The Start-up Night for the Lionesses of Africa which took place on Thursday the 26th of April at the stylish Oxo Tower in London was heartwarming.
Skirt and blouse by Eki Orleans, shoes by Mo Saique and interior accessories by Eva Sonaike.
This event focused mainly on African female entrepreneurs highlighting the advantages, disadavantages and struggles they encounter. The founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa, Melanie Hawken started with interviewing 3 inspiring ladies.
Melanie believes that in order for women entrepreneurs to grow they require a platform to network with likeminded individuals alongside investors, media and retail. This is exactly what she helps facilitate all over Africa and London was her first ever launch after having done one in Berlin earlier this year.
The first was Melanie Hirsch co-founder of Hirsches Homestores which is the biggest South African home appliance retailer. She emphasised the need for hard work, persistence and resilience.
Then Bernie de le Cuona, founder and CEO of a global luxury fabric brand De Le Cuona who added the importance of always maintaining stability and having high quality products that never disappoint.
Brenda Wilkinson, the co-founder of multi-award winning RIO LARGO OLIVE OIL brand grown and produced in South Africa. This is truly inspiring especially since they are exporting high grade olive oil. I cannot wait to try this olive oil as my husband and I are constantly in-search of a great tasting natural olive oil.
This event was a little emotional for me when listening to all the ladies describe their struggles, failures and how they handled them. I find most entrepreneurs describe their journeys as a lot of hardwork and thereafter things kind of start to fall into place. It was truly refreshing to hear these brilliant ladies talk about obstacles and how they handled them along the way. Theses ladies gave true meaning to the “Lionesses of Africa” title.
After the group discussion with Melanie we got a chance to listen to the latest lionesses pitch their brands that are coming up and out of Africa.
Skirt and blouse by Eki Orleans.
Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee . This brand actually funds gorilla conservation methods and projects in Uganda from profits. Africa has such beautiful wildlife and nature which we sometimes take for granted, so its reassuring to see fellow Africans passionately pursuing protective projects in conserving/protecting wildlife.
The bubbly and positive Kim Addison who is the co-founder of 57 Chocolate, an artisanal bean-to-bar chocolatier from Ghana talked about how she found her niche. As a result of her story and journey her country does not just export cocoa beans but has 57 chocolate to represent chocolate grown, sourced, produced in Ghana and exported out. I also found the Ghanaian symbols on her chocolate bar beautiful and true to her origins.
Adele Dejak, founder of Adele Dejak luxury jewellery and accessory designer from Kenya who originally has Nigerian roots and lived in my home town Kano. It was a pleasure talking to her as I have been a fan of her luxury statement accessories for a while now. Meeting her in person was something that I had been looking forward to. As the brand stylist for Ekiorleans , I cannot wait to collaborate with her in future shoots.
We heard the founder of AAKS, a multi-award winning handbag designer from Ghana. Akosua Afriyie-Kumi has gotten stocked at Anthropologie and is making waves with her story and creativity.
Next followed, the stylish South African Swaady Martin who is the founder of Yswara, a luxury African tea brand from South Africa. I liked her packaging and was totally taken by her Rose Gold tea accessories. As an avid tea drinker I look forward to purchasing some for a taste and review.
The second pitch session showcased female entrepreneurs of the African diaspora based her in London. These Lionesses of Africa settled in Europe and stayed true to their African heritage.
Mimi Shodeinde who is the founder of Miminat, a contemporary African inspired furniture brand. I must add that her furniture is striking in every sense and looks like a piece of art. Her use of metals and velvets in some pieces adds an extra air of luxury to each of her creations.
Eva Sonaike, founder of the Eva Sonaike brand, who specializes in luxury African interior decorations and accessories. Her brand was so in tune with my visual requirements. Her interior items fit into the scandanavian interior style trending now and give a subtle touch of African chic. I appreciated her colour schemes as she stayed within pastels and neutral colours. We tend to like bright colours and they do not always fit our living spaces, especially for the African diaspora who miss home and want a calm hint of Africa in their lives.
Next we heard a pitch from Afua Dabanka, the founder of Monaa and Mo Saique, a handcrafted African inspired shoe and accessory brand. It was encouraging to hear how she kept production exclusively in Africa and the fact that she employed and empowered African women.
The pitch that I was waiting for was from Hazel Aggrey Orleans, the founder of Eki Orleans, a luxury African printed silk design brand. I refer to her as the mistress of silk due to her creativity with prints and how she stays true to the flowing luxury of high grade silks. Her clothing is classy, elegant and fits right into the European fashion scene as well as the African social life. It is a great way of representing your African roots as an African of the diaspora.
The highlight of my evening was meeting and talking to International Vogue Editor, Suzy Menkes. I have been a fan for a long while now and was honoured to finally get to meet an idol in person. I hope this is the first of many meetings and will continue following her journey so that I can aspire to be half the fashion expert she is.
Photocredit for the beautiful pictures used goes to Carmen Valino who was an absolute pleasure to work with. For more work that Carmen has done for Lionesses of Africa, you can visit her website www.carmenvalino.com
Skirt and Blouse by Eki Orleans. Shoes by Mo Saique.