Mansa Couture: Redefining the African Woman
Sene-Gambian fashion house Mansa Couture boasts of an array of beautifully crafted feminine designs deeply resonating with royalty and Africa. The brand prides itself with showcasing Africa’s rich cultural heritage deeply rooted in the conservative style of past generations. In this interview, we talk to founder Khadijah Aja Tambajang on consumption and attitude trends of the Sene-Gambian market, as well as her work as a women and girls’ social activist.
What inspired you to invest in the African fashion industry?
As a businesswoman always looking for opportunities, it was a financially informed decision because of the global viability of the industry. Women are always buying – even if it is not a wise decision. Women are consistently looking for the next new outfit and it is only right for me to invest in the fashion of my heritage. There is also a huge market of African women in the diaspora who can now easily get a hold of fashion from home.
Mansa Couture boasts of an array of beautifully crafted feminine designs deeply resonating with royalty and Africa. Can you speak a bit about what makes your brand stand apart from others?
Mansa means royalty in my paternal Mandinka / Mandingo language. I personally believe that all women are royal hence our slogan, “Les femmes sont royales.” I have always loved the flow of our Sene-Gambian grand boubous (boubou) and caftans. I remember as a young girl watching my mom move majestically in her colourful boubous. There was always an allure to this movement that truly captivated me as it made her look so regal. When it comes to traditional Sene-Gambian fashion, the less skin one shows, the more the allure. Our designs are still deeply rooted in the conservative fashion sense of our great grandmothers.
How has your work as a women and girls’ social activist been brought to bear on your fashion business?
This business was inspired by my design/operations director. It was rooted in me trying to uplift a hard working woman. She sold her pieces to me, friends and my family members, and I proposed that we set up formally and go into business together; after observing her for two years and seeing the struggle she went through with the business process she had in place. She would make the clothes then sell from house-to-house. I loved her designs and quality and as a businesswoman always looking for an opportunity to support my fellow women, I proposed that we work together. That original partnership plan quickly changed into me taking full control and she now manages the operations and design process for me.
The African fashion industry is said to be worth over $50bn and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. What needs to be in place for the industry to experience a major break into the global market?
We first have to appreciate our culture and celebrate it before anyone can do that for us. We should be able to rock Mansa Couture on the global stage just as one can rock a Carolina Herrera dress. Then policy should come into play. Our governments must support the industry through the creation of subsidised fashion training centres and schools, tax incentives for industry operators and be the main ambassadors for the industry. This can be done by sponsoring designers and manufacturers to go to international trade fairs and including them in designing policies that will overall benefit the industry. The government must understand the great opportunity this industry has in creating employment and highlighting our continent.
In your opinion, how does the Sene-Gambian market compare to other African markets in terms of consumption and attitude towards trends?
Africa like all other parts of the globe is quickly becoming one big marketplace and trends tend to be universal these days. Social media has truly given African fashion a viable platform. For example, I just received two outfits from The Lady Maker, a Nigerian designer. I also have Nigerian friends who covet and buy Sene-Gambian fashion. Online paying platforms like Paypal and Western shipping companies have also made this phenomenon possible. Our industries are quite merged these days and I believe this is a beautiful thing.
How would you define the fashion designer’s relevance to society especially in this period of the Coronavirus pandemic?
Dressing up has so many positive benefits and frankly, when we look good, we feel good. In these gloomy times and having been kept home because of the pandemic, we need to hold on to things that make us feel good – even if it is to dress up to go the market or to stay at home. The fashion designers’ relevance is still much needed now more than ever. They are part of the creative ecosystem that is much needed in lifting our moods in these difficult times.
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