6 Things We Can All Learn About Success From Star 100's Favourite Fashion Designers

Star 100, the network for Ghanaian professionals in London, hosted their first fashion careers event last week, a break from their usual traditional industry events with law or finance professionals. Not knowing too much about the business of fashion, they turned to us to moderate a discussion between Beatrice Korlekie Newman, the owner and creative director of the luxury womenswear brand Korlekie, and Lee Marsh, owner of the Savile Row bespoke menswear lifestyle collection Lee Marsh Bespoke at the Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design.

Here are some universal truths they shared to inspire your journey whatever your industry.   

lee marsh, beatrice newman and kiran yoliswa

lee marsh, beatrice newman and kiran yoliswa

1. If you're going to go off the beaten path, Get Grandma on Side

When Beatrice first told her dad she wanted to become a fashion designer, he said “ehn, accountant?” followed by “oh...you mean retail manager?”. Like a lot of African dads who have a ‘safety first’ attitude, Beatrice’s dad wanted her to become an accountant like him. But after spending her childhood sketching the dresses she saw in her favourite fairy tales, Beatrice was determined to draw out her own rags to riches story. She knew he wouldn’t listen to her so she appealed to the woman she knew he would listen to- his mum. Today her dad is her number one fan, encouraging her to keep going when her motivation is low. For Lee, it was his Grandma who taught him how to make his first jacket that got him his first apprenticeship. Even if your grandma isn’t as cool as these ones, the lesson here is that sometimes your parents won’t get it, but there may be someone in your family who does so get them on side to lobby on your behalf for your less traditional career path. 


It may have taken three applications, but once Beatrice was accepted to do an entrepreneurship course at the London Business School through a seed fund, she beat out the school’s MBA students with a pitch about her business to win the £5000 grant prize and a business mentor from Deutsche Bank.

When Lee approached his first store on Savile Row for work experience, Huntsman, he was told they weren’t interested. Lee kept going and went into nearly every store on the Row before eventually scoring an apprenticeship at Henry Poole and Co doing alterations and the ‘donkey work’. His reputation and expertise grew further while working at Gieves and Hawkes and eventually did end up working for Huntsman. Today Lee Marsh Bespoke garments have been worn by HRH Prince William of Wales, Madonna, Colin Firth, Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow and he has just launched his first ready-to-wear collection in collaboration with the historic British textiles mill Hainsworth. 

Imagine if they had quit?

lee marsh 

lee marsh 


Beatrice says her Ghanaian heritage is very important to her, but admits that on her first visit to Ghana they didn't see her as African enough for her to pitch herself in the African fashion circuit. Yet the London fashion set didn’t see her as quite British enough to be a British designer despite having been born and raised here, which is why she calls herself ‘Afro-British’"

“Rather than seeing it as a weakness, I view it as an opportunity to stand out and make my brand stronger.” - Beatrice 

Lee didn’t fit in on Savile Row either to start with. “It’s not the most welcoming environment. They gave me a look that said ‘what are you doing here?’, and I thought to myself- I don’t know!” However being one of few black men on the row means that he automatically stands out and argues that “everyone needs a few haters” to drive you. 

4. HArness your haters

It's inevitable that people will put you down, but how you respond is up to you. When Beatrice applied to Central Saint Martins, the infamous Louise Wilson reportedly told her that black people don’t make good designers and should stick to being stylists. When asked by an audience member how she deals with such rejection, Beatrice said “rejection is a blessing in disguise, just don't stay down.” Needless to say she didn't get into Central Saint Martins, but she did get into the London College of Fashion where the dean recommended she study the BA in Digital Fashion in which she excelled. Her graduate collection was based on a 3D mapping of her face and influenced by the intricate weaving of the Ghanaian kente cloth her mother and step-mother used to wear. Her work has since been featured in publications such as Vogue and ELLE, and Beatrice is now a subject leader on the MA Fashion course at Ravensbourne University.  

5. nurture Your Network 

For Lee, the key to overcoming the haters is to surround yourself with the right people to help support your growth whether that’s peers or mentors. He’s built up a set of friends in the industry who can barter favours amongst each other, such as his photographer friend who made a short film about his brand in exchange for a tailor made suit when he wants it. Despite being a self proclaimed introvert, not liking the nightlife networking the fashion industry is famous for, Beatrice has found ways that suit her best to reach out to people in the industry successfully scoring celebrity clients such as Rita Ora, Alesha Dixon, Anna Friel and Ellie Goulding.

Lee Marsh, beatrice newman and korlekie model

Lee Marsh, beatrice newman and korlekie model

6. Reach for Remarkable

“One of the things that really helped me when I was approaching the stores was that I already had samples of things that I had made. Granted they were mediocre but I wanted to show what I could do. Lots of people just had CVs so it helped me stand out.”, Lee told the crowd. Similarly Beatrice believes she won the LBS pitch because she out prepared her competitors and impressed the judges with her researched statistics and understanding of her market. The fact that she was talking about products she was already testing with customers and not just an idea also gave her an edge.

We've tried and tested all of the advice in our 2 years building Styled By Africa so whether you're working your way up a firm, or setting out on your own don't forget that success is a journey and it starts with self belief.  

Thank you to the Star 100 team for having us. Take a look at Lee's first ready to wear collection at leemarsh.co.uk, and Korlekie's SS15 collection here

Author: Kiran Yoliswa, Co-Founder SBA  

Why The Future of African Business is Social

SBA Co-founders alae ismail and kiran yoliswa 

SBA Co-founders alae ismail and kiran yoliswa 

“Mobile is the future of Africa.” explained Briant Biggs, Roc Nation’s Head of Digital to us in Lagos last month on why their entry strategy into Africa has to be mobile first. The marketing and monetisation of the music industry is being revolutionised globally by mobile strategy- from Beyonce’s epic surprise drop of the ‘Beyonce’ album with a single Instagram post that really did nearly break the internet, to Jay Z pre-releasing his album through Samsung’s mobile app.

So the fact that Roc Nation have turned their eyes to Africa, where mobile internet use is growing at double the rate of growth than the rest of the world, is unsurprising, nor are they the only ones. 

We spent the last two weeks of February in Nigeria for the Lagos edition of Social Media Week- the first African city to host the global new media franchise. As the largest tech, new media business conference in Africa, SMW Lagos is aiming to be the digital epicentre of Africa, or Africa’s SXSW. What it is, is the most exciting place to have this conversation in the world right now where mobile media is allowing companies in Africa to leapfrog to the edge of industry innovation.  

Driving this growth is social media. People are buying mobile data so that they can connect with friends on Facebook, browse newsfeeds on Twitter, watch DBanj’s latest video on Youtube, and Whatsapp selfies to their latest squeeze. Nigeria alone is estimated to have over 50 million internet users, and that’s at only 30% internet penetration. Without social media Styled By Africa wouldn’t exist. As a start up with literally no marketing budget, we’ve relied on it to grow a community of readers and customers for our online boutique of African brands. For us and anyone doing any kind of business in Africa, a solid social media strategy is getting even more important as each day passes.

social media week panelists

social media week panelists

African Brands Go Digital

SMW Lagos showed that more African brands recognise just how central digital is to their business, using social media to increase their customer base, manage their reputation within the community and lead the conversation about their industry. Nigerian oil & gas company Oando are visibly trying to embrace innovative digital media strategies to carve out thought leader market share from the international brands also playing locally such as BP and Chevron. Nigerian airline Arik Air regularly give away flights and air miles on their Instagram page, as well as posting inspirational travel images around the region to highlight the competitive advantage over international players of their inter-Africa connectivity. Even former CEO of Ecobank, Arnold Ekpe, who over 25 years turned the bank into the pan-African institution it is today, told the audience of Africa 2.0’s ‘Start Up Africa London’ event in September 2014 that if he was starting out again today he would build an entirely digital only bank.

At the SMW Lagos Beat FM music day Nigerian rapper M.I confessed that it was easier to make money from Youtube, although he still prioritises releasing his music on regional TV platforms such as Sound City and MTV Base Africa because they have a better effect on his overall brand. He did add however that “At some point all our content will probably come from mobile and we’ll just flick it to our TV screens so it’s bigger. The screens will be interchangeable but the source will be mobile.”  

Incoming Internationals  

The socially savvy international brands are also embracing social media to penetrate new markets. With Africa’s largest population and economy, Nigeria is the prime target market for a growing number of international brands that are looking for new growth markets. Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Africa, Ebele Okobi, used SMWLagos to encourage people to use Facebook to help build their political career or on the flipside, to help hold politicians accountable. According to General Manager of Uber Lagos, Ebi Atawodi, Uber doesn’t pay for any traditional advertising instead relying entirely on social media for their marketing efforts to connect to potential travellers.

SBA Co-Founders with mtv base africa presenter stephanie coker

SBA Co-Founders with mtv base africa presenter stephanie coker

Everyone’s a Celebrity

It’s not just about the big corporates, individuals are using social media to build personal brands to help them get jobs or to win fans. More African CEOs and executives are becoming visible on social media, particularly Twitter, which makes networking your way into an opportunity easier than ever. In the creative industries, musicians and actresses are building huge social media followings that make it easier to monetise their work. Yagazie Emezi has leveraged her 38.9k Instagram followers to become a ‘visual curator’ for brands like UBA Bank and Lagos Fashion and Design Week. Journalist Tolu Ogunlesi has amassed a Twitter following of over 108k readers to tweet his articles to. In the run up to Nigeria’s presidential elections, even President Goodluck Jonathan has conceded to the power of social media, appointing Obi Asika (Co-Founder of Social Media Week Lagos) as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, the first appointment at cabinet level in Africa for the sector.


Getting Online

The future may be online, but accessing it is still harder than it should be. The irony of the fact that we couldn’t get wifi for longer than a couple of minutes at a time at a social media conference would have been amusing if it wasn’t so frustrating. Turns out the Lagosians didn’t seem to mind as most of them roll with the small mobile routers that they use at home which they pop in their handbag while on the go. It was these people that we were begging for 5 minutes of internet so we could upload to Instagram, hoping they would get distracted for an extra minute and we could scroll fiendishly until they noticed and quickly shut off our wifi crack supply.

Although data is still expensive and tricky to access, the power players that we spoke to are perfecting their social game now so that they are ready to reap the long term benefits in the years to come. At some point this market too will saturate and it will be harder and harder to stand out from the crowd once Africa’s one billion people are all online. More people are purchasing smart phones and companies are competing to be first to open up 4G broadband access to the continent. Even our taxi driver had a better smartphone than me, showing off family photos on the latest Samsung smartphone while I trailed shamefully behind with my iPhone “not even a 6” 4.

Nigerian hustle in action- lekki/ikoyi bridge

Nigerian hustle in action- lekki/ikoyi bridge

The energy we felt at the conference was the same all over Lagos- an overwhelming sense that we’re riding an historical wave of opportunity.  Obi Asika recalled a time to us when previous governments in Nigeria controlled everything, including freedom of speech, and worries about a return to such a time. If you’ve ever been out to dinner with a group of Nigerians, you know how loud things can get when they have something to say. With millions more turning to social media to raise those voices, we can’t imagine they could turn back now.

Thank you to Arik Air for sponsoring our trip to SMWLagos. Arik fly direct from London to Lagos daily. 

Author: @KiranYoliswa Co-Founder SBA


Social Media Week Lagos 2015: Connecting Africa

We've been sitting on this secret for a while frantically trying to make it all come together, so its with excitement and relief that we're excited to announce that Styled By Africa is finally on it's way to Lagos, Nigeria for the Lagos edition of Social Media Week as UK blogger ambassadors for Arik Air.  It's the third ever #SMWLagos and our twitter feed and Instagram are already buzzing with excitement at the jam packed schedule. No where else will you find a forum, a free one at that, that brings together the top leaders in government, business, fashion, music, media and entertainment to discuss how technology is disrupting and revolutionising their industries. Only one other African capital- Johannesburg- is a host of the global Social Media Week so the Lagos edition is not just about what's happening in Nigeria but across the region. At the same time, Social Media Week will also be taking place in New York, Milan, Jakarta, Hamburg, Bangalore and Copenhagen but our money is on Lagos coming out top. Why? Let us count the ways. 

10 reasons why #SMWLAGOS is the one that matters

Jewel by lisa

Jewel by lisa

1. The Fashion 

To Nigerians style is an art that is to be taken very seriously so whether it's an exclusive party or just picking up groceries they dress with purposeful flair. SMW Lagos is going to be a street style goldmine, especially with the who's who of the Lagos fashion scene on hand to make sure of it. Fashion designer Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, PR genius behind luxury powerhouse brand Lisa Folawiyo (previously Jewel By Lisa), the Nigerian brand manager for Hugo Boss, Lacoste, and Nigerian fashion and style starlet Eku Edewor are all on the speaker line up to give their insider takes on African fashion. Thursday's Rebranding Africa Style Summit is set to be a highlight on our #SMWLagos schedule and an interesting discussion on what African luxury means, if it exists and how it compares to international brands. The panelists will also address the controversial ‘African brands are inferior’ mindset and what we can do, if anything, to change that. How homegrown brands are raising standards and garnering international recognition through social media and the huge part it's playing in promoting Brand Africa in fashion.

2. The Networking 

Lagos is vast and the traffic dense which makes flitting around the city for meetings a challenge, so it's the smart people at #SMWLagos that we should thank for making our job so much easier and bringing together some of Nigeria's best movers and shakers under one roof for us to meet all at once.  Between the impressive 238 strong speaker line up and over 1000+ registered attendees, we're pretty sure some magical ideas are about to be born over the course of next week. 

3. Battle of the Brands 

Nigeria is a key emerging market for any company-local or global- that is expanding in Africa right now and competition is hotting up between some of the world's biggest brands to win over the African consumer. Now is the chance to get up close and personal with their leadership and find out what trends they are banking on. On Tuesday, Facebook want you to inspire, advocate, lead and drive social change using Facebook services. Hear directly from Arik Air's senior management team about their regional expansion strategy championing seamless connectivity in West & Central Africa. On Thursday, Oando want you to help Nigerian oil & gas companies embrace social media and its benefits. Pitch your digital marketing ideas to leaders in the oil & gas sector and you could win the opportunity to implement them at Oando PLC, while United Bank Africa will be in house talking about social media banking

4. Insider Secrets 

Want to know how to build a blog like Linda Ikeji, Instagram like Naija pop star Banky W, build an app that Russell Simmons used in his latest fashion show, the digital marketing secrets of Roc Nation, or how to partner with brands like Etisalat? Masterclasses, one on one workshops, mentoring- sign us up for everything! 

5. Social media, social change? 

On the cusp of change with elections just a month away one main theme of the conversation focuses on citizenship, government and technology. In light of the recent #BringBackOurGirls campaign, the upcoming elections and the Je Suis Charlie/Nigeria backlash- a selection of panels have been curated discussing the ethics of social media in the 2015 election campaign, how technology can play a role in ensuring free and fair elections and a keynote from the Minister of Communication Technology. Follow the conversation on #SMWCitizens.  


6. #SMWTravelAfrica 

Tourism has been priority marked by most African governments as key industries for investment, recognising the impact it can have on development, employment and nation branding. Tuesday's #SMWTravelAfrica day is likely to be our best day as we live to travel, and use the travel section of Styled By Africa to showcase the immense beauty that can be found in Africa beyond the same old safaris.  Since starting SBA we've travelled to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Gabon and Ghana so when readers tell us that they'd never thought to go on holiday to Ghana before they read our latest post, we consider that job done. That's why partnering with Arik Air on this trip made so much sense as they are a homegrown African brand connecting travellers like us from London or New York not just to Lagos and Abuja but across the country to states like Port Harcourt or Kano, or hotspots in the region such as Abidjan, Douala, Dakar or Luanda. You only have to look at Instagram accounts like Travel Noire or the #TravelAfrica hashtag to see the huge role that social media is playing in encouraging tourism to Africa so we can't wait to dig deeper into these new trends. Social media is also making us as Africans more aware of all there is to see in the continent outside our home countries, and sometimes within, and our hope is that next time you're planning a holiday or an adventure you're as likely to think of Addis or Maputo as you are Paris or Dubai.   

Pop Beach club, lagos

Pop Beach club, lagos

7.  Exploring Lagos 

Speaking of traveling, besides the content of SMW it's Lagos city itself that makes this one of the most exciting host cities. Lagos has the buzz of a regional creative hub for fashion, film, music and media and is home to some of the continent's biggest stars. Friday's #SMWLagosExplore events encourage attendees to get local and explore the tech and creative communities in Lagos where some of the most innovative companies will be hosting off campus experiences in tech hubs and cultural centres. There's no better way to see a city than through the eyes of it's locals so our Lagos travel bucketlist is ready to go. 

8. Furniture on Fleek

One thing we know none of the Social Media Week cities will have is an interior as cool as the one our good friend and furniture fiend Yinka Ilori is creating in collaboration with SMWLagos to add some Naija flair to the interiors. From the looks of his Instagram sneak peeks, we can't wait to put bum to seat on his upcycled creations. 

9. The Nightlife

Here at SBA we have a policy on our travel trips- we sleep when we get back to London and this time when the day ends #SMWLagosNites begins! When we went to Accra we covered about 75% of the nightlife scene in ten days, a testament to our stamina, and we fully intend for this Lagos trip to go the same way. The SMWLagos team have hand picked restaurateurs, cultural curators, style experts, and music aficionados to give us a taste of entertainment Lagos style. We've heard mythical tales about Lagos nightlife, so follow our antics on our Instagram and Twitter pages to see if it's living up to the hype. 

10. The Hustle 

The energy of the city hits you as soon as you enter the arrivals hall in the airport. All we have to say is, no one hustles like a Nigerian so we're here to learn from the pros. 

For the next week we'll be bringing you all the insider info from SMWLagos and all the travel trips we pick up along the way in the city. If you're spontaneous of spirit, it's not too late to join us in Lagos and Arik have amazing winter deals on flights from London to Lagos right now. Make sure you're signed up to their Affinity Wings air miles program too as there will be 3000 bonus points up for grabs every day of SMWLagos plus domestic and international return tickets which you don't want to miss. Follow their Facebook and Instagram pages for more info, and if you're coming along to SMWLagos too, come and say hi! 

Written by Kiran Yoliswa, Co-Founder Styled By Africa 

We Popped Up! #AfricanGiftShop

We told you guys in last week's blog post, the festive season is here and we're ready to celebrate! We kicked it all off last weekend by taking over the Hassan Hajjaj boutique in Shoreditch to host a pop up gift shop so you could all get up close and personal with your favourite 'Made in Africa' brands from the SHOP SBA store. It was also the perfect place to officially launch three new brands we're working with: AAKS (Ghana), Maxhosa by Laduma (South Africa) and Quazi Design (Swaziland).

Thank you to everyone who came down to pick up some unique Christmas gifts for friends and family, and yourselves! Much love also to Aduna, New African Woman and New African magazine, Bajan Beads and Divine Chocolate for filling our goodie bags with awesomeness. Final thanks go to Primo Entertainment for putting together an afrohouse/beats mix especially for all of our guests, and to Bloomberg TV Africa for coming down to film the pop up and interview us for their Africa Trending Show. 

Our new pieces from Swaziland's Quazi Design (left) completely sold out on the day but luckily you can still find the pieces you like online here. The new Maxhosa by Laduma collection was also a sell out disappearing nearly as quickly as the cupcakes. If you want to get your hands on his latest pieces, head to shopsba.com. There's still time to pick up those special and unique gifts for Christmas and make sure you're following us on Twitter and Instagram for real time updates of where we'll be popping up next! 


Who made the list? 

Who made the list? 

Aduna's baobab energy bars were the perfect shopping fuel. 

Aduna's baobab energy bars were the perfect shopping fuel. 

Miss Universe Ghana Part 1: How To Host A Beauty Pageant That's Actually Awesome

If you've been following the blog and our social media you'll already know that we recently returned from our first trip to Accra to style the Miss Universe Ghana 2014 pageant. The closest we'd previously come to the world of pageantry was Sandra Bullock's Miss Congeniality film over ten years ago, so it was down to one lady that we got involved. Roberta Annan- the new organiser of the pageant since 2013 who has shared our passion for using fashion as a tool for development in Africa and supporting women to be leaders in their communities since we met in Gabon in 2012.

Roberta developed a six week leadership training course for the ten finalists including workshops on the power of technology from tech start up Express Pay, health and fitness, personal finance with UBN bank, the global politics of beauty with Dr Yaba Blay, modeling with Ghanaian supermodel Belinda Baidoo, personal image with the founder of Ghanaian make up brand So Aesthetic Sasha Okan, as well as public speaking with the American actress Vanessa Bronfman and etiquette with the glamourous Sherri Bronfman. 

We had an incredible experience with the 10 finalists and the organising team and concede that it is possible to organise a beauty pageant that is actually awesome, if you get these things right. 

1. The Location 

Anywhere in Africa would be an interesting place to host a beauty pageant given the dynamic debates happening at the moment on the politics of African beauty crossing issues such as skin bleaching, natural hair vs weave and the representation of black beauty in the world. However as Southern and Eastern Africans, we've been waiting for the right opportunity to get out and explore the West side of the continent. 

While Accra's constant traffic and just as slow wifi connection left much to be desired, we found so much to love about Accra that we've spent many a night since our return googling potential apartments, jobs and *cough* husbands. 

2. The Fashion 

Our job was to make sure that each girl and the host Berla Mundi looked their best on the final night and we had the pick of Ghana's best brands to choose from such as Christie Brown, Mina Evans, Ameyo, Aya Morrison, MO SAIQUE and AAKS. The lovely PR team in Christie Brown's Osu store also managed to distract us into shopping for ourselves at the same time (about as hard as trying to persuade us that ice cream is a good idea), and we swiftly said goodbye to most of our shopping budget on their new ready to wear pieces. We also teamed up with Nigerian-German designer Hazel Eki Aggrey-Orleans, the creative force behind the high-end label Eki Orleans, for the girls opening look. We purposefully wanted the girls to look more fashion forward than you usually see in pageants and used this opportunity to champion the unique beauty of the African fashion designers we love. 

Poolside team meetings with Roberta Annan, her beautiful son Alan and Hazel from Eki Orleans. 

3. Cheerleaders 

The winner of Miss Universe Ghana will travel to the final competition in January to represent Ghana in arguably the biggest beauty pageant in the world. There was a community vote up for grabs through an online poll so the girls had to get out there and prove why they should represent Ghana. For us this was a great opportunity to shout about the awesome things African designers are doing, which included our first time on a TV chat show on GhOne Entertainment TV wearing our favourite Ghanian batik Choolips dresses

Alae giving face in an interview for Joy TV. 

4. Backstage Battle Strategy

Backstage is where the magic happens. As in it was only by magic that we managed to dress ten girls plus a host in four looks from eight different designers with just five minutes changing time for each look. You can imagine the chaos- the girls themselves will tell you we ran that backstage like army generals, but it all came together beautifully in the end. Ghanaian make up brand So Aesthetic provided colours for all shades of Ghana's women, creating really beautifully natural looks for the girls  and an affinity for contouring that Kim Kardashian would be proud of. 

MUG Finalist Brigitte getting competition ready by So Aesthetic 

So Aesthetic hard at work. 

The goodies! 

5. The Team 

The most important factor in pulling all of this off was our super human team. Everyone on the team believed in using the platform to help a group of young women to be leaders in their communities not just based on how they look but on their passions, skills, beliefs and dreams. Giving them the practical tools to kickstart their journeys, the mentors to guide them and the confidence to believe that they are worthy. A few days before the final show, the sponsors brought everyone together for a cocktail party to celebrate the launch of Miss Universe Ghana 2014 so that before judgement day we could all glam up, stunt on the red carpet and dance the night away. Speaking of which there is one more ingredient crucial to hosting an awesome beauty pageant. Grey Goose passionfruit cocktails- and lot's of them! Stay tuned for all the goss from the final show in Part 2! 

Mariam Iqbal, Loretta Lois MUG Project Assistant, Roberta Annan MUG Organiser, Kiran SBA, Alae SBA. Image courtesy of Ameyaw Debrah. 

SBA with Maame Adjei, MUG Talent Coordinator 

SBA with Belinda Baidoo, model and MUG Choreographer

Roberta Annan and the MUG Finalists 

Skating Addis

When I think of Ethiopia my thoughts are usually of the bittersweet injera of my grandmother's house and the shoulder shaking of the Ethio-jazz clubs, so discovering the new skater trend sweeping Addis reminded me just how fast everything is changing in my absence. I never made it into the skateboarder crews, but have always admired the dedication and freedom you see in skaters in action. Channeling feelings of joy, creativity and stress release is why at just 16, Abenezer Temesgen and friends founded Ethiopia Skate, a not for profit organisation aiming to promote skateboarding across Ethiopia with the belief that it can be a tool for empowering youth and creating new opportunities. 

Since their launch, the Ethiopia Skate team have managed to collaborate with international brands including, Make Life Skate and secure over 200 skateboards for young kids who can't afford them. They’ve also featured on popular sites like One Nigerian Boy, The Berrics, Transworld Magazine, Frank151, Africa Skate and many more. More impressive however is their campaign to build Ethiopia's first ever skate park. 

Opening up a whole new side of Addis to me, I caught up with Abenezer to find out if skateboarding can really change lives, and the best places to get started. 

Ethiopia's Skate Scene

“The skating scene in Ethiopia is not that big, there are only a few skaters on the streets and no skateparks whatsoever. We organised the two first-ever skateboarding competitions in Ethiopia and built a mobile miniramp for the kids to skate on which was the first of its kind in Ethiopia. We travelled all over Ethiopia teaching kids to skate but didn‘t have enough boards to give to them, until a skate shop in Austria collected more than 200 boards and skateboarding gear to donate to our cause which is helping us grow the skateboarding scene.”

So where do all the cool kids skate?

"The best places to skate in Ethiopia are Ambo, Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Bahir Dar, Harar and Mekelle. It‘s hard to give specific spots as there are no official skateparks (yet). But as soon as Ethiopia Skate reaches its goals, we‘ll have multiple locations in the country specifically (re)designed for skateboarding, and we‘ll have a map on our website showing skaters how to get to the spots."



Skating Pan-Africa

"South Africa is the leader in skateboarding in Africa. They’ve been holding big skate contests and other skateboarding-related events and all the international skater brands are in South Africa too, supporting and sponsoring the skaters. Africa Skate has been doing a lot for skateboarding all over the continent- they’ve also been supporting us since day one. 

The one African skateboarder I admire most is Thalente Biyela. He grew up without his parents in the streets, there was nobody who helped him, but then he discovered skateboarding and that‘s what got him out of his problems. Now he’s skating for the biggest brands in the world, been to the largest skateboarding competitions and is now becoming more and more famous and is even making a movie about his life. We‘re friends and I look up to him."

But does it really change lives?

"In my opinion, skateboarding is very important for kids, as they learn many valuable life lessons. First of all, they learn that you have to start small, since you have to get a feeling for the board before even thinking of doing any tricks. Then it teaches them that only practice makes perfect, there‘s no born pro skater who just jumps on a board and magically becomes Tony Hawk. 

Finally, it teaches them that success is only possible if you‘re willing to give everything you’ve got and most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP! In other sports, you have a coach who teaches you everything, but in skateboarding, you have to learn yourself. There might be people who can show you certain moves, but as long as you don‘t do it yourself, you won‘t learn. That‘s how life works, too, and that‘s why it‘s important."

How did you get involved with Make Life Skate Life? 

"We were contacted by Make Life Skate Life in October 2013 after they’d seen our Indiegogo campaign video and wanted to help out. They aided us in creating a presentation for the city planning bureau showing various plans and incentives on how to improve the situation in the city not just for skateboarders but for the entire community. We are still in contact and they are willing to help us with future projects as well."

SBA- Ethiopia Skate.6.jpg


The Big Dream

"5 year plan: Build multiple small and large parks in all major cities in Ethiopia, design and produce our own boards (including tracks, wheels, griptapes and of course decks), hold many different competitions for pros and amateurs alike from all over the world to come to Ethiopia to skate, become self sustained by building a skate shop as well as a school to provide education for the less privileged.


Ten year plan: Extend parks and build multiple shops and schools all over the country to really give everyone access to skateboards and education. Extend educational system to include photography and video courses as well as editing classes. Build the largest skate camp in Africa (something like Camp Woodward) and have skaters come from all over the world just to stay there, skate and learn more about our culture. Then extend this to include BMX, inline skates, gymnastics and other extreme sports like parkour/free running and climbing."


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Dream it, believe it, be it!

"The most surprising element in our story has been the internet. It is incredible how fast information travels through there, you post a little thing on Facebook and suddenly there‘s people interviewing you, blogging about you or writing magazine articles about you. It‘s just amazing how a single email can suddenly get you a lot more attention than you even hoped for and we‘re really thankful to everybody on the internet who has been or will be supporting us in the past, present and future of Ethiopia Skate."

How to get involved...

Simply spreading the message is a great first step. The more people know about Ethiopia skate, the better, because it will be easier for us to find sponsors and partners for various projects all over Ethiopia. Sharing our articles and videos helps a lot to get the word to the right people. If you want to directly support Ethiopia Skate, the best thing you could do is donate money, skateboards and skateboarding equipment, because there are many kids in Ethiopia who are eager to start skating but cannot afford the necessary items. If any skaters from abroad were down to come to Ethiopia and show off their skills, it would greatly boost the kids‘ skateboarding morale and make them more interested in the sport.

To find out more information on Skate Ethiopia visit and how you can get involved click here

Author: Alae Ismail, Co-Founder of SBA

Presenting...UK Nigeria 100: Creative Collaborations

If you're signed up to our newsletter or Twitter then you'll know we've got some exciting projects coming up this year all concerning creative industries in Africa that we've been waiting to announce. We're really excited that our first one is now live and we can start shouting about it. 

We're pleased to announce our new partnership with UK Trade and Investment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the pioneering UK Nigeria 100 project which will partner 100 British SMEs with 100 Nigerian SMEs in the creative industries. 

The UK Nigeria 100 initiative will use an online networking platform where registered businesses will be able to interact and explore business opportunities through webinars, social meet-ups and exhibitions in London, Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. As the London hub coordinator, SBA will be acting as the intermediary between the Nigeria and London hubs so if you're based in the UK and thinking about what opportunities Nigeria could hold for you, get in touch! 

Nigeria is already an emerging market for businesses opportunities and has seen global brands such as Mango, Zara and M.A.C tap into the economy, establishing outlets in the nations' prime locations.  For the next 3 months, we'll be working with UK SMEs in creative industries such as media, music, fashion, film and television that are interested in expanding their products and services to Nigeria, and want support finding out how to do so. We'll also be helping the Nigerian hubs to support the Nigerian SMEs that want to explore the UK market.  For example through the platform, Nigerian fashion houses can express interest to UK retailers interested in international brands, or UK based software developers can pitch to develop online payment applications for Nigerian businesses.

SMEs have been highlighted by both the Nigerian and British government as significant job creators and a crucial part of their economic growth and sustainability strategies with an agreed target of expanding bilateral trade to $8 billion by the end of 2014. UK Nigeria 100 will be focusing on SMEs which need to move out of their comfort zones and start developing trading relationships with global markets. 

SBA is all about encouraging trade with creative communities in Africa so we’re really excited to be leading the London side of this project to encourage collaboration between creative SMEs just like us. We'll be running a blog series about the project so we can let you all know how it's going and why these issues are important. 

If you're interested in finding out more about this project and getting involved, send us an email on london@UKnigeria100.net. Make sure you're following us on Twitter and Instagram too for real time updates! 

The Scottsboro Boys Head to the West End


Following in the footsteps of A Season in The Congo which recently sold out at The Young Vic with critical acclaim, The Scottsboro Boys is already racking up stellar reviews and sell out status. I was recently invited down to watch the musical; a recreation of songwriting duo (also responsible for 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret') Ebb & Kander musical by Susan Stroman. 

Part of a recent wave of nods to black history- The Butler, 12 Years A Slave, Django Unchained- The Scottsboro Boys tells the true story of nine young African Americans falsely convicted of the rape of two women in 1931 Alabama. Human rights campaigners fought for over 20 years for their release in one of the longest trials ever known in its time. Only the four youngest boys were lucky enough to be released, only to end up performing in a vaudeville act in Harlem, while the others unfortunately passed away in prison. 82 years later. Only now in 2013 long after all the boys have passed, Alabama state eventually got around to pardoning them. 


While the story line is tragic, serious and depressing,  the risky minstrel-style musical itself is very enjoyable due to the outstanding singing and dancing by the cast. Klye Scaliffe who plays Haywood Paterson has a strong yet soft and gentle voice, singing my favourite song Southern Days. Mr Tambo and Mr Bones played by Forrest McClendon and Coloman Domingo were my personal favourites- although they are the bad guys in the play their comedic-punchy lines and dramatic stage presence made me and the whole crowd laughing our heads off. The exuberant light nature of the play contrasts starkly with the reality of the racial prejudice of the time, including a nod to Rosa Parks iconic defiance on a bus.  


During its short stint on Broadway the musical managed to win over the critics resulting in 12 Tony award nominations yet failed to win over the box office due to the controversy around the minstrel format of the show. My feeling from watching the show was that rather than sugar coating or celebrating this type of entertainment, the minstrel format is used to provoke and confront the racist systems of the time. 

Provocative, uncomfortable and highly entertaining. See for yourself in the video below of a few scenes from the show. 


The Scottsboro Boys is showing at the Young Vic from 18th October-21st December, so I would beg, steal or borrow a ticket before the show ends.

For more information click here

Author: Alae Ismail, Co-Founder of SBA

Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith  

Fast Track Your Fashion Business: Calling West Africa's Top Designers

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As you know, we've been big supporters of the International Trade Centre's Ethical Fashion Initiative since we first met the team a few months ago. While they work with big international designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Sass & Bide to produce parts of their collection in Africa, they are also working more and more to support African designers. Ultimately their aim is to facilitate sustainable trade for African fashion and have recently contacted us about an incredible opportunity. 

They are looking for fashion and/or accessories designers based in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria or Senegal who have the creative capacity and potential to expand their business, while creating jobs for artisans and others in the domestic market. The criteria? That you have an established business which you want to see grow, and a vision for an international future. 

Is that you?

The selected designer will receive mentorship by leading fashion professionals and connections to key showrooms in Europe with the objective of earning international distribution. Mentoring support from ITC is long-term as the aim is to help one talented designer achieve maximum potential. The designer may also have the opportunity to participate in a fashion show in a European capital. They have already done incredible work with Christie Brown and Kiki Clothing from Ghana so have a look at their FB page for the kinds of opportunities they could give you access to. The team are absolutely wonderful and as an emerging designer in West Africa they will be a big boost of support so start putting together those applications. 

If you fit the descriptions above, please send a complete application no later than December 1st 2013. Applications submitted after this deadline will not be accepted. Applications should include a completed template (download here), a designer CV (PDF format only) and 8 photos of your work (JPEG format, maximum 600 x 425px / 20 x 15 cm in 150 dpi). Save in a zipped folder and email it to africandesigner@intracen.org

Read more about the Ethical Fashion Initiative here www.ethical-fashion.org or at the Ethical Fashion Initiative Facebook page



Kiki Clothing- Rome

Kiki Clothing- Rome

Etes-vous un couturier et/ou un créateur d’accessoires de mode basé au Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria ou Sénégal? Avez-vous une entreprise solide que vous souhaitez développer? Avez-vous une perspective d’expansion?

Le programme ‘’Ethical Fashion Initiative’’du Centre de commerce international (CCI) soutient le commerce responsable pour la couture africaine. Nous recherchons des créateurs provenant des pays cités ci-dessus ayant la capacité d’innover et le potentiel d’étendre leurs activités, tout en générant des emplois pour les artisans sur le marché domestique.

Seriez-vous notre élu ?

Le créateur sélectionné par notre comité d’évaluation bénéficiera d’un patronage par les plus grands noms de la mode et d’un accès à des showrooms clés en Europe afin d’établir un marché international. Bénéficier du support du CCI signifie une collaboration à long terme, le but étant d’amener un créateur talentueux à atteindre son plein potentiel. Le créateur pourrait avoir la possibilité de participer à un défilé de mode dans une capitale européenne.

Si vous correspondez à la description ci-dessus, veuillez envoyer votre candidature au plus tard le 1er décembre 2013. Passée cette date, les candidatures ne seront plus retenues.

Les candidatures doivent inclure un formulaire dument rempli (téléchargeable ici), un CV (en format PDF uniquement) et  8 photos de vos créations (format JPEG, maximum 600 x 425px / 20 x 15 cm en 150 dpi) ; le tout sauvegardé dans un dossier Zip et envoyé à africandesigner@intracen.org.

Pour de plus amples informations: www.ethical-fashion.org ou sur la page Facebook 



STYLING | Fuse ODG New Azonto Video

A few weeks ago we were asked to help style Fuse ODG's remake of his now infamous Azonto video. Fuse has recently been signed to a new label who wanted new visuals for wider release, even though this song came out a while ago. With his most recent song Antenna making it to No 1 on iTunes, Fuse is on fire at the moment! We've also heard whispers of his new upcoming tracks soon to be released so watch this space. 


music from ghana, ghana videos, azonto, ghanian music, azonto azonto azonto

Hanging out with other creatives with so much vision and who are so passionate about their craft was soul food for both of us- despite a long days work. Alae was even fasting all day for Ramadan but she didn't stop, and it was an inspiring if exhausting day for both of us. Check out the video plus a few sneak peek behind the scenes from the shoot. Enjoy!  


Model Priscilla rocking Choolips Belle dress before busting out her Azonto.  

Fuse ODG stylist, Fuse ODG Azonto, Ghana, afrobeats, fuse odg style 

Fuse ODG & his stylist the lovely Charlie who decked Fuse out in all the goodies below. 

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Flight Club Launch Party: The Take Off

How cool are these Hassan Hajjaj bucket stools?

How cool are these Hassan Hajjaj bucket stools?

To celebrate our 1 year blogger-versary and the launch of our online store, we gathered together our dearly beloved for an afternoon of food, fashion and good vibes. It's been an amazing year so far so we had much to celebrate- not that we need much of an excuse to party. Pulling it together wasn't easy, and the week before felt a bit like an episode of a reality show when everything looks crazy, everyone is breaking down, and you're not sure if they'll make it even though deep down you know they will because its TV. But this wasn't TV.



But it all came together beautifully. The TAMU cupcakes and Zoe's Ghana Kitchen arrived to feed the hungry looking masses who came to join in the fun. 

Cupcakes from Tamu- the best you'll ever have! 

Cupcakes from Tamu- the best you'll ever have! 

Zoe's Ghana Kitchen 

Our friends Afrikan Boy and Binisa from Ruby & The Vines provided the in flight entertainment, while the all day afrobeats came from the awesome Blackout Production decks. 

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The fabulous Nailwraps:Influence were in the house doing free nail art of some inspirational African women which went down so well they ran out before we could get some! 


We also put together a fashion exhibition of some of the designers we are selling through our online boutique. South African designer Sindisio Khumalo's graphic laden SS13 collection was on show, as well as Choolips and Chichia London's AW13 collections, all of which are produced on the continent, proving that African fashion isn't all about ankara. Head over to the boutique to see for yourself!

South African designer Sindiso Khumalo's SS13 collection on display. Click here to shop the collection.

South African designer Sindiso Khumalo's SS13 collection on display. Click here to shop the collection.

We had so much fun and thank you to everyone who came out to support us. Head over to our FB page for more pictures of the day, and don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter. We still have goodies to give away and are already cooking up our next projects so hit subscribe to stay up to date for news on exclusives, features and events. 

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All images courtesy of Sena Kpodo

Currents: Do You Know A Woman Fighting to Be A Leader?

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Yesterday Alae and I were invited to the Commonwealth Secretariat to take part in a video interview to discuss the importance of governments encouraging young women to fight for leadership roles in politics and business which will be shown at the 10WAMM Ministers Meeting in Bangladesh later this year 

The interview reminded me about a woman I saw last year at the Oxford University Pan-African Conference, who addressed the audience about her recent registration, aged 27, to run for the Presidency of Kenya in their then upcoming elections. Frankly I thought she was crazy, and my friends and I debated her audacity for hours afterwards, but we all agreed she had guts. While her campaign needed some fine-tuning, to be much more polite than I was in that debate, looking back I've found myself admitting that we need more women like her who are not afraid to fight for leadership positions in politics and business in their countries.

Having more women at the decision making tables in government means that we'll have more say over issues that affect us, bringing them into the mainstream rather than being marginalised into 'gender units'. It's bad enough that many men leave contraception up to women in the bedroom, let alone in the boardrooms of governments (no-Lewinsky). Would so many women still be dying in child birth if women were better represented in politics and had more say over the Ministries of Health? How much longer would governments be able to ignore the importance of education for girls if there were more female leaders in the business community? In Africa, women like Joyce Banda (President of Malawi), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia), Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma (Chairperson of the African Union) are evidence of what happens when you invest in women's education and that we do not have "brains the size of squirrel" as Borat claimed.

Why we can't sit around waiting for the government

However, governments worldwide are notorious for not doing what they are supposed to, so in the meantime yes we do still have to fight for these leadership roles, and more likely we're going to have to create them. Seth Godin wrote inspirationally about this in his new book The Icarus Deception, about rejecting the cultural instinct to be picked. No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

So without waiting for encouragement from up top, we have to look for it in each other. The Commonwealth Secretariat interview questioned us about courage and our inspirations- our answers we found were always other young women. Sure Oprah is a big inspiration, but it has been the women from the inner sanctums of our families and close friends right to the edges of acquaintances who have pushed us to step our game up, and thrown down the ladder to help us up. 
Having a strong support network is the best defence against 'enemies of progress', to keep on reminding you that you are smart/creative/pretty/funny enough to do what it takes to realise your ambitions.

We have an extensive list of women who are ahead of our game that we've hunted down for coffees to talk through different issues we're having, and organisations we've contacted and asked for support. All the support we've received so far, especially from Virgin Media Pioneers, UnLTD, Think Big O2, Somewhere To, Mizani/L'Oreal, and SOAS, is because we've reached out and asked for it. You'd be surprised how many people will say yes if you ask. Plus it's easier to leap with a safety net. 

Just the idea of 'women in leadership' results in more stereotypes being dished out than McDonalds fries, so seeking out a network of role models is a great reminder that there are many ways to be a leader, and a woman. You don't have to 'Think Like A Man', or play up your femininity to get things done. Leadership isn't about gender, nor is it about age, so next time your friend tells you she wants to be President of her country, don't laugh at her, encourage her, and help her prepare for battle. 

We're fighting to be leaders in business. After we're done with these flowers. 

We're fighting to be leaders in business. After we're done with these flowers. 

Playing around in the flowers at the Queen's old house. Random fact- they filmed The King's Speech here too! 

Playing around in the flowers at the Queen's old house. Random fact- they filmed The King's Speech here too! 

Where do you find the encouragement to take up leadership roles in politics and business?

Flight Club: Destination Africa

Got a touch of that wanderlust? To celebrate Africa Day and the launch of our online boutique travel with us in style on Saturday 25th May 2013 in our Flight Club where the only rule is that you fly.

Destination: Africa. 

Backpackers, rolling stones or luxury only, it's time to pack your bags. 

In-Flight entertainment will bring you live performances from Ruby and The Vines and DJs from Blackout Productions and many more. Nailwraps:Influence will be providing free nail art of your favourite African women or pass the flight time in our foosball African Cup of Nations. Lucky passengers can also win goodies on the day from Mizani/L'Oreal and more to be announced! 

Browse the duty-free display featuring womenswear collections from Choolips (crafted in Ghana/Kenya) and Chichia London (produced in Tanzania), streetwear from Beni Huwa and furniture from Eva Sonaike. 

Your captain for the afternoon will be Nigel Ruwende, features editor from popular men's style blog Individualism. 

Online check in is available at www.styledbyafrica.eventbrite.com for £5.00 or at the boarding gate on the day for £7.00. 

Some proceeds of this adventure will also go towards Emergency's Paediatric Centre in Bangui, Central African Republic which offers free, world class quality healthcare to all children under 14 years old 24 hours a day. 

Meet you at Departures?

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Behind the Scenes: Ruby and The Vines

Ruby and The Vines

Ruby and The Vines

A few months ago I was happily reunited with Binisa Bonner from Ruby and the Vines   after our panel discussing mixed race heritage at the WOW festival. It was lovely to catch up and we spoke about her Congolese background, culture, music and all things African before she invited us to her up-coming ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ launch.

Ruby and The Vines are a crazy fusion of rock, jazz, afro-beat and reggae group, led by vocalist/bassist Binisa and band mates; Greg Sanders (guitarist) and Ben Assiter (drummer). The success of their 2011, ‘Red Storm’ EP allowed for national radio play at BBC Radio 1, Xfm and Jazz FM Live and live performances at Glastonbury and Secret Garden Party festival. Now the band have set their eyes on bigger dreams with the release of their Nirvana cover of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’. 

Binisa from Ruby and The Vines 

Binisa from Ruby and The Vines 

Pre- Ruby and The Vines, Binisa told me she attended The Brit School of performing Arts in South London, which saw the rise of many well known British artists including Amy Winehouse, Adele and Leona Lewis. After leaving Brit school, she went on to study Music at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which was quiet refreshing to hear as many Brit-Grads go on to mainstream pop or over theatrical/spirit-finger shows. .. phew!  

While catching up with Binisa backstage at her official ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ single launch at The Vortex, Dalston, she mentioned dropping the bass and focusing on her singing; 'It can be quiet restricting singing and playing the bass at the same time, it’s difficult to move around a lot’. But with only a handful of female bass players in the game such as Shingai Shoniwa (from Noisette), she thought it was important to carve out a space for women in the industry and continue performing with the bass.

Binisa from Ruby and The Vines 

Binisa from Ruby and The Vines 

I felt that Heart-Shaped Box deviated from the bands usual jazzy tunes and played on a more grunge, eclectic and minimalistic groove, and from hearing the original cover I definitely know which one I prefer.

‘Heart-Shaped Box’ EP can be downloaded on here and for more information head to their website at www.rubyandthevines.com.  We’re also happy to say that Binisa will be performing live at our SBA: ‘Flight Club’ launch in 25th May at the Bussey Building... so watch this space.

TRAVEL: Dakar's Pink(ish) Lake


Dear SBA fam, please meet Claudia Giglio. Our dear friend, originally from Burkina Fasso and Italy, who has recently escaped London for the sunnier skies of Dakar, Senegal. In exchange for her disappearance from our daily lives, we've asked her to keep us up to date with her West African adventures as an SBA contributor. 


"One of my friends recently decided to mark her entry into the 30ies by walking 30km with 30 friends. The destination, Pink Lake, which lies just outside of Senegal's capital Dakar. Why not, I thought, everyone has their own way of coping with the big 3-0, until I learned I'd have to wake up at 5am for the minibus to pick us up for this little trek.  After  an hour and a half drive with 30 people squashed into a 24 seater bus, with a good dose of humour we finally arrived at Lac Rose. 

This was my first time at Pink Lake so I was ripe and ready to shoot it's pinky waters from every angle but I was to be disappointed. Admittedly it was a bit foggy, but it was still clear that there was not a ray of pink in sight. Seeing my frustration, the lovely people living beside the lake felt sorry for me and explained that this is not pink season and I should return again (but that bus!) in the high summer (July). So, I swallowed my initial disappointment, enjoyed the fresh morning breeze, the spectacular scenery, played with the baboon mascot of the place and got ready for the long walk. I am planning a "Pink Lake, The Return!", and the next time I am determined to mesmerise all of you with amazing pictures of the pinkest lake you've ever seen."

Love Claudia x 


EXHIBITION: Simon Frederick 'My Mates At Work'

David Adjaye by Simon Frederick

David Adjaye by Simon Frederick

Last week we were invited down to the opening of Simon Frederick's exhibition 'My mates at work". While the exhibition at London's Gallery Different had a short run of just under a week, you can check out what went down in the video below made by our lovely friend Henry Robinson. With famous friends including actress Sadie Frost, Trevor Nelson and David Adjaye, this was always going to be an interesting collection of images. But what made it special was how intimately each person was captured, the real sense of personality that comes across in the images, and the extra processing that made the images look more like paintings. 

Legendary Ghanaian photographer James Barnor captured by Simon Frederick, and by SBA :-)

Legendary Ghanaian photographer James Barnor captured by Simon Frederick, and by SBA :-)

Simon Frederick and  SBA's Kiran Yoliswa 

Simon Frederick and  SBA's Kiran Yoliswa 

Check out Simon's portfolio at www.simonfrederick.com

#TBT- Partying Around The Garden

If you've ever seen a Zimbabwean throwing down on the dance floor then you won't be surprised by the contents of this video, but seriously though, Zimbo's go hard! If wondering who the movers and shakers are in Harare's creative scene has been keeping you up at night-or whether Harare has one at all as someone asked us recently (!?!)- then your search is over my friends. Check out this video created by 9941 Media of our Pop Up Garden Party in December.   

Where do we go from here? To the F.R.A.P party at HIFA 2013! We'll see you there :-). https://www.facebook.com/events/125075567680621/

Talk: Being Mixed Race in Mixed Up Britain


As part of London's Southbank's fabulous 'Women of the World' Festival celebrating International Women's Day last week, we were invited to discuss the 'identity politics of the Jessica Ennis generation' which you can listen back to in all its one hour glory using the link above. Between the two of us we can call about six countries home (Eritrea, Yemen, Britain, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa) and have had our fair share of identity crises, so it was an honour to be a part of such an interesting and dynamic discussion with such inspiring women. 

The panel was made up of diverse backgrounds and opinions which included TV presenter Reya El-Sahi, SOAS teaching fellow Emma Dabiri and chaired by the English-Turkish Guardian journalist Emine Saner. Emine highlighted that in the 2011 census over a million people in the UK ticked the ‘mixed race’ box, double that in 2001 when the box was first introduced – but for some, the label is meaningless, especially as many mixed people self identify with a single ethnic group. 

Emma Dabiri and Emine Saner

Emma Dabiri and Emine Saner

So, how useful is the term mixed race?

 Demonstrating the number of fellow identity crisis sufferers in the room, when asked their preference the majority of the audience were undecided how they felt about it, with the rest equally split between happy and not happywith the term.  

Emma: "I question the usefulness of a mixed race classification which demands that you subscribe to a fixed manageable one dimensional identity when in reality we are so much more. The term perpetuates racial thinking and race is not real; it is a political, historical and socio-economic construct.  I'm not sure whether the mixed race classification on the census is progress, rather than deconstructing race it is a further reconstruction of it.  With the major issues that the black community has with shadeism, sometimes people wanting to call themselves mixed race is not so innocent because the lighter you are the better positioned you are in social hierarchy. I do still use it though because people understand it." 

Audience opinion: "We should accept people for who they are, not where they come from. We shouldn't put people into groups or worry about tick boxes. Boxes are limiting."

Alae: "Being ‘mixed race’ is definitely more than ticking boxes, and I think what's most important is what it means to you. I feel privileged to be mixed of two races and feel that it has opened my views on race, culture and identity; I’m able to view people as individuals and not just the country they so happened to be born into."

Kiran: "For me the term mixed race was quite liberating. Going through primary school in England I was called half-caste or black, moving to Zimbabwe I became 'coloured', neither of which I really connected to. Moving back to the UK, 'mixed race' was the first time I felt like there was something that really described how I felt and my family." 

Reya: "Even though we all have different heritages I found myself smiling and nodding to so much of what is being said and I think the power of the term mixed race is that shared experience. My mother is British Jewish and my father is North African Arab Muslim and after having to constantly justify who I am, the term gives me somewhere to belong. Having to always tick the 'other' box reiterated to me that I didn't belong. Now being able to tick a box warms my heart in that in not being able to doesn't."

Audience opinion: "Mixed race is such an important term to me because people always automatically assume that I'm white because I'm so fair. I'm never identified with the black community and being 'mixed race' stops me from being lumped in with white society which is not the whole of me." 

Audience opinion: "We're all here because the term mixed race means something to us. I had incredible difficulty with the battle of belonging. Growing up in the 70s I had to choose between being a white feminist or a black activist and now I feel like I can be all of them and choose from a whole multitude of things. People place identities upon us and we have to resist that." 

Reya El-Salahi and Kiran Yoliswa 

Reya El-Salahi and Kiran Yoliswa 

The Mixed-Race Myth

Linked to this idea of what on earth to call yourself was the discussion of the 'mixed-race myth'. The challenging and confusing process of seeking a feeling of belonging was a common theme and raised the question of whether there is now a common identity to which people of mixed race heritage can feel like they belong. 

Emma: The media often promotes this idea of a 'mixed race community' but it is a myth. It's a ludicrous idea that as someone who is half Irish and half Nigerian I'll get along with someone who is half Bangladeshi or half Polish better than I would with another Nigerian or Irish. I don't believe that we are somehow connected by virtue of being mixed or that we are more likely to socialise with other mixed people and have some sort of solidarity. People who are black mixed and people who are non-black mixed also have a markedly different experience because black mixed people are racialised as black whereas non-black mixed people are able to inhabit a more ambiguous exotic space. This puts paid to the myth that those people can be grouped together which the media feeds into this idea of a separate mixed community."

Alae: I was brought up in a community with few East Africans or Arabs to identify with so it took me a while to discover my identity and heritage. I found it easier to seek refuge in groups that were a minority and mixed.    

Reya: The mixed race community is a lie, we don't all meet up down the pub at the weekends. But away from the language, there is a shared experience that has some power.

Kiran: Many of my close friends are also mixed, and not just black mixed, and I think part of is because we do share some sort of experience and exploration of identity that has helped me and inspired me. Of course I also have non-mixed friends, but I do identify and find comfort in other people's mixed-race experiences. 

Audience opinion: "There is an experience that is exclusive to being mixed race, and for me the mixed race community is a beautiful thing." 

Reya El-Salahi

Reya El-Salahi

The Fluidity of Identity and Claiming Communities

Emma: Being mixed is not a stable or fixed identity. Growing up in Ireland there was no mixed race identity, you were just black. I'm perceived as different things in different places; in Nigeria I'm seen as 'white person', I'm mixed race in London, in Atlanta I was a light skinned black girl. In some contexts I feel black, sometimes I'm Nigerian, sometimes I'm Irish, white is still off-limits. I'm always me, and always have the potential to identify with any of these things. 

Reya: In Britain increasingly so you're allowed to be more fluid with your identity, more so than in other countries.

This idea of claiming communities was highlighted by an audience member who asked whether mixed-race people carry a sense of shame on their white side, citing Halle Berry describing herself as the first woman of colour to win an Oscar in her acceptance speech yet her mother is white. Halle Berry explained that in the US she is treated as a black woman and so that is how she identifies. Panellist Emma Dabiri said that in her experience whiteness is much more excluding, "Being half white doesn't exclude me from being Nigerian in the same way that being half black excludes me from being Irish. Irishness is synonymous with whiteness and purity, it doesn't extend admission to even the lightest skin black girls. You can claim blackness but not whiteness." Reya also discussed this in reference to the challenge of growing up with multiple religions and which ones she was 'allowed' to claim, defending her right to be a Muslim Jewish Atheist. 

Alae Ismail from SBA

Alae Ismail from SBA

We could talk about identity for hours so we wish we could have gone into more detail about other interesting points that were raised such as the use of mixed race people in British advertising to tick diversity boxes without scaring white people with a 'real black person'. Also skimmed was why some civil rights campaigners don't like the separation of the mixed race classification as it dilutes the numbers of people in ethnic minorities making discrimination harder to monitor. The politics of identity are obviously much deeper than this discussion, demonstrated by Emma's closing statement that 'Whether we're positioned as the half-caste underclass or the mixed-race messiahs of a post racial Britain, the myth of a beautiful mixed race generation that epitomises a raceless Britain masks the continuing racism that will go unchecked if we get seduced by it.'  Either way the room full of people showed just how willing people were to engage in these issues and the importance of opening up that dialogue. 

So while for some everytime you call yourself 'mixed-race' you're buying into a superficial idea of race, for others there is power gained from the idea of belonging to a group that shares similar experiences. The most important conclusion, as we were perfectly reminded by a lady in the audience, is that absolutely everybody's experience of being mixed, is valid.

To listen back to more of the WOW events, and there were some incredible ones,  visit www.wow.southbankcentre.co.uk.

Music: Mali's Sahara Soul

Unity in Mali. Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Unity in Mali.

Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  


Music is fast becoming another victim of Mali's current crisis. While extremist groups in the country are enforcing a ban on music, London's Barbican Centre brought together some of Mali's finest musicians for their 'Sahara Soul' celebration at the end of January. Grammy Award nominated Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba, Southern Toureg band Tamikrest and Sidi Toure from Gao all refused to be silenced. Bassekou even titled his recent album "Jama Ko" which means unity in the time of crisis and stated that "We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali." 

Ngoni Ba- Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Ngoni Ba- Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  


Bassekou and his band Ngoni Ba are themselves revolutionaries, reinventing Mali's traditional folk music, using it to take us on a journey of Mali’s rich history and culture. A musical family, Bassekou was joined on stage by his wife on vocals and son who also impressed audiences with his charisma and nogia playing skills. Their latest album Jama Ko is out now featuring my favourite tracks of the night Jama Ko and Moustafa which they're performing now on their Europe tour

Ngoni Ba, Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Ngoni Ba, Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  


Northern Tuareg group Tamikrest, whose twitter bio reads 'A desert hosts us, a language unites us, a culture binds us', also joined the stage with their fusion of traditional music with Western rock and pop. It didn't matter that all their songs were sung in the Tuareg language of Tamashek as the meaning was clear, and the atmosphere electric. The clothes were just as interesting to me as the music, and the traditional headwear, the Tagelmust, reminded me strongly of my Yemeni roots.  They have a busy year ahead on the festival circuit so catch them on tour while you can. 

Tamikrest singer in collaboration with Bassekou. Photo taken by Mark Allen at The Barbican Centre. 

Tamikrest singer in collaboration with Bassekou. Photo taken by Mark Allen at The Barbican Centre. 

But the night couldn't be complete without Sidi Toure warming the audiences with his Songhai folk songs and hypnotising voice. Although separately each group was magnificent, their collaboration all together on stage was the most powerful, signifying the unity that all the musicians were calling for in their home country. 

Sidi Toure. Photographer: Mark Allan, taken at The Barbican Centre

Sidi Toure. Photographer: Mark Allan, taken at The Barbican Centre

Mali has an incredibly precious and rich musical history, the ngoni tunes of the night dancing the audience's emotions from tears to laughter to peaceful joy, where we hope Mali will also end up. For more information on events on music, film and theatre at The Barbican Centre check here. Also be sure to check out TIME Magazine's list of 8 musicians from Mali to check out now

Exhibition: International Fashion Showcase

How cute is this Chichia London dress chosen for the promo?!

How cute is this Chichia London dress chosen for the promo?!

As part of London Fashion Week, The British Council has put together an International Fashion Showcase featuring 110 emerging international designers from around the world. Last a year an 'African collection' was displayed with designers from all over the continent but sadly this year only Tanzania and Nigeria are participating. Where the rest of y'all at?

Chichia London

Chichia London

Swahili Flavour is being hosted by the Tanzania High Commission ballroom and features Tanzanian designers Chichia London, Anna Luks and Heart365, curated by Samson from Soboye. We've always been big fans of Chichia LDN so were excited not only to get a sneak preview of her AW13 collection, but also to finally meet designer Christine who we're hopefully going to be working with soon! 

We love the khanga fabrics reworked into modern shapes that are more structured than say what Lalesso do with khanga. She describes the brand as 'East Africa meets London cool' which we completely agree with, as there is a definite street luxe vibe to this collection. We also love this accessories collaboration she did with a Tanzanian jewellery brand-yes please to these studded wooden necklaces. 

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Other highlights from the Tanzania exhibit were the jewellery display by Heart365 whose Uhuru wings we've been coveting for a long time, and this blue dress with yellow crochet shrug by Anna Luks. We've just focused on a few details here so be sure to check out the full exhibition. 14-23 February at Tanzania High Commission at 3 Stratford Place, London, W1C 1AS from 110.00-19.00 Daily. 

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We also went to check out the Woven Threads selection of Nigerian designers who showed off contemporary explorations of traditional textile craftsmanship and garment heritage. Thankfully there was no ankara in sight, proving there can be more to West African design than Dutch java print. The lovely Bayo from Orange Culture taught us our adire from our asoke, and we loved how he styled up his adire shirt from his collection. Womenswear designer Meena also showed some interesting pieces made out of the woven asoke fabric which although really heavy seemed quite wearable. 

Bayo from Orange Culture 

Bayo from Orange Culture 

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Woven Threads is showcasing at Kingly Court on Carnaby Street from 14-21 February, 11-16.00.