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A chat with young prizewinners

Last year’s Vlisco Fashion Fund winners tell us about design, competition, and dreams as they head to the Netherlands for their Master Class.

 

Omotayo Paramole from Nigeria, Anoumou Djiedjole Placca from Togo, Lionel Guezodje from Benin, Anne-Beatrice Awoundjia Bodo from Cameroon and Guillaine Kouamé from Cote D’Ivoire.

The beginning of 2019 marked a new adventure for the winners of last year’s Vlisco Fashion Fund, the global contest established to help emerging African fashion designers get their business off the ground, propelled onto a wider global stage.

With the tailoring Master Class in Netherlands on the horizon, we sat down to catch-up with 5 of the 7 winners of the VFF18. Read below as they open up about their backgrounds, discuss current entrepreneurial and creative projects, and talk about what the future holds.

Nigeria

In December, Omotayo Paramole and his Osun collection blew away the Vlisco Fashion Fund jury. The 28-year-old Lagos State textile major grew up in the Epe local government Lagos State as the only male child in a family of four. At age 12 Paramole moved in with his uncle, a talented tailor who showed him the tricks of the trade, and inspired him to break into the world of fashion design, eventually leading him to the doors of the Vlisco Fashion Fund contest. Paramole knew he had what it takes to become the next fashion fund winner. “I decided to go for it.”

I believed I had what it takes
–Tayo Paramole

I believed I had what it takes
–Tayo Paramole

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“What did I love the most about the VFF competition?

Working with new people, and negotiation.”
“Though I was confident at first, the contest, especially the final round, was a tough one. I never thought I could get through that test. I had to learn to sell my ideas, and make people believe in my vision. I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned.”

 

“Winning helped me get recognition, increase my value as a designer, and it enabled me to build trust for my brand”

 

For Women’s Month in Nigeria,

Omotayo Paramole developed a “Perfect Day” collection for his Tesmi brand, combining business looks with smart-casual styles that transition well from day to night, mix-and-matching Super Wax with other Vlisco fabrics.

 

“With the Vlisco Fashion award funds,

I want to get a proper studio with the necessary equipment, and employ more people to help me produce outfits that are both wearable and creative. My biggest hope and dream for my brand is to be globally accepted, surrounding myself with the right people, boutiques, fashion bloggers, stylists, photographers, and companies (like Vlisco). I believe my brand will get there.”

 

My advice is, be yourself, stay truthful and believe.

What is worth doing is worth putting effort and focus, no limitation to what we can achieve when we put our mind to it.

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Togo

Before submitting his projects to Vlisco, Anoumou Djidjolé Placca trained in fashion design and model-making at Mosaïque style in Lomé from 2014 to 2016, then reinforced his sewing skills in Lomé’s FALT Academy. He has always been inspired by Vlisco prints, Vlisco’s bright graphic billboards, and colourful outfits. “I have a passion for wax print cloth since I was a child,” says Placca. Many of his outfits have been designed using wax print, and he frequently visits the Vlisco shop in Lomé for inspiration. When he saw the call for applications, Anoumou jumped right in.

Ready for prêt-à-porter
Anoumou Djidjolé Placca

Ready for prêt-à-porter
Anoumou Djidjolé Placca

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Inspired by Guin culture:

At the competition Anoumou Djidjolé Placca wanted to honour his Guin origins, so each design was inspired by the dress styles and accessories of Guin culture. Everything was put together within a week, then shot on location in Aného and Agbodrafo. “At the announcement of the results, my heart exploded with joy!”

 

Future prêt-à-porter shop:

“I am looking forward to going to The Netherlands for my Master Class.” Anoumou plans on renovating his workshop and opening a ready-to-wear shop. Anoumou Djidjolé Placca says he envisions “a radiant future” where his dream is to see his brand Aristide Creation “conquer Africa, and all other nations.”

 

Designing for Togolese personalities:

“Since I won the contest things have changed positively. I was invited to take part at a fashion show abroad, and Vlisco Togo has partnered with me to create outfits for famous Togo personalities. I’m looking forward to all the new projects arriving in 2019.”

 

Advice for young talent:

“After this contest I learned that to succeed you must have the spirit of creativity, a lot of perseverance, workplace professionalism, and determination. Focus on a job well-done, and excellence in your productions.”

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Benin

Lionel Guezodje has a degree in Fashion Design from ESMOD Tunisia. His elegant collection titled “The contemporary Monarch of Wax” won over the jury with his creativity and technical prowess. After hearing about the Vlisco Fashion Fund contest, he says, “relatives and friends believed in me and helped motivate me,” and so Lionel decided to enter.

Words cannot express my joy
–Lionel Guezodje

Words cannot express my joy
–Lionel Guezodje

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Preparation meets improvisation:

For Guezodje, the Vlisco Fashion Fund competition was not only a creative test and inspiration, but also an opportunity to “challenge myself mentally with the constraints of delay and pressure.”

“The final round was definitely the biggest challenge. Under time-pressure, we had to excel creatively and also manage a huge production; that final event was the most trying and the most impressive. Everything was there. The management of stress, and the happy medium between preparation and improvisation.”

“When I heard I won the contest, words cannot express the joy that animated me. You must live it to understand. All of the stages of the contest scrolled through my memory like a movie. The emotion was strong.”

 

Winning helped increase my confidence. It exposed my work to a broader public, boosted my clientele,and made my business grow.

 

Moving forward in a radical way:

Lionel Guezodje’s plan is to move his business forward in a radical way. First by opening his fashion house ”by Francel” equipped with high quality sewing materials. He then wants to setup a showroom workshop in the city of Abomey Calavi. Eventually he wants ‘by Francel’ to be present in other cities of Benin, and internationally. “I would like my brand to gain notoriety worldwide and reflect an image of prestige, work well done, and the magnificence of women.” But that is not the limit of his ambitions. “One of my future projects will be to organise an annual fashion event as winner of the Vlisco Fashion Fund 2018 to celebrate African fashion and Dutch wax, with a social impact for the benefit of orphaned children.”

 

Sweat, determination, and hard work:

“I will tell them to believe in their potential. To take risks, go off of the beaten track. To respect, and reflect the image of the brand through their creations. Do not focus only on the price but prove your talent and passion for fashion. In addition, the finishes of the clothes are of paramount importance! A dream does not become reality based on magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”

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Global

Anne Béatrice Awoundjia Bodo comes from Mbalmayo, central Cameroon. She was born in 1992 to a father from whom she inherited a sense of discipline, and a gardening mother who transmitted to her a love of the Earth. “It is this attachment to the Earth that inspired my taste for fashion as a young child, making dolls out of stylised body sticks with grass tufts for hair.”

Her artistic nature led her straight into Fashion Design career. Anne Béatrice holds a Certificate of Professional Aptitude in the Clothing Industry and a Technical Certificate in Fashion Design. She’s also completed trainings in fashion graphics and fashion accessories. Married for three years to an art teacher who accompanies her through artistic advice in creative projects, Anne Béatrice is also the mother of a two-year old girl..

Cameroon dreams
Anne Béatrice Awoundjia Bodo

Cameroon dreams
Anne Béatrice Awoundjia Bodo

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Tribute to her father:

At the Vlisco Fashion Fund, Bodo materialised her concept ‘Vlisco in associative feminine mode.’ When Anne Béatrice won the competition, she overflowed with joy. To her, this victory paid tribute to the memory of her father who was always steadfast, encouraging, and generous with her in her studies.

 

Cameroon in the spotlight:

“These results have given me confidence in my ability to achieve different thematic collections, addressed to an African audience who is becoming more and more glamorous and demanding.” From this, she wants “to make Cameroon a window for the visibility of Vlisco in Central Africa” through not only the establishment of a fabric distribution company that tailors on-site, but also by organising more competitions and opportunities for young talent from Central Africa.

 

Woman plural and transcultural:

Using her VFF budget, on International Women’s Day, Anne Béatrice Awoundjia Bodo put together her first thematic collection ‘Woman plural and transcultural’, under her brand BB Sao fashion, named after the famous ancient cross-border civilisation between Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria. Bodo says, “the theme ‘Woman plural and transcultural’ aims to unbind the African woman from westernised models. The collection highlighted the natural beauty of the African woman through all her anatomical expressions: from the generous silhouette of Venus Hottentot to the bronzed Sudano-Sahelian dandies, and from the smaller pygmies of the equatorial forests to the clear complexions of Africans with albinism.” Experimenting with a broad visual spectrum, this BB Sao collection is “inter-communicable with installation sculpture and painting.” Thus, after the realisation of the clothes, fabrics were given to a selected team of visual arts students who created accompanying paintings and conceptual sculptures.

 

Work now!

When speaking with young students, “I advise them to work on their project now, because the competition is tough, mobilising hundreds of applications around the world. Also, it is not enough to be technically gifted, but also to know how to give a conceptual content to one’s garment, to the point of making it a true work of art, at the same time as a product of social communication.”

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Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast winner Guillaine Kouame impressed the jury with her eclectic mix of materials, combining Vlisco fabrics with feathers, paper cut-outs, and fringe. But surprisingly, Guillaine never studied tailoring or fashion before her big win. Before the Vlisco Fashion Fund, she said “I had very little experience sewing on my own.” What motivated her to participate was knowing that such a big brand like Vlisco was investing in young talent. With all courage and no fashion degree, Guillaine saw this as an opportunity to easily practice as a designer, and kick-start her dreams of developing a fashion brand. It paid off.

As if I had gold in my fingers
–Guillaine Kouame

As if I had gold in my fingers
–Guillaine Kouame

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Tears of joy and relief:

“When the jury pronounced my name as the winner of the Vlisco Fashion Fund, I could not believe it. I thought I was dreaming, so I actually waited for him to repeat my name a second time. Then I cracked. Burst into tears of joy and relief! I had never previously participated in a fashion contest, so it was a huge joy for me to win.” Armed with more confidence in her abilities Guillaine Kouame is eager to work more with her newfound recognition, “I work as if I have gold in my fingers.”

My participation in the VFF has been the most beautiful decision of my career, because now, even out of my small home workshop, I find myself to be a worthy Ivory Coast representative of the Vlisco brand. For me that’s already a big step. With determination and well-made designs, we can achieve the results we want.

 

What Coco did with Chanel

Guillaine Kouame’s dream is to create a line of Vlisco printed wedding dresses under her brand. “My dreams and ambitions for my brand are so huge!” she laughs. “I want to do what Coco did with Chanel but even bigger, why not!”

 

Next steps are clear

Because of this contest, Guillaine can now take the next steps to expand her business, develop her brand, buy the most powerful machines, and hire other creative support to help execute her creations. “Now I am autonomous,” she says.

 

It could be you

“The advice I can give young designers and dressmakers who want to participate in the VFF, is to get started! Show your talent in the open; show what you are capable of. It could be you winning the next Vlisco Fashion Fund, and becoming a Vlisco brand ambassador.”

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Do you want to know more about applying for the Vlisco Fashion Fund in 2019? Keep an eye on our website and Instagram this May and June.

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