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Anisa Mpungwe from Loincloth and Ashes

After a year of successful collaboration with retail group Mr Price and a notable SS 2013/2014 campaign featuring model/actress Jena Dover, not to mention winning the Africa Fashion International (AFI) emerging designer award, Anisa Mpungwe is a talented lady who has her books in order and her eye on the prize. We love her contemporary take on traditional African design and fabrics, her couture lines and impeccable fit.



You has had a fantastic 2013, with a gorgeous campaign, an incredibly successful partnership with Mr Price and an emerging designer of the year award. What keeps you inspired in this cut-throat industry?

I try to keep myself focused as much as I can. I know I am living in a microwave world, successes come and go, and life is fast. So I don’t focus on my short-term goals but instead I focus on my future and how I want my life to be. I have certain rules of conduct from when I started in this career, and that is to involve myself in projects I can handle, to always carry through what I have promised a third party, and to be polite, listen, learn and be mentored by those who have done what I am doing. I have understood that I am not alone in my life and in a small way I am responsible to my community. Like the way I have been inspired, I will inspire. It is not an easy road, so I keep my family and close friends close by.

What, in your mind, are the challenges facing designers in Africa? Following that, what are the opportunities that you can forecast for growth within the fashion industry on the continent?

The challenges facing designers in Africa are the same as the ones that the rest of the world faces, plus the fact that we are not as experienced as the rest of the world. So issues like cash flow, sufficient resources in all levels, and highly experienced workers is always a “juggler’s game”. But having said that, Africa is still in its experimental and growth phase in fashion, therefore, the potential for growth is there. And with the aid of First World technology, we are able to reach certain milestones of our own. First among them is that the fashion and textile industry is a credible industry that can add to the economy. Giant companies like Mr Price or Woolworths, who perform well, have associated themselves with designers by seeing their potential and investing in their brands. Magazines team up with designers to do pop-up stores, we start seeing more collaboration between ourselves too. So the need for progress is really present.

Are institutions such as AFI creating a large enough platform for all African designers as opposed to a select few, or should designers be doing more to promote themselves?

I think what AFI is doing is fantastic and only the beginning. They provide the platform and we participate. At the same time your business is yours, so you do the best you can to promote it and make it successful. Relying on others is not really recommended and can be counterproductive. If these platforms were not there, we would still have to promote our garments, shops, business, etc.

Are fashion shows outdated? What other avenues would you suggest to designers who don’t have the means to showcase?

There is an excitement and intrigue in following or attending fashion shows. It’s part and parcel of being in the industry but that does not limit a designer to let their work be known in other ways. Many do private viewings and invite loyal clientele and their friends; there are various media outlets that can advertise your products like fashion spreads that always need new, interesting content; or dressing a well-known personality that fits the ethos of your brand.

Following the Samsung show at AFI, where fashion and accessory designers from across the continent collaborated to create complementary ranges, will we be seeing more of this cross-continental collaboration from you going forward? And if you could collaborate with anyone from Africa, who would it be?

I would love to collaborate again, of course! I would like to work with a brand that is like-minded and stands for progress on this continent. I associate myself with NGOs like RedCap Foundation purely because they believe in investing time in our future leaders.

You are a great example of hard work and business savvy. What fundamental steps should designers be taking to create growth and ultimately make money from their craft?

Vision, persistence and support. Surrounding yourself with the right people is my biggest rule.

How important is keeping your product local, thereby keeping the work and money within the continent, and ultimately giving back to the economy and community?

It’s very important because everything is generation-based and you determine what people after you are going to stand for and believe in. So if being our own leader is important now, it will be important tomorrow.

Marianne Fassler


The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria



Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.

There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens. 

Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.

Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.

“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.

Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.

“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”

Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.

Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.

“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”

Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.

“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”

This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.

“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”

She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.

As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.

“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.

And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.

One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.

“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”

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Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown



Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.

During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.

“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.

He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.

He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.

“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”

Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.

“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.

During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.

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‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’



A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.

Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).

In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.

Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”

How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?

“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”

A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.

“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.

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