A month ago, breezing through a Ralph Lauren store, a whimsical dress in a mud cloth-inspired fabric caught my eye. Could it be? I thought. Had another African inspiration, other than Vlisco, the Dutch-made wax fabric, ubiquitous in much of West Africa and beyond made it to the design studios of Western designers?
I literally stopped in my tracks and went over to touch the fabric. It had a supple silk feel but the design on the fabric was definitely African.
I then remembered a designer that had introduced me to this Malian cloth; Anna Getaneh. At the time, almost five years ago, she was working out of her home-based studio. I had made a few trips to her to have my boubou, a very fashionable and simple design, enhanced with this fabric across the midriff- making it both easy-to-wear and timeless – it still hangs in my wardrobe. Now here was Ralph Lauren, years later.
In profiles you will read about Anna, you will get insight into her multicultural upbringing. Swedish-born of Ethiopian diplomatic parents, European and US-educated and a former international model who built a career working for renowned fashion designers. Now managing director and creative director of African Mosaïque. She is the founder of the Ethiopian Children’s Fund – making her a humanitarian who is still very passionate about the fashion industry. I spoke with Anna over the phone, from her base in Johannesburg. She was generous enough with her time to allow for a Q&A with AFRICAN wanderlust.
Having worked in the international fashion industry for close to 10 years, what inspired your dream for African Mosaïque?
Actually, AM came about early on in my career, when I was looking for novel ways to raise funds in donor-fatigued world. I looked within my industry, which came on board with full support. After the initial successful showcasing in Paris and NY, AM just developed its own life.
AM events, were initially non profit cultural and fundraising initiatives, and through the early shows, seed capital was raised for the start of The Ethiopian Children’s Fund. But it also became the only international platform for African designers to showcase in world fashion arenas. I felt it was important to start a commercial wing, so that it can become sustainable and beyond showcasing and promoting, commercializing was key to the ongoing development on the African fashion business. Hence in 2005 after my move to SA I decided to start the first commercial wing, by initially sourcing throughout the continent to develop an in-house designed label I designed, but also to provide retails opportunities for established African designers.
You combine elements of design and fabric that are quintessentially African in your creations – was this a gap you saw while working on the international scene or simply a niche market that you felt had to be exploited?
Both, I have always known there was a market for well-crafted, non-trend driven fashion, for many far-away places, that have a good story and carry a bit of soul in each them. The key was to position the brand and create an awareness that fashion is alive and well in Africa. We have a broad range of customers, who come to us, with different needs and desires, our goal is to sensitize the public to other sides of Africa’s culture that may not be well known. I carry multiple designers who have different inspirations and styles from my own collections, to showcase the diversity in African fashion. So with the AM retail component, where I am currently have 11 designers, we try to showcase the best of the best from the continent.
What have been your biggest challenges since starting African Mosaïque?
Logistics, sourcing, follow-up… it is a work in progress all the time. But with improved mobile connectivity across the continent, it is easier to connect with suppliers, follow up on orders, and build new connections. It remains a work of passion, it makes one resilient, but the rewards are priceless.
What do you feel have been your most notable achievements?
Just keeping it alive. Every season brings its new challenges and once a season is over, it feels great.
With numerous South African designers in the last ten years or so inspired by an African Renaissance in their designs, what sets you apart?
There are many talented designers in SA, and new ones emerging every season. My focus has always been to source, manufacture and work with local talent. My designs remain simple and structured; where motifs, print and fabric can tell their own stories. I have remained true to that from the beginning. So we have a good following, people know what to expect and we have delivered from the start.
I believe it has been the Africa’s moment for a very long time. It is just perhaps being looked at more closely in the fashion industry as something that can be translated into a viable business.
Not all African designers are African inspired, nor source or manufacture in Africa. So there has to be a clear distinction between African-inspired designs/fashion, and designers who happen to be African and living in Africa. Unfortunately and too often these are not clearly distinguished.
The newly renamed African Fashion International (AFI) seems to be getting notable recognition, with last year’s high-profile collaboration with Mercedes Benz, do you think this will be sufficient to raise SA’s Fashion Week profile internationally?
The more the better, I feel, and SA has the unique position in Africa to play a key role in the future of fashion, if cards are well played. These things do not happen overnight, Fashion weeks in NY and Paris have been going on for decades…SA and the rest of Africa is still in its infancy.
Has African Mosaïque’s close association with the Ethiopian Children’s Fund raised sufficient awareness to the plight of some of the socio-economic problems in Sub-Saharan Africa? Or do you think that the industry (African Fashion Industry) should be doing more with respect to ‘Fashion for Good’?
We can always do more, as there is so much that still needs to be done, but fashion and development should not be seen as charity. If the product is good people will buy it and from there is help builds confident, sustainability and most of all pride in people. It has been great for me to launch AM as a fund-raising initiative, as it helped raise initial funds, and I continue to showcase annually in different cities and continue to use such platforms to raise awareness.
I hope to continue to grow the business, so we have more of a footprint in Africa and then the West. Continue to work, discover more talent and become a viable business at all levels.
Thank you Anna.
44 Stanley Avenue