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.
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.
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.
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!