South African Precious Moloi-Motsepe, one of the richest women in Africa, is a staunch promoter of fashion designers from the young, vibrant and culturally diverse continent.
Style has passed through her years since she was a young girl growing up in Soweto township, and for her, the time is ripe for “African designers to shine” on the international platform.
A decade and a half ago, she founded the Johannesburg and Cape Town fashion weeks that bring together designers from across the continent with the aim of putting them on the global stage.
Her goal is now beginning to bear fruit, she told AFP with a confident smile, at a brand new luxury store in an affluent district of Johannesburg, South Africa’s financial capital.
“Now, more than ever, African designers are getting recognition here at home,” said the 58-year-old, elegantly wearing make-up and flowing black trousers with a silk blouse.
“At major events on the continent, musical awards, football events, you will find celebrities wearing local designers,” said the wife of the president of the Confederation of African Football, Patrice Motsepe. “They have definitely become household names”.
With her husband, Africa’s 9th richest man according to Forbes, they are 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, to the world. It has an impact on driving fashion too”.
Moloi-Motsepe grew up in Soweto, a poor township that was a hotbed of resistance to the apartheid regime. It was there that she gained a sense of style.
“My grandmother made her own clothes and she was so elegant,” she said. Soweto “people loved to dress up”, albeit closely shaped by and following American trends and brands.
Later, she got the opportunity to travel and attended a fashion show in Paris by the talented designer John Galliano.
It was a shocking eye-opener, realizing that designers “get inspiration from history, heritage, culture, which I thought Africa had enough of”.
Africa seemed to be a source of inspiration for Western designers, “but I didn’t see many African designers on the runways,” she said.
It was the trigger to create a space to “drive the best of African creators to global recognition” a project that the medical doctor turned philanthropist and creative arts financier energetically launched.
“First I had to make sure they were well recognized here at home, that we changed mindsets, made people appreciate and value African fashion designers,” not just as tailors, but as respected designers.
It was an ambitious challenge, not yet realized, but well under way.
“African consumers now recognize that their own designers are just as valuable as any of the brands they buy globally,” she said.
One of those who showed 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, featuring 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 gain media attention”.
The next stage of the mission is to take them to “international platforms” to ensure the presence of Africa in the global fashion dialogue. Africans in the diaspora serve key roles as ambassadors.
The entrepreneur recalls bringing some African designers to exhibit in Paris on the sidelines of fashion shows a few years back.
Some of the feedback was “positive, some not so positive,” she said, laughing softly. But “we took it as a step in the right direction”.
“What was important to the young designers and what we thought were established designers then, and still now, is the voice,” Moloi-Motsepe said.
Africans are still underrepresented among the major global brands. And in many parts of Africa, sporting foreign brands is still a symbol of social success, she agreed.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, but the African fashion advocate is not discouraged. (AFP)