CamerCouture: More Than A Movement.
In recent years, the African fashion industry has experienced a meteoric rise on the international scene. However, that is not an indication it has arrived for there is work to be done. To keep the momentum going is CamerCouture, a UK based Cameroonian fashion showcase with the aim of putting a spotlight on talented African designers and reshaping the African fashion market. An initiative of Votre Avant Garde, it is led by Cynthia Anduhtabe, Isabel Bezeng and Ngum Ngafor. Its inaugural showcase in 2009, was hailed as a phenomenal success and recognised by the likes of the BBC and VOX Africa. Its 2010 and CamerCouture returns with “African Decadence,” a show themed around the continent’s opulence. Cynthia Anduhtabe explains why this year’s event is all about Africa’s unsurpassed beauty and cultural richness.
Belinda: What is the inspiration behind CamerCouture?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: CamerCouture was born out of the desire to use fashion to showcase Cameroon. Growing up in the UK, I was constantly asked where I come from and every time I said Cameroon, no one seemed to know it was. The only way they were able to imagine its location was when I spoke of it as next to Nigeria. Fashion commands so much attention globally. It only seemed reasonable to use it to promote Cameroon.
Belinda: Surely there are many other shows out there promoting African fashion. Why and how did you come to the conclusion that the fashion world needed an event like CamerCouture?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: You are right. There are many fashion events around but none of them focus(ed) on Cameroonian style. This was the uniqueness of CamerCouture 2009. We portrayed the glamour and beauty of our nation through the creation of six designers.
Belinda: What’s special about CamerCouture and makes it different to the others?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Simply put, our events are out-of-the box. Think London, Paris or New York Fashion week, with an African flavour, in London’s trendiest spots. We live for innovation, are obsessed with quality and pay great attention to detail.
Belinda: For anyone out there, who does not understand what CamerCouture is about, especially as the name has such a rhythm to it, it rolls off your tongue. Please explain to us, how the name came about and if it has any symbolism behind it?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: The name was derived from “Camer,” a nickname for “Cameroon” and “couture,” which is French for “sewing or dressmaking.” We needed a catchy name which expressed exactly what we wanted to show off: Cameroonian style. CamerCouture was it!
Belinda: You had your inaugural event last year but as you know, an artist with their second album is often referred to as the sophomore album, hence, how would you describe African Decadence, your sophomore event?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: African Decadence is about grandeur! The theme was inspired by Africa’s (less talked about but enduring) opulence. Our show coordinator Soraya Sone has developed it beautifully. We are also lucky to have the multitalented Amechi Ihenacho on board as our producer, so expect to be stunned!
Belinda: Who are the designers you have on show this year and why have you decided to work with them?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: After last year’s show, we repeatedly got requests to broaden our remit to include other African designers. So we did. This time, we have Yemi Osunkoya (Kosibah) and Hazel Aggrey-Orleans (Eki Orleans) from Nigeria. Alain Martial Tapolo (Alain Martial Tapolo) as well as Maryanne Mokoko and Stephanie Mouapi (Côté Minou) will be flying the flag for Cameroon. Another Cameroonian, Olafemi Bela and her partner, Deena Dee, who is from the Comoros Islands will be showing pieces designed under their label, Deenola. But I have to stress our decision was more than just about responding to popular demand. We find these designers highly talented, passionate and professional.
Belinda: Your first event centred mostly on Cameroonian designers but this year, you have gone outside Cameroon with an array of designers from as far as the US, though all connected with their African heritage, why that bold move? What do you want people to see, learn and hear about Africa from the new added designers?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Africa is moving up and our designers are chronicling that exciting vibe through colours, patterns and intricate creations. Our continent is incredibly diverse and bubbling with talent and economic potential. In fact, Africa is the future!
Belinda: When you say, ‘African Decadence,’ what kind of expectations/curiosity are you aiming to create and awaken in people?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Our goal is to challenge expectations. We want to spark questions about and appreciation of Africa’s richness; its colours, culture and nature. These things have not changed over time – despite the difficulties.
Belinda: African Decadence is being brought to us by VAG. What does VAG mean, especially for those of us who chew our tongue trying to speak French?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: (Laughs) Votre Avant Garde (VAG) literally translates as “your vanguard”. It is the company that organises the CamerCouture shows. VAG is a Marketing and PR company which specialises in niche markets. We also produce bespoke events for corporate and private clients. Our company name reflects our innovative nature.
Belinda: Your press release says your aim is to promote African fashion, which the show will help you to accomplish but in what other ways do you aim to continuously bring African fashion to the attention of global attention?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: We have exciting projects in the pipeline and will be bringing you more information about them in due course. Our fashion blog (Fah-schyon) is also a platform for African design talent.
Belinda: Are you by any chance a fashion designer?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: I wish [laughs]! But I am a lover of fashion with a keen interest in promoting it.
Belinda: You work with two other people and of course, you must all be like minded but are you all designers or into the fashion industry in one form or another?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: No. Neither of us designs but our passion for public relations and events management led us into fashion. We also have a freelance colleague, Soraya Sone who works in events management.
Belinda: You talk about creating an established network which will of course, enable designers with ready-to-wear lines get to their customers sooner than later. Is that currently a challenge for African fashion designers? Finding outlets within Europe and the international retail market for their products?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Definitely! Designers don’t often have the resources or knowhow to enable a connection to their customer base. Things like the internet and Facebook have helped but major buyers are still to be convinced about the marketability of African chic.
Belinda: Do you have any idea what the African fashion industry is worth?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: It is very hard to find figures. However, last year, a Fashion Industry Trade Publication highlighted that the global apparel industry was worth almost 2 billion USD. Now, the big question is: where’s Africa’s share?
Belinda: When you talk about reshaping the African fashion market, what do you mean and what’s wrong with its current state?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: The African fashion market has made big leaps forward (in the last five years) thanks to intense promotion and endorsement from celebrities like Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Gwen Stefani. However we have a long way to go in terms of replicating/adapting the structures that have made countries like France and Italy fashion hotspots. It takes a marriage of creative and business talent to make that happen. And this is what we would like to facilitate.
Belinda: Is the African fashion market and its full potential yet to be acknowledged by the international fashion scene/market?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Absolutely! However we do not need that kind of acknowledgment to know we are on the right track. While international movers and shakers could bring much needed finance and knowhow to our fashion industry, we must not underestimate our capacity, capabilities and purchasing power. Africa is a huge market for all kinds of commodities. There is no reason why fashion can’t be profitable. Places like Nigeria and South Africa are already showing encouraging signs.
Belinda: What will it take to change attitudes?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Professionalism. Everyone in this industry needs to set and live up to high standards. This will come across in the way businesses are branded, in the perfect finishing of clothes and in the originality of creations.
Belinda: What has preparations leading up to this year’s event been like?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Oh wow! It has been hectic, especially as we all work fulltime and have other personal commitments. However our passion and desire to make things happen keep us going strong.
Belinda: What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s showing and why?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: There so much to look forward to this year! Let me start with our front row. Think Cameroon vice captain, Enoh Eyong, Benoît Assou-Ekoto (Spurs FC) his team mate, Sébastien Bassong, Marcus Mokake (Sedan FC) and George Elokobi (Wolverhampton FC)! I can’t wait to see how the designs look on the runway. I know they will stun the crowd! The performing entertainers too are fantastic. Also important is the fact that we will be raising awareness of an important cause; the plight of orphaned Cameroonian children at the Rhema Grace Orphanage in Cameroon. The manager is not always able to afford rent for their accommodation! Wouldn’t it be nice if they could have a place of their own? These children are very bright and promising. We must not pity them. The smart money is on investing in them.
Belinda: Based on your personal expectations, what should people expect to see at this year’s event?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Exquisite fashion, amazing colours, mind-blowing art. In a nutshell, pure sophistication, with a distinct African touch!
Belinda: What would you like the designers taking part and members of the audience to go home with?
Cynthia Anduhtabe: Good memories and inspiration. A renewed or new found love for Africa will also be nice.
Note: CamerCouture Fashion Showcase 2010 will take place at Shoreditch Studios, 29B New Inn Yard, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3EY.
For more information and how to purchase tickets go to: CamerCouture
Image: Left to right, Cynthia Anduhtabe, Ngum Ngafor and Isabel Bezeng – founders of VAG
Photo Credit: Angel Sylvester