South African Precious Moloi-Motsepe, one of the richest women in Africa, is an ardent promoter of fashion designers from the young, vibrant and culturally diverse continent.
Style has flowed through her veins 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” on the international platform.
A decade and a half ago, she founded the Johannesburg and Cape Town Fashion Weeks, which bring together designers from across the continent with the aim of getting them ready for the global stage.
Her goal is now starting to pay off, she told AFP with a confident smile in a brand new luxury boutique in an affluent area of Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic capital.
“More than ever, African designers are getting recognition here at home,” said the 58-year-old, dressed elegantly in her make-up and flowing black trousers with a silk blouse.
“At major events on the continent, music awards, football events, you will find celebrities wearing local designers,” said Patrice Motsepe, the wife of president of the Confederation of African Football. “They’ve definitely become household names.”
With her husband, the ninth richest man in Africa according to Forbes, they form South Africa’s most prominent “power couple”.
Elsewhere, “celebrities, Michelle Obama or Beyonce, … now wear African brands,” she said, adding that the Wakanda phenomenon, linked to the Black Panther movie, “has spread our culture, our heritage, around the world. That has an impact on encouraging fashion as well”.
Moloi-Motsepe grew up in Soweto, a poor township that was a hotbed of resistance to the apartheid regime. There she got a sense of style.
“My grandmother made her own clothes, … and she wore them so elegantly,” she said. Soweto “people loved to dress up”, albeit closely shaped by and following American trends and brands.
Later she had the opportunity to travel and attended a Parisian fashion show by the talented designer John Galliano.
It was a shocking eye-opener when I realized that designers “take their inspiration from history, heritage, culture, which I thought Africa had had enough of”.
Africa seemed to be a source of inspiration for Western designers, “but I didn’t see many African designers on catwalks,” she said.
That was the trigger to create a space to “propel the best African creators to global acclaim,” a project that the physician-doctor-turned-philanthropist and creative arts funder began with vigour.
“First I had to make sure they were well recognized here at home, that we changed the mindset, got people to appreciate and appreciate African fashion designers” not just as tailors, but as respected designers.
That was an ambitious challenge, not yet realized but in full swing.
“African consumers are now recognizing that their own designers are just as valuable as the brands they buy globally,” she said.
One of the attendees at Johannesburg fashion week last week was Cameroonian fashion designer Anna Ngann Yonn whose label Kreyann is making a name for itself in Africa and beyond.
The fashion weeks she launched in South Africa, with supermodels such as South Sudanese Alek Wek and prestigious guests from New York, Milan and Paris, have enabled designers to “showcase their work, network with other designers and attract the attention of get the media”.
The next part 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 took some African designers to exhibit in Paris on the sidelines of fashion shows.
Some of the feedback was “positive, some not so positive,” she said with a soft laugh. But “we took that as a step in the right direction”.
“What was important to the young designers and who we thought were still established designers then and now is the voice,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
Africans remain underrepresented among the major global brands. And in many parts of Africa, foreign sports brands are still a symbol of social success, she agreed.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, but the African fashion champion is not discouraged. (AFP)