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Fashion Designer & Producer | Dakar
Meet the talented Franco-Senegalese fashion designer and creative powerhouse, Adama Ndiaye, who is championing African fashion through her global series of fashion events.
The first thing we noticed when we met Adama for the first time was her electrifying, 1,000-mega-watt smile. Dressed in a stunning retro-inspired bright-pink jumpsuit with a perfectly coiffed afro, she drew the admiring gaze of every Parisian man, woman and child in sight. Yet she was seemingly oblivious to the attention ...
Fast-forward 12 months, and it’s only a few hours before a bevy of glamorous African models will emerge from backstage to walk the runway at Black Fashion Week 2014 in Paris, an international event Adama created in 2010 to enable African fashion designers to show their collections in major cities around the world. Her French-Senegalese fashion label, Adama Paris, will be opening the show, and she’s surprisingly calm for someone who will be receiving a packed audience of fashion industry and international celebrities in only two hours time.
Born in Kinshasa, Zaire, to Senegalese parents, Adama was raised in Europe and travelled extensively as a child. “Both of my parents are Senegalese", she explains. "They were diplomats who worked for the Senegalese embassy, so we travelled all over the world when I was young, to cities such as Paris, London and New York. I never actually lived in Senegal when I was younger. However, now I’m based there and it’s my home. It's so beautiful.”
She was passionate about fashion early on, but at the insistence of her father, she followed a more traditional path by studying economics then became a banker. After only one year, she quit banking, against her father’s wishes, and followed her dream by launching her own fashion label, Adama Paris. Designed for young contemporary women, the brand brings together influences from Africa and the street fashion of her favourite cities in the world, such as Paris, New York, Tokyo and Dakar.
In 2002, she went on to launch her first fashion event in Senegal, Dakar Fashion Week, to promote young African design talent. The annual event was an instant hit, and by 2014, the event showcased thirty designers from nine countries in Africa and Asia. Following the success of Dakar Fashion Week, Adama wanted to show her collections in Paris. “I really wanted to show at Paris Fashion Week, but no one allowed me to as it was very difficult to be invited as a young designer". she explains. "So I started to think about creating my own fashion event, Black Fashion Week. There were many other designers facing the same issue. So I said to myself, "OK, I’m going to launch my own show.”
Since 2010, Adama has launched Black Fashion Week events around the world in cities such as Paris, Prague, Montreal, Washington D.C. and Bahia in Brazil. She also produces the annual Afrika Fashion Awards and launched the first African television channel, Fashion TV Africa, in April 2014.
A global champion of African fashion, a dynamo of energy and one of the most inspiring people that we know, Adama shares with us more about her life as a fashion designer, a producer and a global voyageur ...
RV: When did you first decide to become a fashion designer?
AN: I didn't study fashion – I actually studied economics. I was a banker before I got into the fashion industry. I always loved fashion, and I wanted to do it from a young age. However, my dad didn't want me to. He’s a strong Senegalese papa, and he really wanted me to be a lawyer or a banker. He thought that it was more secure for my future. I was not allowed to study fashion, bottom line. You can't argue with my dad! So I made a deal with him, where he said, "OK, first you have to study. Then afterwards, you can do whatever you want." So I studied economics, and afterwards … actually, he didn't really respect our deal. He said, "OK, you've got to go and work in a bank.” So I went to the bank for a year and then I quit without telling him. He was pretty upset – he didn't talk to me for a while. Then I started my own fashion company, and I think it was then that he realised that I was made to do that. It was hard, but my mum helped me. I studied hard, and I picked it up quickly. I remember people saying, "Oh, she's really gifted. She's talented." Actually, I wasn’t, I just had a goal. I had to learn really quickly as I was really serious about it. Whatever I do, I try to do it really seriously. Eventually my dad got over it, and now he's really happy for me. In Senegal, he never misses any of my shows. He's always like, "That's my daughter!"
RV: What is the philosophy of your fashion brand, Adama Paris?
AN: My fashion brand, Adama Paris, is a contemporary brand. My designs are for young women all over the world. However, I try to put a little bit of Africa into each of my designs. I am French, I'm Senegalese and I'm black, which I think is an interesting mix. I’m also inspired by street fashion and from my travels around the world, from New York to Tokyo to Dakar – seeing women around the world in the streets, seeing them working and living. It's just a blessing to be able to be in Dakar on Monday and then in Tokyo on Tuesday. That's really where I find my inspiration. I’m a voyageur – I love to travel. I'm so happy when I know that I'm travelling somewhere.
RV: Why did you decide to launch Black Fashion Week?
AN: The name "Black Fashion Week" was relevant to me because it speaks to our black culture. It was a bit provocative and I liked that because I was really mad that the French fashion industry wouldn’t allow me to be part of what I love. So I decided to create Black Fashion Week. I was already doing Dakar Fashion Week and I called some designers to let them know my idea and to see if they wanted to join me in this new venture. We put on our first event in Prague as I wanted to start in a smaller city than Paris. Prague was a wonderful memory, and it went really well. I fell in love with Prague. It's beautiful and the people are different from French, Senegalese and African people in general. After that, I knew that we would be able to put on a Black Fashion Week event anywhere in the world. We held our second event in Paris. I invited designers from Africa, New York and Japan who all came to Paris to put on a show. We had to find a venue, a beautiful place, because I wanted it to be really glamorous. I wanted to show the new style, the new Africa, the new black diaspora. We're also putting on events in Montreal, in Bahia and in Washington D.C. One thing that I love about Black Fashion Week is that the crowd is really cool. We have lots of famous actors, musicians and celebrities who come. It's not what you see in a normal fashion show. You’ll see people clapping and showing that they really appreciate the show. I love that. To me, a fashion show is just like a concert. You come for the fashion, you come for emotion, you come for beauty. I like to see people enjoying and expressing themselves.
RV: Who are the African designers currently shaping the African fashion industry?
AN: There are a lot of fantastic new designers coming up. There are so many, I can't even name them all. I like to call the new trend, "Afripolitan", which is all about showing our African side but in a contemporary way. These designers give me so much inspiration and creativity. I'm blessed to be surrounded by them. As I’m both a fashion designer and the producer of international fashion week events, I can appreciate both worlds. I've got a really great relationship with designers. I think that they feel that I can understand them because I'm one of them. When a creator decides to show their designs at a fashion show, it’s a big deal for them. It's a big deal for all of us. There are many issues, and you want everything to be perfect and beautiful. I'm glad that they trust me.
RV: What's the advice that you would give to African designers?
AN: Designing is not easy, but it's the fun part of creating a collection. African designers need to think globally – we need to think about the business side of designing. You can't design all of your life without selling anything. You need to understand what your target customer wants. If you want to pursue this career, you need to be surrounded by qualified people who can help you step-by-step to put your name out there.
RV: What differentiates your Adama Paris collections?
AN: I love simple things, I love comfort and I love elegance. My collection references these elements. I've used African fabrics weaved by local African women. I love the idea of helping the African industry. It's not only about seeing a dress, it's also knowing how it was made. My collection is about African women working together. We've used Senegalese-woven cloth that is traditionally used to make wedding dresses. Now we're using it in a modern way, with black and white stripes and embroidered floral details. It's light, it's simple, it's elegant. It's really what I'm about.
RV: You've been traveling all over the world. What are some of the destinations that you've really connected with?
AN: I guess Paris made me who I am because I've spent most of my life here, and I feel as though I'm French. My favourite place in the world, however, is Japan. I love everything about Japanese people. They're calm, they're elegant, they're crazy. It's a big source of inspiration when I go to Tokyo or Osaka. I also love surfing. The first time I went there, they were so shocked to see me, a black girl, surfing! Definitely if I moved to another country, it would be Japan. They're open to the world. I like the fact that when you know them a little bit better, you can see their craziness too! I have really good friends and great memories in Japan, so I try to go there every year.
Photography: Omar Victor Diop
Interview: Enrique Nalda & Kimberley McLoughlin
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue Two - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .