Advice from Women Designers of the Diaspora

Creative energy is a force that has the power manifest in unlimited forms. As an artist and storyteller, I am constantly discovering new ways to connect communities and finding beauty in unexpected places. My love for fashion runs deep because it allows me to send messages through clothing and design. My fascination started at an early age. As a preteen, I would buy tshirts from Forman Mills, cut them, and adorn them with seashells I found and kept from the beach.

I seek to evoke images of a cohesive African Diaspora community, with each distinct subculture rejoicing in freedom and harmony. My goal is for everyone to know and be able to connect with the vibrant, bright and diverse shades that color the African Diaspora.

These fashion designers are pillars of inspiration for me. Here is a bit about them and some advice I compiled. I hope you can come back to this time and time again when you are in need of some advice or inspiration to keep going and trust in the process of your creative journey.

#1 Zelda Wynn Valdes zeldaBorn in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Zelda Wynn Valdes learned to make clothes from her grandmother who was a seamstress. She started out making clothes by sewing doll costumes and grew to be one of the most prominent celebrity designers of her time. Valdes is known for creating pieces that celebrate the curvaceous nature of the female body. In the 1950’s she designed and produced the first Playboy bunny costume. She also opened the first African American owned boutique in Manhattan, Chez Zelda, in 1948.

A creative genius who dressed artists including Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandrige, Ruby Dee, her magic existed in different sectors of art. She created costumes for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and channeled her craft into mentorship when she served as president of the NAFAD, National Association of Fashion Accessories and Designers, an organization formed by civil rights activist Mary Mcleoud Bethune.

In an article with the New York Times, Valdes says “I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful”. Thank you Ms. Valdes for your contributions!! What we can take away from this trailblazer is whatever your passion or talent is, find it and hit the ground running. Turn your passion into profit and never stop believing in yourself. Persistance breaks resistance.

Zelda Wynn Valdes (1) #2: Stella Jean

stella

 

Stella Jean, a Haitian-Italian designer, was born in Rome, Italy in 1979. She initially studied Political Science at university and discontinued to be a fashion model. She drew interest in fashion design and applied to Italian Vogue’s ‘Who Is On Next’ talent contest three times until she finally won in 2011 and premiered her first collection at Italian Fashion Week. She calls her work an endeavor of counter-colonization.

Her Spring 2017 collection with Marina Rinaldi included accessories made by women from Haiti using cultural age techniques. She said regarding the fashion capsule, the idea was to “give the sensation of a link with the past, of a memory, of the lives of women”. In an interview titled ‘Stella Jean for Marina Rinaldi’, she says about her creative process- “With this project, we did not start out with an exterior shape. Instead, we looked first at the meaning and content”.

Her work focuses on multiculturality in fashion, merging different cultural influences to examine the relationship between different values and experiences. I would summarize the advice I gain from her as ‘meraki’, a greek word meaning ‘to pour love and creative energy into the work that you do’. Check out her latest projects here http://www.stellajean.it/

Stella Jean

#3: Mimmy Yeboah

mimmy

A New Yorker of Ghanaian descent, Mimmy Yeboah is a self-taught designer who blew up on Instagram in 2016 when the world witnessed young women around the world sparkling in the prom gowns she made for them. Talk about a social media glow up! Her gorgeous wax print and lace bead designs blend timeless Ghanaian flair with Hollywood glam.

In a youtube vlog that documented her first fashion show at Baruch college, she shared that she has an obsession with the female frame and likes to enhance it. She draws inspiration from classical and old Hollywood movies because she admires the sensuous ways the garment fit their body highlighting the different shapes.

This past September, she hosted ‘An Afro-gyp-tasy opening to NYFW’, where she showcased her collection. In an article with Okay Africa, Yeboah says “My pieces are cut and constructed to create confidence in the women who wear it… All fabrics are chosen, cut, and constructed to create confidence as you walk with your head high.”

#Message be confident in yourself! Have peace in assurance, hustle and stay positive. Watch your dreams fall in place!

Currently, Yeboah is based in her homeland Ghana, in the capital Accra, where she is teaching a joint sewing class with designer Gifty and building her brand, and working towards opening a mass production office. Check out her statement pieces at mimmyyeboah.tumblr.com.

Mimmy yeboah

 

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