She is one of Africa’s richest women and a tireless champion of fashion designers on a continent that is young, vibrant and rich in culture: South African Precious Moloi-Motsepe assures us that the time has come “for African designers to shine.”
Founder fifteen years ago of the Johannesburg and Cape Town Fashion Weeks, which bring together designers from all over Africa, her mission is starting to bear fruit, she assures AFP with a confident smile, in a brand new luxury boutique in a wealthy South African economic capital.
“Today more than ever, African designers are recognized at home,” emphasizes this sophisticated 58-year-old woman in elaborate make-up, flowing black pants and silk blouse.
“During the continent’s big events, music awards or big football matches, the stars wear local designers who have become household names”, underlines the wife of the president of the African Football Confederation Patrice Motsepe, with whom she forms the most important team in South Africa power, ranked ninth on the Forbes list of the continent’s richest.
Elsewhere, “celebrities like Michelle Obama or Beyoncé are now wearing African brands,” he argues, and the Wakanda phenomenon, linked to the film Black Panther “has made it possible to introduce our culture to the whole world, which has an impact on fashion and the identification of consumers with African brands”.
Precious Moloi-Motsepe grew up in Soweto, a poor town and a hotbed of resistance to the hated apartheid regime, where she learned a sense of style. “My grandmother made her own clothes, she was terribly elegant. And in the neighborhood people loved to dress well”, closely following American trends and brands.
Later, when she had the opportunity to travel, she attended a fashion show by the talented designer John Galliano in Paris. A shock. Then she realizes “that creators are inspired by history, heritage, culture and that we, in Africa, are rich in all of this”.
“We seemed to be a source of inspiration” for Western designers, “but I didn’t see many African designers on the runways,” she recalls.
– “Strengthening Our Voice” –
Hence the need to create a space to “promote Africa’s best creators to global fame,” a project this former doctor-turned-patron and philanthropist embraced with enthusiasm.
“I had to first make sure they’re recognized here at home and change mindsets, that people appreciate African designers, not just our traditional tailors” but value-added creatives. Ambitious bet, not yet won but well underway.
African consumers “are increasingly recognizing that their own creators are as valuable as foreign brands,” Precious wants to believe.
The Fashion Weeks launched in South Africa, with supermodels such as the South Sudanese Alek Wek and prestigious guests from New York, Milan or Paris, have for more than a decade allowed designers to “show their work, exchange views with colleagues, establish contacts and expose themselves to the media”.
The next step is to bring them “to international platforms, to ensure an African presence there,” he said, adding that African diasporas often act as ambassadors.
The entrepreneur recalls having exhibited a few years ago in Paris, on the sidelines of the fashion shows, a handful of African designers: «There we received positive opinions, others much less», she laughs, «but it was a first step.
“We need to strengthen our voice” and get our talents recognized beyond Africa, says Precious Moloi-Mostsepe.
Clearly, Africans remain underrepresented among major international brands. And in many parts of Africa, wearing foreign brands remains a sign of social success, she agrees. “There is still a lot to do.” Not enough to put off the African fashion aficionado.