African black panther and fashion jewellery:
This post is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman who died two days after my CNN interview.
We discussed at length, on and off camera the impact that Chadwick Boseman and Black Panther have had on African designers and the Black Lives Matter movement.
I along with Team AD was absolutely gutted when we found out that he was no more.
AD and Team AD would like to dedicate this post and all future features to Boseman and his fighting spirit, love, and life.
May he rest in Eternal Peace.
On August 26th 2020, I was humbled to be interviewed by the CNN Africa Avante Garde. The Team & crew comprised of Jo, (remotely) Carol Kioko & Nike Migwi.
The CNN film crew came to my village in Laikipia, Kenya. It was exciting to see my home bursting with activity after what had been 7 months of living in my own bubble from lockdown and social distancing.
We talked about the difficulties the brand has faced during Covid-19, the strategies we’ve managed to implement to adapt & our commitment to the African Renaissance Movement.
The show must go on even in the face of a pandemic.
I was incredibly emotional during the interview, there were tears and there was laughter!
Thanks so much, CNN for giving me a voice & sharing my story.
Below are the prepping up questions I had asked for to guide me with the direction of the feature and my responses.
1. Why did you choose this line of work?
I wanted to translate my childhood passion into a reality.
Ever since I was young, I admired my mother and grandmother’s style. They wore bold, vibrant adornment and they inspired my love for African, handmade accessories. I started engaging with this, first as a consumer and later as a creator.
I am a very visual person; my communication is rather visual than by words. I started Adele Dejak because I strongly and passionately believe that adornment can transform how a woman looks and feels. My brand is about capturing the spirit of Africa, our wealth, character, culture – and bringing others into this experience. It’s about a shared personality, about communicating strong impressions through design. That it’s inspired by Africa and produced in Africa is a defining part of my brand’s identity.
African fashion should be a celebration of our culture and heritage.
It is about our identity and how we are able to weave this via our personal stories, journeys etc. AD is about embracing your identity heritage and doing it with pride.
AD is about reinterpreting African styles: its mission is to push boundaries and create wearable body adornment for the modern warrior woman, a woman who feels at ease by the magic powers of her adornment.
While in Europe the traditional styles have been merged into a globalized fashion market, body adornment in Africa is still uniquely genuine and rooted in age-long identity styles.
Bringing a modernizing renewal or re-styling of those amazing traditions and making the most of local materials provides an opportunity to create luxury items that are totally different from what is on offer in the globalized market.
From the onset, I began weaving an African Renaissance story.
Re-defining our rich culture and heritage, our aesthetics reflect a strong African heritage, reinterpreted into modern, minimal shapes
2. Tell us how you have got to where you are?
Passion, love, hard work, and faith.
I started the brand when social media had just kicked off which helped a lot. My business is one and the same with Social Media. I hold a constant interaction with my public, which is surely time-consuming, but it is also encouraging and refreshing. Providing all available means of interaction and opportunities to access my products through electronic channels is the best way to interconnect the African market as it approaches its near booming threshold.
Many people just want the freedom to express themselves and my brand provides them this. They are also very communal and want to belong to something, so we offer them a belief system. We are using social media to advance the African renaissance and specifically, to position ourselves.
3. What have been the major challenges that you have overcome to get to where you are?
It’s been 12 years of being in business with peaks and lows and unpredictable terrain. From social economic political factors to copyright infringement, we’ve had it all. Cheaper versions or, rather, copycats aka thieves of creativity emerge; it takes me months to develop a new collection and then I find out that someone is just stealing that from me for cheap money! There is also a lack of investment both financially and in creating infrastructures that support the design industry.
Everyone chatters about “helping Africa’s business” or “empowering African women” at glossy International conferences. When the lights go off, the talk does not translate to actual support on the ground.
I have been invited to too many of such events and I have never seen any reality follow-up in 12 years. Another challenge is convincing people that our brand offers the same value as luxury product lines. Westerners have no qualms about spending hundreds if not thousands of $ on a single item in their countries, but raise eyebrows on African products that cost a fraction of the price of our European counterparts/competitors.
4. It is, of course, a way to earn a living but is it more important than that? Are you seeking to make a difference? Are you actively trying to get people to think differently?
The African identity is fast evolving, mainly due to a massively dynamic young generation. 70% of the African population is below 30 years of age. Nobody seems to get the message here, as always rather looking at the negatives than the positives that such a huge young generation can bring about. This is the narrative of looking at the past without understanding where the future is going. Young societies always produce development and wealth, mainly because of their immense energy.
The essence of our brand philosophy is rooted in the African spirit of resilience and respect for cultural identity. The AD brand’s foundation is based on and celebrates traditional African cultures, traditions, and aesthetics with an ethos, a design language, and a style and a movement that connects our past, present, and future. We have been focusing on slow fashion by creating pieces that have a life-long cycle. Though I have a law degree, I branched out in a totally different direction to fulfill my ambitions. AD is driven by ethos, CSR, humanitarian approach, sustainability, my father instilled recycling in us long before it was fashionable
AD African Renaissance is about: empowering African fashion to secure its place in the global market. An identity consolidated through 12 years of passionate work: it is not opportunistic or ephemeral, engendering a creative ecosystem driving African fashion to self-reliability.
There has since been a paradigm shift in the fashion industry for not only profit but VALUE for workers as well as methods of production. We have been focusing on profit while providing value to the industry and customers. Only that we do it for real, not like those who sport those “Fair Trade” marks without truly pursuing any of that.
Our vision is to create a brand that is both pure design, but also culturally and socially conscious. We are contributing to an upcoming fashion movement connecting the continent’s rich history with its potential for passion, resilience, perseverance, and intuition.
Each piece of the AD brand embodies a distinct African Renaissance story. Each piece is part of a narrative of courage, strength, hope, pride, beauty, and prosperity. And resilience!
5. Many people consider fashion to be frivolous does it have to be serious as well?
Fashion is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the potential to contribute to self-reliant growth by Africans plugged more solidly into international markets. Enhancing cultural identities by empowering local communities means sustainable development. And yet, for all of the glitz of international events about “African business”, African fashion is still entirely left on its own, which means that African designers can only dream of mimicking Western fashion and leave their Countries for richer destinations. Therefore, it’s time to make the best of a massive demographic dividend through entrepreneurship and business development. It’s time to lay sustainable foundations upon which an African Coco Chanel or Donna Karan may rise. Powerhouses are at the root with such a purpose. The fashion world needs new frontiers. But it also needs real support, not just hollow talk.
Why do you find it serious?
European artists and fashion designers have always found inspiration in African designs. Africa is a cauldron of growth mixed with high challenges. 70% of Africans are young, dynamic, energetic, enterprising and fully digitalized. The digital economy is empowering young Africans to an entirely new setting, where Fashion can truly link them with the amazing visual Arts and Crafts that have inspired, a century ago, a whole new wave of European artists, from Picasso to Modigliani, Giacometti to Brancusi and Man Ray all the way to Yves Saint-Laurent.
Africa is an untapped treasure trove for new visual solutions to break new ground into the global market place. Few have yet grasped such a simple truth. The sheer dimension of the African market should make partners jump onto such an opportunity before it is too late to position them into it. Just a glance at the demographics of African countries will confirm this. As millions of young Africans need housing, they also need to dress and to adorn themselves. Their creativity and availability to re-invent their identity will provide a massive push for a fashion revolution. Already today, African fashion can become quickly popular in Europe and elsewhere, if only it could be provided with the essential tools to do so, which is a basic investment and a conduit to reach markets more easily.
6. How have the events of 2020 impacted your work?
Profoundly! It’s been a reflective time; an opportunity to look at a new and refreshed approach. We’ve had to adapt and change our business model.
We changed our traditional way of operating to a new virtual way of working.
Reality check 2020 is the year of COVID + BLM > 2 pandemics one that needs a vaccine and the other a mindset. The protests and BLM currently going on in the US have resonated everywhere especially here in Africa.
These two factors have spurred me on to continue and push forward my African Renaissance movement.
C-19 also taught us not to take the simple things for granted. By imposing restrictions on our established way of living, it has opened our eyes to what we were giving for granted, such as the environment around us and the very nature we belong to.
7. Have you changed how you view the world and your role in it?
I experienced a massive reality check where I had to get out of my comfort zone and become more philosophical. I am also enthusiastic by seeing the BLM movement expanding all over a world already sensitized by the need to address a global pandemic and its devastating economic effects through a closer communal approach. The re-discovery that “each one on its own” turns the world into an insane and very dangerous place indeed. I do not think that such convergent messages from the pandemics and the BLM movement are by chance. After all, Covid-19 and racism are both diseases at the end of the day.
8. Do people in the creative world have to try to be good or is that the responsibility of others?
Remember, we are all but passers-by in this life. The very moment you help someone else, it will echo for generations. That is a responsibility that we should all have in whatever sector we work in. AD has collaborated with the Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya (the second biggest refugee camp in-country) training them on how to make bags out of the USAID sacks. We helped tailors at Kakuma who were very eager to learn such new skills. Not only will these new skills help Kakuma residents to earn a livelihood but, the whole experience has also helped to boost morale and give the participants an added sense of purpose. And we would be willing to do much more than that if our resources would allow us to: it is part of our core values.
9. Tell us about your recent collaboration with Beyoncé and why this is so significant to you, to fashion from Africa and celebrating black How is this an example of fashion for change…
It’s been very significant as it has highlighted the movement and shift for Black-owned businesses for a number of years, with emphasis on the African Renaissance and the Black Panther Wakanda film which was a vehicle that brought it to the forefront. It was global recognition for Black people in the West, diaspora, and Africans.
It brought on a sense of pride where we were finally being acknowledged and recognized for our culture. I think it was like a rejuvenation of the African Renaissance as there is a huge sense of history, pride in our cultural heritage and crafts. You only need to go to museums across the world where our cultural relics are at the show in museums.
African women will reclaim their identity and pride in fashion items as well. The market for true African fashion identity, slowly but surely, has the potential to boom with the energy of a Tsunami wave thanks to the massive youth population in the world market.
Our language lets the African woman know we are designing because of them as well as for them. And once they can make a connection with the brand, they want the experience. But in as much as our model is Afrocentric, our products are universal in their modernity and cutting edge design: Beyoncé is my witness to that! That is why I think this appeals to the modern woman who wants familiar yet cosmopolitan brands.
The modern warrior woman.
FASHION FOR CHANGE, AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: Team AD Salutes Chadwick Boseman