Advice from Women Designers of the Diaspora

By AmaAdoo

Creative energy is a force that has power manifested 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 t-shirts from Forman Mills, cut them, and adorn them with seashells I found on 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 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 with some of their advice. I hope you can come back to these words time and time again when you need inspiration to keep going and trust in your creative journey.

Zelda Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1905-September 26, 2001):

Born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Zelda Wynn Valdes learned to make clothes from her grandmother, a seamstress. She started 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, NY, Chez Zelda, in 1948. As a creative genius who dressed artists including Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge, and 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 National Association of Fashion Accessories and Designers (NAFAD), an organization formed by civil rights activist Mary McLeod 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! This trailblazer’s message was — whatever your passion or talent, find it and hit the ground running. Turn your passion into profit and never stop believing in yourself. Persistence breaks resistance.

Pull Out: “Turn your passion into profit and never stop believing in yourself. Persistence breaks resistance”.

Stella Jean:

A Haitian-Italian designer, was born in Rome, Italy in 1979. She initially studied political science at a university and then became a fashion model. She drew interested in fashion design and applied to Italian Vogue’s Who Is on Next talent contest three times until she won in 2011 and premiered her first collection at the 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 her 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 diverse cultural influences to examine the relationship between different values and experiences. I 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 at http://www.stellajean.it/

Mimmy Yeboah:

A New Yorker of Ghanaian descent, 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 Youtubevlog that documented her first fashion show at Baruch College, she shared that she is obsessed 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 garments fit their bodies highlighting the unique 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…as they walk with their heads held high.” Her 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, building her brand, and working towards opening a mass production office. Check out her statement pieces at mimmyyeboah.com.


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