerian designers are talented and they have a finger on the pulse of fashion. I see huge potentials in them but the major challenge they have is the poor knowledge of brand management. In the fashion business, you cannot be everything. You cannot be the creative director, the marketing manager and the PR person for your brand. It’s better for you to concentrate on being creative director and let other support come from skilled staff or consultants. I do believe that with the right kind of exposure, Nigerian designers will understand what brand management really entails and they will go on to do great things. For us in the AFWA, we have the contacts with some major stores to talk them into having Nigerian designers on display. But these designers have to earn our recommendation by being more professional, and we are ready to teach them this professionalism.

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